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2012, year of the turkey

NATCHEZ — The next few years of turkey season have the potential to be the best in recent memory if the number of new turkeys coming into the world has anything to do with hunting success.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife has analyzed turkey reproduction data from June and July of this year and found that this year’s reproduction numbers are the best the state has seen in a long time.

MDWFP turkey biologist Adam Butler said there are a variety of factors that determine how well turkeys will reproduce each year.

“We had a tremendous acorn crop statewide, and we also had a mild winter which meant hens could get groceries and not have to extend as much energy,” Butler said. “So they came into spring in really good condition physiologically. They came into breeding season in tip-top shape, and that means they tend to get started earlier and that turns into a good hatch.”

Butler said there was also excellent weather during the incubation period.

What the outstanding hatch means for local hunters is that they will have a good turkey season starting in 2014, Butler said.

“A good hatch means a good harvest two years down the road,” Butler said.

Adult hunters are not allowed to shoot jakes (young turkeys) during the hunting season. Therefore this year’s hatch will be old enough to shoot during the 2014 season.

Butler said Southwest Mississippi saw exceptional brood numbers this year.

“Southwest Mississippi is sort of a stronghold for the turkey population in Mississippi,” he said. “It’s been that way for a long time. I think the reason for that goes back to habitat. When you look across Natchez and most of (Southwest Mississippi) it has a lot of habitat components they really need.”

Butler said last year’s survey did not show a good hatch, and he believes turkey hunting will be down in Mississippi this hunting season because of that hatch.

Local hunters react

Carolyn Harper owns hunting land in Jefferson County, and she said on her visits to the camp this fall, she is already seeing signs of a good hatch.

“We are already seeing results on our place,” Harper said. “We went up there and saw hens with poults (baby turkeys), and that’s something we’re not used to seeing. I feel we’ve had a good year.”

Harper said she is excited about the potential of seeing young turkeys this spring, because she enjoys photographing the turkeys on her land. She said she is also about the hunting potential in the next few years.

Local turkey hunter Tucker Crisp said numbers are good, but he won’t believe the good news until he sees it with his own eyes.

“Unless you see it for yourself, I don’t really believe it,” he said. “I come in contact with a lot of people that say they’ve seen a ton, and the next person says they haven’t seen any.”

Crisp said he is also worried about many of the newly born turkeys not making it to adulthood because of predators.

“The worst one is the (raccoon),” he said. “He’s like like a pinball machine, going from tree to tree looking for (baby turkeys).”

But local hunter Jim Allgood said he believes the turkeys in Mississippi are of a special breed, and they will have what it takes to make it to old age.

“There’s just something about Mississippi turkeys,” Allgood said.

“They are a whole lot smarter. I’ve hunted turkeys in Texas and Missouri, and those are the dumbest birds on the planet. But I’m convinced if a southwest Mississippi turkey had a nose, you would never shoot them.”

The big 2012 hatch also bodes well for locals like Gus Perry, who own businesses that deal in turkey hunting.

Perry is a guide at Washes Plantation in Natchez, and he said he hopes this year’s crop of turkeys will actually start producing a good harvest in three or four years instead of two.

“We try not to harvest 2-year-old birds,” he said. “We try to harvest trophy birds. They are harder to hunt than young birds. It’s like a big buck.”

One group of hunters that will benefit from this year’s good hatch is youth hunters. Young hunters are allowed to shoot jakes, and Allgood said he hopes a lot of Miss-Lou children are able to get a prize out of this year’s hatch.

“Allowing kids to shoot jakes is great,” he said. “It gives youth the opportunity to get out in the woods and lets daddy take youth outdoors. Anytime we can get them from the TV, computer or pretendo, it’s a good thing.”

The fall hunting season begins Oct. 15 in the Southwestern Mississippi Zone.

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