The delay of the 2018 turkey season until April 7 has no doubt been an agonizing wait for members of the Tenth Legion, but now this elite group of hunters are in action. I suspect many got things started on March 30 with the opening of the youth weekend. My 7-year-old grandson worked the squirrels over in February, and is ready to be in the turkey blind on that day.
Hopefully it will be a successful season for Bayou State hunters. If not, the LDWF biologists are ready to take the blame for the late season opener. But hunters should be willing to let this experiment run its course and see if the late season does improve nesting success around the state.
There has been plenty of time for hunters to scout the woods and locate toms. Observing wild turkeys going about their daily routine is a great way to connect with a bird. Turkeys will generally follow the same pattern and route every day, so just watching their movements will give you an edge with filling a tag.
Of course, the later season should mean that most hens are sitting on eggs and are not visiting the toms anymore, which means the toms should be eager to come to your calling. Remember, aggressive calling that is often used by hunters during the peak of gobbling may not be what those gobblers want to hear. A few soft clucks mixed with a little purring may just be the ticket. And instead of using gobbler decoys mixed with hens, a single hen decoy may prove to be more effective.
Keep in mind that seasons are different on our public lands than what they are on private land. And remember that areas where you may have been feeding turkeys is considered a baited area for 15 days following removal of the feed. If there are locations where feed is available, hunters cannot hunt within 200 yards of these feeding areas. Reporting harvested gobblers is a must so that our wildlife biologists can accurately determine how this new season structure is working. And if you happen to observe sick turkeys, please contact the biologists and let them know what you saw or found.
Spring has sprung
In mid-February, the Mayhaw, plums, blueberries and pear trees were flowing, and yellow jessamine vine along with the field bluets, wild violets and several other early-spring wild flowers were blooming.
Elderberry shrubs were leafing out, along with arrowwood, black cherry and the mulberry trees.
The cold winter may have been what was needed for a good fruiting season for our soft mast trees and shrubs. Soft mast fruits provide quality nutrition for deer, turkeys and other wildlife. If your habitat is lacking in such trees and shrubs, you would be wise to make plans to incorporate them into your management program.
A mid-February trip to Pearl River WMA found flooded conditions with the Mayhaw trees blooming away. The old swamp hunters would say that if the Mayhaws flower in water, the fruit will drop in water. I remember one year on the Pearl when the late Robert Helm and I would drive the bateau under the Mayhaw trees and shake the trees to let the fruit fall into the boat. It’s a pretty easy way to get some berries for jelly making.
Quality nutrition is a must for deer in the spring as they begin to recover from the winter months, and begin increasing body size and growing new antlers. Clover, chickory and winter peas planted in the food plots last fall provide the quality nutrition that deer need. If you let the winter grasses seed out, both game and song birds will benefit from the seed.
With a mediocre mast crop in 2017, deer will be foraging heavily in an effort to catch up and start growing for next season. Does have been bred and will need quality nutrition to keep not only themselves in good condition, but to maintain pregnancy. Research has shown that quality nutrition is a must for a deer herd to be productive, with most adult does giving birth to twins.
“The worst that could happen”
This song by the group Brooklyn Bridge in the late ‘60s is quite appropriate for the discovery of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Mississippi. Our game agencies are on top of the situation, and will be testing additional deer over the next few months to determine just how prevalent it is in that region of the Magnolia State and potentially Louisiana. I am hoping that this is just a very isolated incident; perhaps some idiot took a sick deer out of a pen and turned it loose to avoid complications with their program. It just seems strange that a sick deer with symptoms was found, because usually the disease is located by random testing of deer. In this case, the animal and carcass will be disposed of and removed from the environment. But there are many hunters in Mississippi and Louisiana who hunt out West, and it’s also possible that infected cervids were brought into the state in past years and those carcasses were disposed of on the landscape where wild deer could be infected. If it is a wild free-ranging deer, then certainly increased testing will find more animals with the disease.
While this is bad, it’s not the end of the world and of deer hunting as we know it. States that have had the disease for several years have learned to adapt and deal with it. Louisiana hunters who hunt in Mississippi will continue to follow the protocol regarding deer harvested out-of-state, and will not be able to bring in harvested deer unless they adhere to the transport and possession regulations that were put into place in 2017.
Louisiana is now surrounded by states with CWD, so it could be just a matter of time before it does show up here. I would hope that this finding spurs our Agricultural Department into action to start keeping closer tabs on the cervid pens and facilities they manage, because such scrutiny has been lacking in the past.