We are slowly learning the habits of the local deer and turkey, but after three seasons, we have yet to connect with them. We have harvested two feral boars that provided a hundred-plus pounds of pork for the family table, along with some squirrels and rabbits.
The 2011 turkey season is here, and the trail cameras did photograph a 2-year-old gobbler on a couple of days when it was visiting the property with some hens. Prior to the deer season gun opener in November, we had photographs of seven different bucks that failed to show themselves during the entire deer season. I believe that the lack of mast moved them eastward to the Amite River Drain.
We also observed this on the 60-acre tract north of Clinton that I hunt on; we had photographs of 10 or so different bucks, but not one of them was seen during the season. I hope the turkeys don't take up the habits of the deer.
For the last three turkey seasons, I have been blessed to have killed a gobbler on this small 60-acre tract. I will feel especially blessed should this happen this year on Terra Nova, and I get to hang a gobbler on the White House Wall at Camp David (the primitive facility I use when I stay overnight on Terra Nova). Most of my turkey hunting is done on these two small tracts.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, I turkey hunted on Pearl River WMA, but the loss of the hardwood component on this area from the hurricane stopped the hunting. Turkeys are making a comeback though, and this year the area will have a special youth hunt. Perhaps in a few years the population will be such that the area will once again be open for a general turkey season.
This was one of the historical turkey areas in the state, and had birds when most of the state was vacant of this important game bird. During the 1980s, we enjoyed some fine turkey hunting in Honey Island Swamp.
Hunting the turkeys on Pearl River taught me that it is a good idea to carry an assortment of calls in the turkey pack. Gobblers will often respond to only one particular call, which is similar to how some guys prefer blondes, some red-heads and some brunettes.
On this occasion, I was hunting the lower swamp off the East Pearl River. I had spooked a bird off the roost walking in, so I knew there were turkeys around me, even though I had not heard any gobbling. I had been calling with my wing-bone call, and decided to move to a new location. I set up my small net blind and was standing up yelping with the wing-bone, when suddenly a longbeard came running in. It saw me grabbing for my shotgun, and it ran off just as fast as it came in. Needless to say, my shot was a little late.
A week later, I was in the same location calling on the wing-bone. I had not heard any gobbling that morning; however, since the tom had not gobbled on the first hunt I wasn't concerned. I had read stories about silent toms, and figured this one was a member of that brotherhood.
It wasn't long before I saw a turkey off in the distance slowly coming in my direction. I put the wing-bone down and started calling on my slate and peg.
The gobbler made a big circle around me, and stopped about 50 yards from my set-up. It would strut and walk back-and-forth and never gobbled at my calls. It did this for several minutes and then slowly turned and started walking away from me. I tried yelping with a mouth call, but it did not interest him at all.
As he began moving further away, I grabbed the wing-bone and softly yelped. The tom turned and started back to me. When it stopped, I yelped again, and it began moving toward me again. After the third series of yelps with my home-made call, the tom was in range and this silent gobbler was mine.
Because turkeys can cover a lot of ground in their daily movements, turkey management must be done on a landscape basis. The manager must have a good understanding of the habitat on surrounding properties and then apply management to the entire landscape. Prescribed burning, timber thinning, creating forest openings and management of open fields are all part of a sound turkey management program. For the small landowner, this is especially important.
In the early 1980s, we were trapping turkeys on the Boy Scout Camp in Clinton, and we shot the net over a group of jakes, banded them and released them on site. Two years later, hunters in St. Helena Parish, over 16 miles from the trap site, reported killing two of these toms that we had banded. They may have crossed Terra Nova on their way to the piney woods of St. Helena.
For the small landowner, turkey management is quite challenging. The key is to make the property as attractive as possible so that turkeys will incorporate the tract in their daily movements. Otherwise it is pretty much a hit-or-miss proposition.
The more time a gobbler spends on the small tract the better opportunity the hunter has to connect with him. I definitely recommend working with neighbors and developing a sort-of cooperative management program to enhance the entire landscape. One neighbor may not have enough timber to attract a logger for some necessary thinning work, but joining forces with an adjacent land owner may provide enough fiber and make it economically feasible for the loggers.
Cooperative programs work well with deer management, and there is no reason they will not work for turkeys. LDWF and NWTF have biologists who can assist landowners with the development of turkey management programs. Luke Lewis is the regional biologist in Louisiana for the NWTF. LDWF has private-land biologists throughout the state to assist landowners with wildlife management. For more information, visit the NWTF and the LDWF websites.
With the turkey season opening this month on the 19th, it is time to talk turkey and try to make a wise old tom do what is un-natural — go to a hen rather than waiting for the hen to come to him.
One piece of advice to all hunters, carry an assortment of calls and take care of those deer feeders! Shut them off, seal them up or remove them from the patches. You certainly don't want to find out after the fact that you were hunting in a baited area. Know the rules, and by all means, report your kills.