Hit the Jackpot

Have your son or daughter apply for the state’s youth lottery hunts, and you may have another Thanksgiving feast in March.

My hunter was Brady Perise, 11. Brady had been drawn for the youth turkey hunt on Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries offers youth lottery hunts on a number of its public WMAs across the state each year. These hunts usually open the week before the regular season and give the kids an opportunity to make a hunt before the adults hit the woods.

During my years as a biologist with the LDWF, I had been in charge of the youth hunts on Tunica Hills. When I retired last year, I felt obligated to volunteer to help with the 2011 hunt, and was selected as Brady’s guide.

Christian Winslow, the biologist in charge of the WMA youth hunts in the Florida Parishes, points out that all the WMA hunts around the state are not the same. Guides and hunting zones are assigned on some WMAs, but not on others. Hunters need to be aware of this and do some checking before they apply.

All the WMA youth hunts are lottery only. Youths aged 8 to 17 are eligible to apply. The youth, or his accompanying adult, must possess a Hunter Safety Certification Card or have proof of completion of the Hunter Safety Course. Applications must be submitted by Feb. 3, and can obtained at any field office or at www.wlf.louisiana.gov.

The youth turkey hunt on Tunica Hills WMA is fairly structured. This WMA is divided into zones, with each youth being assigned to a specific area where he can hunt without interference from other hunters. Successful applicants are contacted by LDWF prior to the hunt to determine turkey hunting experience and knowledge of the area. If the parent and youth are inexperienced in turkey hunting, a guide can be assigned to them.

The local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation has been very helpful assisting with the Tunica hunt. They provide guides and a lunch for the hunters.

Winslow recommends young hunters practice with light loads, hitting targets at different ranges and in different positions prior to the hunt. During the actual hunt, the youth should use a heavier turkey load, but with the excitement and adrenaline rush of the hunt, few youths will feel the difference. He also suggests a shooting stick will help smaller kids support the gun.

Scouting can be very helpful for turkey hunting. Hunting on Tunica Hills is a different proposition from hunting flat-ground areas. On flat ground, you hear a bird gobble, shoot a compass bearing and take off. In the hills, the rugged topography usually makes such a straight-line approach very difficult, if not impossible. It is necessary to know how the ridges lay, and preferably, be on the same ridge the bird is on.

So, with all this in mind, the day before the hunt I went into my assigned zone before daylight to get the lay of the land and find out where any birds might be roosting and traveling. The WMA personnel had put out a portable blind on one of the food plots. At first light, I was standing by this blind, and had three birds gobbling across a draw to the east. I moved back north, and heard one more bird gobbling to the west of another plot. I came back in at noon, and moved the blind to this second plot on the theory it would be easier to call a bird up a ridge than it would be to get one to cross a gully.

The morning of the hunt, we all met up at a nearby country store at 4:30. Some of the folks drawn had to rise before 3 a.m. to make it. Ach, sleep is highly over-rated anyway.

Brady, his father, Randy, and I entered the WMA shortly after 5:00, and took a brisk 20-minute walk in the pitch dark through the woods. It takes all the fun out of it to use a flashlight, and can disturb roosting birds. You just hope there are not any rattlesnakes on the trail.

Anyway, by accident or design, we arrived at our hunting location in good shape and on time. The temperature was cool, the skies were clear and the wind was calm. All the stars shone like jewels. It was a beautiful day to be out in the woods. I stuck up a hen decoy in the food plot, and got Brady and his father into the blind.

Just before dawn, we heard the first bird gobble to the far northeast. Shortly after, a second bird gobbled to the far west. Neither bird was close enough to move on, so we stayed where we were. I leaned over to Randy.

“With nothing close, it looks like it might be one of those days it would be best to sit it out,” I whispered.

Turkeys do not just stand in one place all day. They cover a considerable amount of ground. You can either run all over the property attempting to get within calling distance of a bird, greatly increasing the odds of spooking them, or you can sit there, calling periodically. Hopefully, you can attract a bird during its daily travels, or be able to make a move later as the situation dictates.

At fly-down time, I got out of the blind and walked around the plot yelping and clucking loudly with a mouth call. No response. Oh well. Got back in the blind.

Every five minutes or so, I would yelp out the blind window. I finally got the bird to the west to respond, but it was still very far away. Over the next 15 minutes, it seemed to be getting a little closer. Then, all of a sudden, a bird gobbled right out in front of us, not 60 yards away.


“This bird is right on top of us,” I whispered. “We have a very good chance for a kill.”

I yelped again, and it immediately responded. Okay, it was close and knew where we were, so I stopped calling. We got situated so Brady could shoot out the front window.

