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Prospects for spring turkey hunting good

As I write this, the spring turkey season is not open. Mississippi's season, the first to open, will begin March 17. Soon after that seasons will open in Arkansas and Tennessee, all offering lengthy seasons and generous bag limits.

Information from the wildlife departments of all three states are very optimistic, even exhuberant. They all report exceptionally fine hatches and survival the past two breeding seasons. This is especially good news for hunters in the Delta and elsewhere along the Mississippi riverfront because floodwaters, too much local spring rain and a huge population of predators had driven the turkey population density down.

Raccoons have proven to be the worst predators for ground-nesting birds. Some controlled studies on Mississippi refuges show that in some years the raccoons destroy as high as 95 percent of the nesting attempts. Mature coons sometimes kill the nesting hen, as well as taking all of the eggs.

Raccoon hunters and the distemper disease apparently have reduced the number of those predators quite a bit in the last few years.

It is rather ironic that the eastern part of Mississippi now has the densest turkey population of any region and the Delta has the lowest. A lot of trapped Delta turkeys were distributed to other counties.

In my own county of Coahoma, hundreds of birds were trapped from the old Friars Point Refuge over several years and transported to other good habitat. There they flourished. This trapping program continued for several years on other state refuges, eventually providing superb hunting for every part of the state.

Many hunters in areas where the trapping occurred were opposed to it. They believe — incorrectly — that the trapping and removal would harm their hunting. Instead, it actually helped by reducing outside pressure from hunters who can now hunt turkeys in their own counties.

Tennessee might be the state that improved turkey hunting most. Its trapping program made it possible for most hunters to find good hunting anywhere in the state. I read recently that the first open season (about 1951) a state refuge produced 14 turkey kills. From that point on, the flocks increased steadily every year, and the kill had increased to 24,600 in 2000.

Bag limits increased accordingly, and most states now permit three or four gobblers per season.

All states, except Mississippi, permit jakes, yearling gobblers. I strongly favor a regulation that would permit one jake in the bag in Mississippi, although a large majority of experienced hunters are happy with the no-jake regulation.

The reason I hope the state will permit one jake is that that would be good for young hunters just starting out and for non-residents who pay a high fee to hunt in Mississippi. All four of my male grandchildren live out of state. Now two of them and their young guests must purchase a very expensive non-resident license to hunt just a few days. Any of them would be pleased with a fat jake he had called up (but now is required by law to let walk on by).

I more or less promised Sam Polles, the director of our state's wildlife department that I would shut up about the no-jake rule, but I still think one jake in the bag ought to be permitted. It would make many youngsters happy and surely would not harm the overall turkey population.

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