Hunters say turkey season looks promising

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 31, 2001

The Associated Press

LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) – While dry weather devastated marsh fishing, drought conditions probably boosted the Louisiana turkey flock.

”Turkey production was pretty fair across the state,” said Mike Olinde, a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries program manager and wildlife biologist. ”It’s not as good as it was in the last couple of years, but it’s still good. As a rule, the drought was beneficial to turkeys.

”The worst thing for turkeys is a cool, wet spring when the birds are on the nests and hatching young. Rains when the birds first hatch can reduce poult survival.”

Olinde said that the Fort Polk area and nearby Kisatchie National Forests produce many turkeys. In general, hunters bag the most birds in the northwest corner of the state and the Florida Parishes.

However, this year, flooding may hurt several areas in northern Louisiana. Flooding already closed Dewey Wills Wildlife Management Area near Pineville, one of the prime public hunting grounds for turkeys.

Floods inundated a significant portion of Dewey Wills WMA, state officials said.

High water concentrated turkeys into small chunks of habitat, making them more vulnerable to hunters. Floods could also disrupt reproductive success and increase natural mortality.

Hunters selected for the 2001 Dewey Wills WMA lottery hunt will be given preference for the 2002 hunt.

”The northwest corner of the state has been doing extremely well,” Olinde said. ”We’ve seen an increase in harvest in that part of the state for the past several years. The areas north of Lake Charles in the pine woods up through Kisatchie are typically productive areas. Fort Polk offers a large territory of prime turkey habitat, some of the best in the state.”

West Bay WMA will offer turkey hunting by lottery for the first time in years. Boise-Vernon WMA will open for public hunting. Peason Ridge WMA also offers a good chance to bag a gobbler.

”Sherburne WMA near Krotz Springs has a good turkey population, but it’s a lottery hunt,” Olinde said. ”Red River and Three Rivers areas are open. They produce fairly high kills. Ben’s Creek WMA and Grassy Lake WMA are good areas. Camp Beauregard near Alexandria is another good area.”

Turkey hunters rely on camouflage and stealth. They often use decoys when calling birds. Other hunters might hear the calling and mistake hunters for live turkeys, especially on public land.

”Louisiana has very few turkey hunting accidents, but hunters should still use caution, especially on public land,” Olinde advised. ”Make sure of the target and what’s behind it before firing.”

This season, about 20,000 hunters will chase about 70,000 eastern wild turkeys in the pines and bottomlands of Louisiana.

Louisiana hunters didn’t always enjoy such feathered bounty, although more than one million wild turkeys once inhabited what became Louisiana. These creatures that Benjamin Franklin wanted to proclaim the national bird nearly became extinct in the Bayou State in the early 20th century.

The state banned turkey hunting in 1933, but populations continued to drop as habitat vanished and outlaws kept shooting turkeys. By 1946, only 1,463 birds remained in isolated bottomland pockets along the Ouachita or Tensas rivers and in the Florida Parishes.

Restocking efforts began in 1962 and turkey flocks took the first step toward full recovery. By 1970, wild turkeys again gobbled in 26 parishes. Today, wild turkeys live in almost every parish with suitable habitat. Only the salty coastal marshes, where turkeys historically never thrived anyway, remain devoid of Louisiana wild turkeys.

Successful hunters could win a shotgun, courtesy of the Louisiana chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Any successful hunter who brings a harvested turkey to a state check station automatically enters a free random drawing.

In July, state officials will select three names as shotgun winners.