Turnaround expected 2012 turkey season

By The Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The 2011 spring turkey season was one of the worst in recent years.

Turkey biologist Adam Butler of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks said several years of poor hatches caught up to hunters. Gobbling activity and overall harvest rates were well below the long term averages.

Butler is expecting a big turnaround in 2012.

“Jake (juvenile gobbler) observations were up last season all across the state, and substantially in some regions. Overall turkey observations spiked.

“We had a very good hatch in 2010, and a number of young birds were added to the spring population in 2011. Those birds will be 2-year-olds this year, and should offer plenty of excitement for hunters.

“Combine all that with the unusually early spring we are having, which should mean that gobblers will be much more vocal early in the season, and we suspect that harvest rates are really going to shoot up,” Butler said.

The main spring turkey hunting season runs March 15 to May 1 statewide except for all of Quitman County and parts of Coahoma, Leflore and Sunflower counties.

The limits are one adult gobbler or gobbler with a 6-inch or longer beard per day, three per spring season.

Hunters 15 years of age and younger may kill one gobbler of choice of any age per day, three per season.

Butler’s 2012 spring season forecast by region:

— Northeast: “Turkey populations across northeast Mississippi have been stagnant the past several years, but there is indication from the Spring Gobbler Hunter Survey that a good crop of 2-year-olds are on the way to greet hunters this spring.

“However, numbers in northeast Mississippi tend to not be quite as strong as in other areas of the state, so we do not expect that this region’s turnaround will be quite to the extent that we will see in other areas.

“It is also important to note that we get the lowest participation in the Spring Gobbler Hunter Survey from the region, so some of our numbers may very well not be representative due to low sample sizes.”

— Delta: “The Delta has obviously suffered of late due to spring flooding, but the area did see a pretty decent hatch during 2010, so Jake observations were up this past season, suggesting that there will be a fair number of 2-year-old birds out there for ’12.

“However, it may be worthwhile to caution folks that this may not necessarily translate into a banner season in the Delta, because that 2-year-old cohort of gobblers will likely be almost the only male birds around.

“Hunters should be conservative with their harvest. This current 2-year-old age group is going to have to get them by until 2014 at the earliest, assuming a good hatch this summer.”

— Southwest: “It should be really, really strong this season. Jake observations were very high last year. The brood survey data from this region in 2010 was just incredible. Over 50 percent of all hens raised poults in summer of ’10. Total turkey observations from the Spring Gobbler Hunter Survey also spiked last season.

“Harvest rates should jump big time this year. Reports indicate that in places with good habitat, bird numbers are higher than they’ve been in a long, long time.

“Indications regarding this past summer’s hatch are also positive for this region, so it is very likely that hunters in southwest Mississippi will have a lot to smile about for several years to come.”

— East Central: East Central portions of the state have been coming on strong the last several years, thanks to good hatches and abundant habitat, and it looks like hunters are in for more of the same for the 2012 season.

“Jake observations were way up last spring — they were at the second highest level they’ve been at in the last 10 years — so it should be really good in this region in 2012.

“East Central is blessed with a lot of public land opportunities, although many of the Wildlife Management Areas are drawn only during the first two weeks of the season. Hunters need to check the regulations for each WMA in the region prior to making hunting plans.”