JACKSON – The Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks and the Mississippi Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP) staff discussed the continual statewide decline in wild turkey harvests during its open educational session on December 14.
“Mississippi offers great turkey hunting, but if these downward trends continue, there may come a time when this will no longer be the case,” said Adam Butler, MDWFP Wild Turkey Program Coordinator. The trend to which Butler refers is the decline in spring gobbler harvest by licensed hunters in Mississippi. The agency’s assessments suggest spring gobbler harvest peaked in 1987 at just under 60,000 gobblers. By comparison, the 2016 estimate was slightly over 22,000 birds. “Our numbers saw a dramatic drop between the late 1980s and early 1990s,” Butler stated. “While substantial, that crash was not totally unexpected since we were coming off the restocking era when populations exploded and likely overshot what their habitats could support. However, the declines we have seen since 2005 are much more troubling because they follow a period of population stability throughout most of the ’90s and early 2000s. Other states are also seeing the same thing happening, and so the time to act is now,” he continued.
The Mississippi Chapter of the NWTF, the state’s only organization focused on wild turkey conservation, was well represented at the meeting and offered its formal support. “A considerable portion of the dollars we raise at local banquets stays here in Mississippi and goes to homegrown projects to conserve turkeys, their habitats, and promote our hunting heritage,” said Nelson Estess, President of the Mississippi Chapter of the NWTF.
Discussions focused on newly proposed initiatives to address statewide turkey management, including efforts to engage sportsmen in active management of habitat and predator populations. “I believe if every turkey hunter does their part, we can double Mississippi’s turkey population,” declared Billy Deviney, Chairman of the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, who is also an avid turkey hunter.
In addition to promoting predator and habitat management, the MDWFP will implement a voluntary harvest reporting system for 2017 spring season. Hunters will be encouraged to register their harvests online. Mississippi is one of only three states without such a system. The valuable information gained through harvest reporting will allow a better, more detailed look at the state’s turkey flock. “The Mississippi Chapter of NWTF strongly supports putting a turkey harvest reporting system in place. There is no doubt it is an important step in Mississippi’s proactive, comprehensive plan to address what is occurring with our treasured wild turkey populations,” remarked Estess.
For more information regarding wild turkeys in Mississippi and turkey hunting opportunities, visit us at www.mdwfp.com/turkey or call us at (601) 432-2199.