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Turkey Season Adds Challenge To Hunt
By Laura Martin
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Thousands of people of various ages will enter the forests or fields of Mississippi to bag a prize turkey when turkey season opens on March 20.
A new generation of hunters is being introduced to turkey hunting through the Mississippi State University Extension Service's 4-H Field and Stream Program. This natural resources education program teaches youth and adult leaders essential life skills through shooting sports and managing resources for wildlife and fisheries.
The program offers shooting disciplines that teach safety, concentration, self-confidence, setting goals and decision making. Families involved in the field and stream program enjoy getting involved in protecting and maintaining wildlife.
"The 4-H Field and Stream Program helps young people achieve their potential and learn important life skills," said Dean Stewart, wildlife specialist and field and stream coordinator with MSU's Extension Service.
Tim and Melanie Hubbard of Petal enjoy turkey hunting with their two children. All four are active in the Field and Stream Program. The couple are Field and Stream instructors and have watched their children, Meredith, 16, and Lee, 14, grow up in the program.
"We have used management practices to encourage turkeys at our hunting camp," Melanie Hubbard said. "It is a family project and a way to spend the weekend together. It also helps the environment. We've always been active in managing and increasing wildlife. The children are also involved in field and stream and shoot competitively."
Most hunting camps have made the effort to better prepare their management areas for turkeys. Planting food plots during the fall and spring can provide extra food and good nesting cover. Chufa and brown-top millet are planted in mid-May through June. Clover and winter grains should be planted in September through October.
Turkey hunting is unique because of the special challenge the birds pose to hunters. Because of their ability to notice the slightest movement and to see in color, turkeys can spot hunters who are not well camouflaged and are not sitting still, Stewart said.
At the turn of the century, the Mississippi turkey population was down to a few thousand birds. Since then, through habitat restoration, season and bag limits, and trap and transplant programs, state number rebounded to a peak population of 350,000 in 1987. The population since has declined slightly, Stewart said.
"This past year, we had a good hatch and a better survival rate of turkeys," said Bobby Wilson, District 1 wildlife biologist for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. "In years past, the best turkey population was in the Delta, but because of frequent flooding there, the denser populations are now found in the northeastern or southern areas of the state."
Wild turkey populations are difficult to manage on small tracts of land, although small landowners can manage habitat successfully and have birds. Ideal habitat for turkey production includes a mixture of open and wooded areas. A range of 25 to 50 percent of the total area to be managed for wild turkeys should be in small to large permanent, grassy openings, Stewart said.
Safety is always a concern during any hunting season, but turkey season presents a special challenge.
"We've had a few accidents in the past where one hunter mistook another hunter for a turkey," Wilson said. "If you see a hunter approaching, make yourself known. Avoid wearing red, white or blue because these color are similar to a gobbler's colors."
When hunters are not actually hunting, many choose to wear hunter orange. All hunters should be sure of their target before pulling the trigger.