Understand, this was no mean feat. We were all stacked into the blind like sardines. It took quite a bit of maneuvering. We had his shotgun supported by a shooting stick, so he would not have to hold the whole weight of the gun.

The bird gobbled eight or 10 times. Blood pressure rose. Hearts pounded. At least for Randy and I. I suspect young Brady was a bit excited also. We were just sure the turkey would ease over the ridge at any time.

But it didn’t.

Then it shut up.

I waited 10 minutes, could not stand it any longer, and yelped. Nothing. Five minutes later, we heard a bird gobble 150 yards away on the opposite side of the blind.

“I can’t believe he looped us without us seeing him,” I said. “That may well be a second bird.”

I yelped, he gobbled back.

Well, okay. If that is the new game, we can play. I got Brady re-adjusted, so he could shoot right where we anticipated this new bird to appear from. When we were all set up, out of the corner of my eye, I was shocked to see a gobbler in full strut back to the extreme left of the plot, not 20 yards away. This was the first bird.

Great. Now we had Brady in a position he could not even see the bird from, let alone shoot. It was so close we couldn’t move. It fanned and drummed. Neither Randy nor Brady could see the bird, but they both could hear him quite well.

I had hoped it would continue across the plot toward the decoy, but it just stood there and displayed. Rotten, uncooperative bird.

I knew this was not going to go on forever, and leaned over to Brady.

“If I hold the gun, can you slide over to the right and reposition yourself?” I asked.

He nodded affirmatively. I looked back at the turkey, and discovered, much to my horror, it was gone. It was headed back into the woods to the left. We rapidly repositioned Brady to shoot out the side window, but the bird was into the woods before he got right.

I pulled my call back out and gave a quick yelp. The turkey gobbled right back and turned around. When you are hot (lucky), you are hot (lucky). The bird re-emerged from the woods, and at about 20 yards Brady put the bead on the neck waddles and pulled the trigger. You could see him jerk forward as he did this. The safety was on.

Randy gave him some fatherly advice.

“Take the safety off,” he said, “and don’t pull the trigger so hard.”

He followed these instructions, and shortly thereafter we were rewarded with a loud, “BANG!” The bird went down and started flopping, just like it was supposed to. We burst out of the blind and tackled the bouncing bird, but it wasn’t necessary. Brady placed the shot well, and it was all over by 7:15.

Nothing to this turkey hunting stuff.

We tagged the bird, as required by law, and headed back on the long hike out.

In retrospect, we were lucky. Normally, once a bird has checked the situation out and left, it is very difficult to get him to come back. Fortunately, this was the first hunt of the season, and you can get away with a lot more than you can later in the year after they have been yelped at, bumped and shot at. This is why it’s usually easier to kill a bird the first week of the season.

It was a very nice 2-year-old gobbler. It weighed 18 1/4 pounds, had a 9 1/2-inch beard and 7/8-inch spurs. Brady weighs 112 pounds, and was shooting a 12-gauge shotgun with 3-inch shells. I asked him if it kicked when he shot. He said he was so excited he didn’t even feel it. This was Brady’s first turkey.

Area Technician Jason Childres is a rabid LSU supporter, while I am a big Texas A&M fan. I told Jason when the bird started back into the woods, I stuck my Aggie hat out the window and waved it. The bird came right back. There it is. The whole unvarnished truth. Yeah, it may have been laughing at the Aggie hat, but we see who laughed last.

Winslow reports everyone had a great time during the Tunica hunt last year, even with only one longbeard taken. Not many birds were harvested, but everyone heard birds and most saw some. Two other kids got shots but did not score. Another youth had an opportunity to take a jake but passed. It was a good hunt.

Small Game and Turkey Coordinator Jimmy Stafford says reproduction appeared to be off last year in some areas of the state. Areas impacted by spring flooding can expect to have had a very poor hatch. The low poult numbers observed in the Southeast Loblolly Pine habitat last spring may indicate a decline in jake numbers in the area this season.

Other areas, such as Vernon, Beauregard, Union, Claiborne and Natchitoches parishes, look better. It appears the Tunica area had a decent hatch last year. A number of longbeards and jakes were observed in 2011. Most of these jakes should be 2-year-old gobblers this year.

This coming season, hunters will have seven days to validate used tags. If an agent observes a missing tag on a license, he can call in and verify if the tag was validated. If not, a citation may be issued.

In addition to the WMA hunts, Stafford points out kids can also take advantage of youth hunts on private lands statewide on March 17-18. Eligibility for the private lands hunts is the same as on WMAs. However, youths 16-17 years of age may hunt without adult supervision on these private land hunts.


LDWF Field Offices

Hammond 985-543-4777

Lake Charles 337-491-2575

Minden 318-371-3050

Monroe 318-343-4044

Opelousas 337-948-0255

Pineville 318-487-5885

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