⋅ BY ANDREW LANE SMITH ⋅
As the weather finally began to change and periods of high pressure set in across the Southeast, Mississippi’s spring turkey season took off. During this time, many critters are beginning to change their day-to-day behavior, including turkey hunters.
For those of us who gamble with the longevity of our personal relationships, sanity and much-needed sleep to chase the Eastern wild turkey, this is the most exciting time of the year. However, for new turkey hunters or those who are new to hunting Mississippi’s public land, the process of locating areas to hunt can be overwhelming.
To make it less intimidating, consider these opportunities throughout Mississippi to get a taste of some of the finest turkey hunting anywhere in the Southeast that began March 15.
Residents in the southeast portion of our state can rely on DeSoto National Forest for opportunities at an early season strutter. Birds in this part of the state tend to begin breeding a little nearer to the front end of our season’s 48-day duration partly due to the earlier arrival of warmer weather and the spring green-up.
This semi-coastal national forest provides about 500,000 acres of open-canopy pine forest habitat (primarily longleaf pine). But hunting can be difficult, as this geographic area maintains some of the highest hunter pressure in the state.
In southwestern Mississippi, Homo-chitto National Forest covers about 190,000 acres. It provides a good mix of upland pine-hickory habitat and bottomland hardwoods.
Homochitto has some of the greatest contiguous turkey habitat available anywhere in the state. But it has historically experienced a lot of nonresident hunter pressure due to its close proximity to Louisiana.
In northwestern Mississippi are Holly Springs (about 150,000 acres) and Tombigbee National Forests (about 67,000 acres). Both public resources provide great upland oak-hickory-pine forests for turkey hunters, as well as plenty of interspersed bottomland hardwoods. These areas have consistently produced some of the highest bird numbers in the state.
Delta And Central Mississippi
In the Delta, hunters may enjoy some of the flattest, most fertile land in the world. Delta National Forest (60,000 acres) provides copious amounts of bottomland hardwoods surrounded by agriculture and river corridors.
However, turkey populations in the Mississippi Delta are not as abundant and dense due to the volume of open landscapes and lack of nesting cover, which often results in lower nest success and numbers of mature toms. All that said, sustainable turkey populations do exist in these areas.
In central Mississippi, the Bienville National Forest provides almost 180,000 acres of excellent turkey habitat and may be the right ticket for you to get your hunting fix. Note that Bienville Wildlife Management Area is open only to applicants who were fortunate enough to draw a permit during the first two weeks of the season.
Knowing when, where and how to access different areas of a national forest is one of the most limiting factors when hunters are ready to face the odds. Taking a day or two in advance to visit an area, scout the landscape and familiarize yourself with the area and its requirements can make all the difference.
During this special spring season, plan your next outdoor activity, while making safety, comradery and fair chase your top priorities.
Andrew Lane Smith is Extension instructor, Mississippi State University.