Tracking back: Public concern sparked Mississippi’s turkey season changes

Published 9:34 am Friday, April 28, 2023

BROOKHAVEN — Lawrence County native Adam Butler serves as the turkey program coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and recently made recommendations to change the turkey season frameworks and regulations. His recommendations came after years of work and research. 

Butler first presented his recommendations in an educational session in February on the status of the turkey program. Turkey harvests peaked in 1986 with nearly 60,000 birds taken by about 62,000 hunters but have fluctuated since then. About 58,000 hunters killed 28,000 turkeys in 2022, a higher harvest than the previous 10 seasons. 

MDWFP’s response to public concern about a turkey decline is to implement a physical tagging system, close the fall season and move the season opener a week later in March to aid hunter success. These changes to the 2024 turkey season were accepted into a 30 day public comment period by the commission at the April meeting. Public comment is open until the next commission meeting in May. 

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At the same February meeting, Butler gave a report of Mississippi experiencing its best hatch of poults in a long time with 2.3 poults per hen after a series of poor hatches. 

Butler said the department started looking at changing Mississippi’s turkey season in 2015 to 2016 with the publication of its Comprehensive Wild Turkey Management Plan. The first quote found in this plan comes from Aldo Leopold’s report on a Game Survey of Mississippi in 1929. 

“On account of the high proportion of forest lands, and especially the wide dispersion of natural refuges in the form of swamps, no state has a more favorable chance than Mississippi to produce a large and stable crop of wild turkeys,” Leopold wrote. In juxtaposition, the first paragraph of the plan’s technical copy states recent data suggests a decline in reproductive success, hunter success and total harvests of turkeys.

MDWFP set seven objectives in the comprehensive plan. First, provide the priority, capacity and support needed to manage the wild turkey resource, collect comprehensive data on wild turkey populations which scales accurately to inform policy decisions. The department has an objective to promote, facilitate and undertake practices that address limiting factors, provide turkey hunting opportunities which satisfy hunters and yield quality outdoor experiences.

Mississippi’s wildlife bureau wanted to acquire the best available science to guide wildlife management, minimize unlawful exploitation of Mississippi’s turkey resource and increase understanding of wild turkey ecology and management in the plan. 

At the time, harvest per 100 hours hunted had dropped significantly to 2.9 in 2016 from a peak of 4.7 in 2004. Butler said harvest rates peaked 30 years ago and have been in a decline since then and poult per hen numbers have indicated a similar decline. While populations fluctuate naturally, they are lower than they were in the 1980s, the 1980s are considered a gold standard of turkey hunting in Mississippi. Public concern and comments about population decline really helped initiate the process.

“Turkeys have declined. There are a lot of reasons for it. The nature of the situation is it isn’t as bad as people perceive it to be,” Butler said. “There is a legitimate reason to worry about turkeys. There isn’t one single cause for a decline though. Public sentiment asked us to take a look at it and see what we could do to evaluate our approach to hunting.” 

Check back tomorrow for a second part in a three part series on Mississippi’s proposed turkey season changes. If you have any questions or feedback, email