Mississippi turkey season changes enter public comment period
Published 1:40 pm Thursday, April 13, 2023
OAKLAND — Turkey program director Adam Butler made three proposed rule changes to the 2024 Turkey season at the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks commission meeting Thursday. Heavy discussion followed his proposals before the commission voted to accept the rules as they enter a 30 day public comment period.
One of the turkey program’s proposed rules for the 2024 season is to change the opening day of the spring season to the Saturday closest to March 20. This would shorten the season by as little as three days and as much as eight days. Youth season would open the Saturday prior under this rule and both seasons would still close on May 1.
Butler said at the commission meeting in February the change in dates are to eliminate confusion on when the opening day is as the opener has been on March 15 for the last decade. His staff also believes the change would improve hunt quality with better gobbling activity and realign youth season with spring break.
Fall season would also be suspended under proposed Rule 3.1. Commissioner Leonard Bentz objected and asked to make an amendment to the fall season by limiting the season to gobbler harvest only.
Butler said in February the justification for eliminating the fall season would be to protect the state hen population because of the long lasting impacts hen survival would have on the turkey population. He pushed back on Bentz’s proposed amendment because keeping gobbler harvest in the fall would threaten the jake population which by then could have legal beard and spur lengths.
Mississippi does not allow legal harvest of jakes in order to protect an entire age class of younger male birds so they may grow up to become bigger long beards.
“The gobbler’s only option has different consequences biologically,” Butler said. “It runs counter to our protection of jakes. People want to see the jakes grow but if you harvest it in November or October it undermines the purpose of having the rule.”
Fall season is also abused by the public because hunters don’t read the fine print, Butler said. Hunters see the season dates but don’t notice they must apply for a permit and purchase permits for fall turkey hunting. In 2022, MDWFP issued 226 permits to 120 properties but sold 1,606 fall turkey permits to hunters.
The commission opted to accept the proposed rule as it is with no amendments. Rule 3.1 will now enter a 30 day public comment period before being officially voted on at the May commission meeting.
Butler also proposed rule 3.4 which would create a mandatory state physical tagging system. Hunters who kill a turkey are required by law to report their harvest to Game Check but there are people who refuse to follow that law and kill more than their bag limit of birds.
Turkey hunters would be required to acquire and carry physical tags while turkey hunting. The tags must be then properly notched before a harvested bird could be removed from afield. Tags would have to be attached to birds leg before moving the bird and remain until the bird has been processed and cleaned.
One of the reasons for rule 3.4 is the MDWFP is trying to fight against outlaws harvesting too many turkeys. MDWFP is also trying to get a good figure on how many turkey hunters there are in the state. Butler said estimates show there are 60,000 turkey hunters but they do not include license exempt hunters. Commissioners could also instate a fee to cover the processing and shipping costs of tags.
William Mounger, a commissioner representing Southwest Mississippi, pointed out they could create a turkey stamp to cover the costs of research, habitat management and the price of physical tags. Butler had recommended the commission incorporate a turkey stamp at the February meeting for the same reasons.
Commissioners voted to accept proposed rule 3.4 and it will go to public comment for 30 days before the official vote at the May meeting.
One concerned citizen did not wait until May to make his public comment heard. Ron Seiss, a former employee with the MDWFP, asked the commission to consider habitat management, physical tags, requiring hunters to purchase a permit and addressing supplemental feeding conflicts at the meeting Thursday.
“Land use changes are the primary cause of turkey decline. Turkey habitat quantity and quality have decreased due to urbanization, lack of burning, conversion of hardwoods to pine plantations and loss of pasture land,” Seiss said. “We need to quantify the changes to gain a better understanding of this decline. We also need to educate and aid landowners on habitat management. It will make a difference in our population.”
Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks offers a private lands program where biologists can assist landowners in managing property for wild game and conservation. They also have a Fire on the Forty program which helps landowners use prescribed fire to improve habitat.
Turkeys and other land nesting birds are reliant on prescribed fires and the successional plant growth which follows fire in their life. Including a permit and physical tagging system would help the department better manage the resource and may help cover the costs of burning and other habitat projects, Seiss said.
Supplemental feeding could provide opportunities for birds to be killed illegally by hunters near deer feeders due to the language of the rules, he added. The commission needs to address these issues. MDWFP also needs to consider not changing the season opening date, Seiss said.
“They will have minor impacts if any biologically but they will limit hunter opportunity,” Seiss said. “There is no measure of hunting quality on days removed from the season. In the past, hunters have responded to the opportunity to hunt being important to them. There is no biological reason to open the season later. We have a no jake rule and therefore can have a longer season than other states.”
He argued hunting opportunities should also remain open for the fall season but limit the harvest to gobbler only. Bentz admitted he missed the educational session at the February meeting and was confused on why the fall season would be eliminated. MDWFP has a video of the turkey program’s educational session on its YouTube page which has been viewed over 1,000 times.
Tennessee will open its turkey season on April 15 which was voted on by their commission. Seiss commended the commission for not jumping too quickly on shortening season dates.
“Tennessee took away a tremendous amount of opportunity and it is wrong,” he said.
Public comments can be submitted to MDWFP www.mdwfp.com/apps/rules-regulations/. We would love to hear your thoughts on the proposed rules. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to share.