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Think Safety First When Turkey Hunting
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Turkey hunting can be exciting because of the skills required, but it shouldn't be exciting because of the risks involved.
Turkey hunting is one of the most dangerous sports because hunters are heavily camouflaged, make turkey calls and sit very still. From March 22 to May 1, hunters will take advantage of the gobblers-only season as they try for the one gobbler per day, three per season bag limit.
Dean Stewart, Mississippi State University extension wildlife specialist, warned that while out gunning for a trophy turkey, hunters always should remember they may not be alone in the woods.
"I caution turkey hunters to make very sure before they pull the trigger that they've properly identified their target and that it is a gobbler and not another hunter," Stewart said.
Hunters are not required to wear hunter orange while hunting turkeys in Mississippi. However, Stewart said it would be a good idea to wear it while going to and from the hunting spot so as not to be mistaken for a target.
Stewart said he expects a good turkey season this year.
"Over the last few years, we've had very good turkey hunting in Mississippi," Stewart said. "We have a high turkey population, although annual populations fluctuate depending on the number of poults, or young turkeys, produced the previous summer."
Stewart estimated this year's turkey population at 250,000 to 275,000 with around 33,000 that will be harvested. Turkey populations and harvests peaked in Mississippi in 1987 when about 59,000 birds were harvested from an estimated population of 350,000 birds.
At the turn of the century, the Mississippi turkey population was down to just a few thousand birds. Since then, through habitat restoration, season and bag limits, and trap and transplant programs, state numbers have surged, Stewart said.
Calling it "a real success story," Stewart said the emphasis now is on managing habitat, predators and the birds to maintain current populations.
Nesting mothers and their eggs are very vulnerable to predators, such as raccoons, free-ranging dogs, skunks, possums and snakes. Poults have a greater chance of survival after they are two or three weeks old and can roost in trees.
Research shows that jakes, or first-year male turkeys, which escape hunters are more desirable their second year as they usually have a much longer beard of 6 to 8 inches, Stewart said.
While the entire state offers good turkey hunting, certain areas are better than others.
"The Delta has been a real stronghold for turkey harvest because of the productive nature of the land there," Stewart said. "But flooding in the Delta can tremendously affect the turkey population."
During the 1995-96 season, more than 56 percent of the hunters in the Delta brought home a turkey, for a total of about 3,500.
Turkey hunters also like the northeast region of the state. Hunters there bagged about 5,000 turkeys in the last season.
"That population has increased dramatically in the last several years and is one of the more promising places in the state to go turkey hunting," Stewart said. "The birds are not as wary because there has not been as much pressure from hunting."
This region was one of the last to be stocked with turkeys transplanted from other areas, he said.
Hunters in the two districts along the Coast sent a combined total of about 12,600 turkeys to the dinner table last year, but the state's highest harvest came from south central Mississippi where nearly 8,000 turkeys were bagged.
Anyone wanting to learn more about managing wild turkey habitat should contact the local county extension office for more information.