The 2015 spring gobbler hunting kicked off last month, with staggered closings through the end of April.
See the Louisiana Hunting Regulations 2014-15 booklet for additional information on regulations, national wildlife refuges and wildlife management area schedules, and license and tag requirements.
From a law enforcement perspective, the two primary areas of concern with turkey hunting are illegal baiting and compliance with the season limit of two gobblers.
For the turkey hunter, the two top things to watch out for are illegal bait and hunter safety.
Let’s look at the illegal bait issue first.
Baiting is defined as “placing, exposing, depositing or scattering corn, wheat or other grain, salt or other feed so as to constitute a lure, attraction or enticement to, on or over any areas where hunters are attempting to take turkeys.”
In other words, a baited area is any area where grain or feed capable of luring, attracting or enticing turkeys is directly or indirectly placed, exposed, deposited, distributed or scattered.
Baiting for turkeys is certainly nothing new, and wildlife enforcement agents spend a lot of time looking for bait and investigating reports of baited areas.
The hard part is finding it; bait is not always very obvious. Small grains of various seeds or feeds scattered thinly over an area can be hard to spot, and it does not last long if turkeys are feeding on it.
But agents manage to successfully apprehend offenders every spring, and penalties are severe.
Hunters need to be mindful of illegal bait, particularly those hunting on public land.
As an enforcement agent and turkey hunter, I have done my share of working and hunting on public land, and I understand the peril of stumbling into a baited area by accident.
During one spring season, I walked into a pretty remote spot open to public hunting and found a lot of turkey scratching and droppings along a ridge. Closer examination revealed cracked corn scattered up and down the ridge.
It would have been very easy for an unsuspecting and innocent hunter to notice the abundant turkey sign and settle in for a morning hunt, completely unaware of the presence of bait.
Just to finish the story, I returned to the spot a day or two before opening morning the following year. There was the cracked corn again — plus a ground blind built with leaves and brush.
On opening morning, a hunter was apprehended while sitting in that blind. He admitted placing the bait, and I was glad we got the right man.
But whether hunting public or private land, look closely before settling in on any spot where the presence of bait is a possibility. On private property inquire with your host about the presence of active feeders or feeding locations.
Hunting within 200 yards of either constitutes hunting over bait.
Hunter safety should be every hunter’s No. 1 concern, whether hunting public or private land because turkey hunting accidents have taken place on both.
A strong argument can be made for turkey hunting as the No. 1 hunting situation where people are mistaken for game.
I recall a personal case in point.
Many years ago I was hunting on national forest land one morning and heard a gobbler on the roost. It was still very early and dark when I moved into position and set up on the turkey.
He was gobbling steadily, and I was about to start calling when hen yelps suddenly came from a spot about 40 yards below me on the side of the ridge.
OK, I thought, he roosted with hens and some have already flown down and are now calling.
Putting the call aside, I decided to just sit and wait to see what would happen. The light was getting better, and in a few minutes I spotted movement where the calling came from.
Yep, there’s the hen, I thought.
A couple of minutes later things were a little brighter, and the calling started again along with more movement.
I was carefully watching the “hen” and hoping the gobbler would fly down near it when a startling revelation hit me.
This was no hen: It was a man in complete camouflage sitting with his back against a tree. The movement was his gloved hand and arm in motion when he manipulated his turkey call.
A chill ran over me, and I quickly picked up my call and slipped away, leaving the man with his gobbler.
I doubt he ever knew I was there.
As I walked away, a sobering thought came to mind: What if the gobbler had flown down between us?
Neither of us knew the other hunter was there, and one or the other — or maybe even both of us — could have been shot.
Never before or since then have I mistaken another person for game. But I did, and I’ll never forget the feeling.
If you read the story of Chris Barrett’s terrible accidental shooting in the February 2015 issue of this magazine, you know the consequences of getting hit in the face with a load of shotgun pellets.
And I have a now-retired state trooper friend who has lived for many years with only one eye after losing the other one in a turkey-hunting accident.
He had given a few yelps on a call and failed to see another hunter who stalked him, saw a little movement through dense brush and fired, striking him in the face and chest.
Here are a few safety recommendations specific to turkey hunting:
If sharing an area with other hunters, have a clear understanding of where everyone will be hunting. We sign in and out at our hunting lease, and steer clear of places others have signed up for.
When setting up, especially when using decoys, have a clear view of the surroundings. We want to be able to see approaching turkeys anyway and, even more importantly, we want to see any approaching hunter.
Protect your back by sitting against a nice, big tree.
Anytime another hunter is seen or heard approaching your position, stand up and make sure they know you are there. That goes for approaching vehicles, as well. If you don’t think people will shoot a turkey decoy from a vehicle, let me assure you that some will.
Few things are more fun and exciting than the approach of a big, old long beard, gobbling and strutting along the way in response to your calls. And with just a little planning and caution you can make sure it is a safe and thrilling experience every time.