Mississippi’s fall turkey season is a big bonus for hunters willing to take time away from bucks and ducks.
As autumn’s cooler days quickly approach, Mississippi hunters look forward to the chance to get afield. Most are focused on what’s sooner than later, like dove and early season teal. Others anxiously await Oct. 1, which kicks off fall squirrel hunting statewide and archery for deer in all zones except the Southeast Zone, where it opens Oct. 15.
More opportunities abound for Magnolia State sportsman to chase wild game, including rabbit, quail, raccoon, bobcat, duck and geese — not to mention great bass fishing. Then there’s turkey, that’s right, turkey. Mississippi offers a limited opportunity for turkey enthusiasts with its fall season, which runs from Oct. 15 to Nov. 15 in two-dozen select counties or part of counties.
Most turkey hunters spend little time worrying about the bird that causes many to fret and lose sleep until spring approaches.
“Fall turkey hunting season for Mississippi is a very under-utilized opportunity,” said Adam Butler, the wild turkey program coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “Historically, there are usually 100 to 150 tags issued each year.”
Fall turkey season is not open statewide, only in specific counties and areas. Care must be taken to follow the laws and guidelines for legal harvesting. It’s already time to make application and preparations to be ready for opening day.
Where to hunt fall turkey
Open areas are in those counties or portion of counties, on private lands and only where the landowner/leaseholder completes a fall turkey hunting application and fall turkey tags are issued by the MDWFP:
Delta Zone: Bolivar County west of the main Mississippi River levee and those lands east of the main Mississippi River levee known as 27 Beak Hunting Club. Also portions of the counties of Coahoma, Desoto, Issaquena, Tunica and Washington that are west of the Mississippi River Levee.
North Central Zone: Benton, Lafayette, Marshall, Panola, Tippah and Union counties.
Southwestern Zone: Adams, Amite, Claiborne, Copiah, Hinds, Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln, Madison, Warren, Wilkinson and Yazoo counties.
Apply for fall hunting
Hunters must apply for tags to be able to fall turkey hunt in open areas, This is done by completing a fall turkey hunting application, which can be found and printed out from www.mdwfp.com/media/4008/fall_turkey_hunting_application.pdf.
Complete the entire application, except for the bottom, which will be filled in by MDWFP personnel. Then, gather the other required documentation listed on the application.
Landowner hunters must provide documents from their county’s tax assessor’s office verifying the number of acres that they own. This can be a land roll or taxpayer statement, tax receipt, etc.
Applicants who hunt properties they do not own must provide a copy of the lease agreement, signed by the landowner and leaseholder or a signed statement from the landowner giving them permission to hunt on the property. The lease agreement should designate the number of acres the applicant has permission to hunt. Additionally, documentation (land roll or taxpayer statement, tax receipt, etc.) from the county’s tax assessor’s office verifying the number of acres owned by the landowner should be provided. Tax receipts are not required when providing official lease agreements with timber companies.
The application and documentation should be mailed to the address shown on the application document. After review, tags are sent by mail for the property size.
If fall turkey permits were received for a property in the past, no tax or lease documentation for subsequent re-application is necessary — only an application should be completed and mailed.
“We will take applications on into October,” Butler said.
Rules and regulations
Tags are issued for specific properties. If you have applied for one property in a county, the tag is only good for that specific property/acreage that you have applied for. Tags cannot be taken for use on any other places.
The tags are issued at a rate of one per 500 acres. If you have anywhere from one to 500 acres, then you will receive one fall turkey tag. It will take a thousand acres to get two fall turkey tags, 1,500 acres to get three, 2,000 to get four, and so forth.
The bag limit for fall turkeys is two. Keep in mind that if you have only one tag on a property that is less than 1,000 acres, then one is your limit. Two tags are needed to be able to limit out.
If you are an applicant applying for a large parcel of land, like a hunting club, you will get the tags. You can divide the tags among fellow hunters for that specific property. Let’s say you hold the lease to 2,800 acres; you will receive five fall turkey tags and can pass them out to fellow club members, keeping the two-bird limit in mind.
The two turkeys tagged can be either sex. This is the only time when a Mississippi turkey hunter can legally harvest a hen. There are no beard-length restrictions, so any gobbler is legal, including jakes. Both tags can be on the same day; if a hunter has two tags in hand for the property, and two big toms walk up — both are fair game.
Legal weapons for fall turkey hunting includes archery equipment and shotguns with no shot larger than No. 2s.
“As long as a hunter has the fall tag, they can shoot a turkey of either sex while bowhunting for deer, or they can set out with shotgun in hand, specifically targeting turkeys,” Butler said.
After a turkey is harvested, the tag must be attached before moving the turkey. The date should be notched to validate the tag and must remain attached to the turkey until it is processed.
Reporting the harvest
It’s mandatory for spring hunters to report all turkey harvests through the MDWFP Game Check system. This is not used for reporting the harvest of fall turkeys. Instead a Fall Turkey Season Harvest Data Sheet is mailed to applicants, along with their fall tags. This must be completed and mailed to the agency no later than Jan. 1 and must be submitted even if no turkeys were harvested.
“Historically there’s only two- to three-dozen turkeys harvested each fall,” Butler said. “This is based on past fall surveys.”
Resident hunters who are not exempt from purchasing a hunting license are required to have in possession a valid All Game Hunting License along with a Fall Turkey Hunting Permit ($5) or an annual Sportsman or Lifetime Sportsman license. Non-residents are required to have in their possession any valid All Game Hunting License and a Fall Turkey Permit ($20) or a Native Son Lifetime Sportsman License.
Fall turkey behavior
Turkeys behave differently in the fall compared to spring. Hunters will find hens gathering in groups. Usually, female broods stay with their mothers and join other hens as fall progresses forming larger flocks. Gobblers tend to separate from hens. Gobblers will also segregate by age groups: young of the year, upcoming 2-year-olds, and 3-year-olds and older.
Fall turkey movement and sightings will be directly related to what they are feeding on. Any type of wild berry or fruit can be found in their diet, but the predominant food source is hard mast. Acorns of all species of oaks are consumed, along with sweet pecans, beech tree mast and pine seeds.
Hunters will find turkeys near the places they feed, and these are the areas to target. Think back and remember how many times a group of turkeys came by while you were sitting on a deer stand. Was it in the woods, on a field’s edge or a food plot? Target the areas where you have seen them in the past.
Still-hunting is a good method, and calling can work as well. If you hear other turkeys calling, try to mimic what you hear. This is the time of year when you will hear the younger turkeys making the “kee-kee-run” calls. It’s not unheard of to hear mature toms blowing it out on the early morning roost; sometimes they will come to an old hen or a gobbler yelp. Busting up a group of turkeys and setting up to call them back in is a time-proven fall tactic and will work but will take a lot of patience, especially for older toms.
“About half the hunters with fall tags are actually going hunting with the intent of killing a turkey. The other half are opportunists — usually bowhunters who will shoot one when they have the chance,” Butler said, based on past surveys.
There will not be a lot of competition or pressure on turkeys during the fall. Hunters will find them more relaxed. If you hunt or have access to land where fall turkey hunting is available, do the prep work and give it a try. The reward could be great.
JOIN THE CLUB, get unlimited access for $2.99/month
Become the most informed Sportsman you know, with a membership to the Mississippi Sportsman Magazine and MS-Sportsman.com.