Wood Wise

Hunters are giddy with anticipation over the opening of the state’s turkey season on March 15.

What’s up with Magnolla turkeys?

Rumors about the status of wild turkeys in Mississippi can be heard from a lot of quarters around the state like faint gobbles issued on the other ridge.Is the statewide flock on the increase, or has it slipped some? Are turkey hunters abandoning the ranks in favor of spring bream beds? Did they ever decide if last season was a good one or not?

Numerous questions like these make fanatical turkey hunters nervous. This is our favorite hunting sport, and we want to believe that all is well with our wild turkeys in the Magnolia State. With the current season coming up on March 15 and a scheduled youth week starting on March 8, maybe now is a good time to take a thumbnail look at our turkey situation.

Last year’s roost roundup

From a personal perspective, last year was a tough season, but in the end, it proved to be a very successful one. The season balanced out with two kills and a narrow miss on a third. I count that later exercise as a learning experience. Wild turkeys have given me a lot of those over the years. However even a hunt with a miss is better than yard work will ever be.

Canton wild turkey guide Ronnie Foy is always good for a status report on how the turkeys were working.

“Last year we had some of the best turkey hunting days that we have had in years,” he said. “Some mornings they were slow to crank up, but by the time we had a full sun illuminating the forest floor, the warmth seemed to energize them.

“I had more success with youth hunters and a lot more interest by women hunters wanting to bag a gobbler.”

Jim Walt, CEO of Valley Innovative Services in Jackson, also had an interesting hunt over in Yazoo County.

“One morning, I set up on a food plot hoping the birds would feed into the area,” he said. “I was pressed for time because I had to attend a meeting back in the city that morning, but nothing was happening. I packed up my blind and gear, and headed for the truck.

“I changed into my dress clothes, and as I was driving out of the woods, I paused a second to glass down the forest road to spy several gobblers standing right in the plot I just left.

“Believe it or not, I grabbed my facemask, gloves, calls and gun to sneak into the edge of the woods as close to the plot as I dared. I kneeled down on some dry pine needles, made a few calls and pulled the trigger in less than 10 minutes. All in my suit pants and dress shoes.”

Statewide, however, there were hot spots and a lot of cold spots. It seemed like the flavor of the whole season was either feast or famine. Bagging gobblers seemed to be highly dependent on where you were hunting. As usual, public lands had more activity and private lands produced mixed results. To be truthful though, this same analysis could be noted about most every turkey hunting season.

Current turkey statistics

Like white-tailed deer, wild turkeys are really hard to count. This is made especially more difficult by the fact that our wildlife species are spread out over 82 different counties within 47,233 square miles of the state. The best current guess of the flock size for our turkeys is around 300,000. Actually I doubt if anybody really knows. How could they?

Test hatch data is collected every hunting season by wildlife biologists working with the state’s wild turkey program. Again, those numbers are up and down each season, fluctuating due to habitat conditions, weather trends and predator activity. The survivability of turkey poults in the wild is not particularly good under the best of circumstances.

However, every three to four years we seem to get a really good hatch, and these youngsters grow into our next crop of mature gobblers. Of course, these trends also vary widely across all sections of the state. This accounts for some areas being hot some years, while others are ice cold. The very next year could see nearly a complete reversal of these conditions. That I guess is the science of the wild turkey with emphasis on the wild part.

The one downer I have noted in my own home county the past couple of seasons is an obvious absence of jakes. This past season I only saw one jake all season long, and he worked as hard as any young stud to get himself reduced to the roaster pan. One afternoon, he stood not 10 steps from my blind, but could never figure out what I was. Maybe he will be around this season as a 2-year-old, and hopefully just as stupid. The bottom-line trick on turkey hunting is to stay after them no matter what the data says.

Hunter interest

As an avid turkey hunter, it is often difficult for me to gauge the overall interest of other hunters in this sport. I see no overt evidence that our ranks are shrinking in the least, but I also cannot prove that we are adding many new folks. I would guess we are holding our own with the current status quo.

Mean Mallard’s owner Chris Bates thinks turkey hunting is still a hot item.

“Last year, we stocked a little heavy on turkey gear,” he said. “We were not disappointed. Sales traffic was brisk all season, giving us the impression that turkey hunting remains as popular as ever.”

Maybe therein lies the bottom line with Mississippi turkey hunting. All is going pretty well in the turkey woods.


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