By Bobby Cleveland/The Clarion-Ledger
JACKSON — While the forecast is not good for the 2011 spring turkey season — a biologist said it could be the worst many hunters have ever experienced — it comes with a “good news” caveat.
There will be better times ahead, beginning next year.
“We had very poor nesting success statewide in 2009,” said Dave Godwin, turkey program coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “But the 2010 hatch was one of the best we’ve had in years.”
Why is this important?
Simply put, 2-year-old gobblers are the key to a season. They are the easiest of the legal toms to fool with a call.
As MDWFP turkey biologist Adam Butler said: “They are the birds that make newbie turkey hunters look like pros, and give the veterans something to fall back on when time-tested tactics aren’t working on the boss gobblers.
“So for most, it’s the 2-year-olds that make or break the season.”
The regular season for all hunters opens Saturday and will end May 1.
Encounters with 2-year-old gobblers will be fewer and farther between than normal.
“The 2011 season should be pretty tough for much of Mississippi due to an abysmal hatch two years ago,” Butler said. “Nesting conditions during the spring of 2009 were pretty unforgiving for incubating hens, and the effects showed.
“The statewide poults per total hen average from the summer brood survey was the lowest on record. In turn, jake observations during the 2010 season were a record low.”
When the 2-year-old turkeys are short in number, hunters must count on older birds carried over from previous hatches. They are tougher to fool and to kill.
This year, they will also be tougher to find.
“Summer surveys indicate that gobbler carry-over from the 2010 season dipped for a second consecutive year, suggesting that fewer older age class birds will be around this spring,” Godwin said.
“All this evidence implies that both harvest rates and gobbling activity will likely drop as a result of fewer available gobblers, and hunters will struggle through one of the toughest seasons they’ve ever experienced.”
Obviously, there are isolated pockets in all parts of the state where brood success was far better than average.
The area with the most “above average” pockets is the southwest corner. It had the highest poult per total hen average (1.52) in 2009. Godwin said the best part of that area is west of Interstate 55.
East Central Mississippi’s long run of growing numbers suffered a setback in 2009, but the carry-over from good prior hatches could help.
The turkey season opens Saturday and ends May 1.
Limits are one mature gobbler, or a gobbler with a minimum 6-inch beard per day, 3 per season. Exceptions are that children 15 and under are allowed one gobbler of any length in their 3-bird season limit.
Legal hours are 30 minutes before sunrise through 30 minutes after sunset.
Hunters are restricted to shotguns only and with no shot larger than number two; and compound, recurve and long bows. However, any quadriplegic hunter may hunt turkey with a rifle.