Mississippi Outdoors: Wild Turkeys – Decline and Repopulation

Mississippi turkey hunters should reflect on the wild turkey’s history in our great state and never take this majestic bird for granted.

Historically, Mississippi’s landscape was rich with wild turkeys. Writings from early explorers, and naturalists who came later, suggest turkeys were plentiful throughout much of the state. However, by the early 1900s, Mississippi’s wild turkey population was in serious decline.

Large-scale timber harvests reduced much of the state’s forestlands, and decades of year-round, unregulated hunting had taken a toll. Legislators passed laws that prevented turkey harvest during the summer, but these laws proved too little, too late. The combination of widespread habitat loss and severe overharvest was too much for turkey populations to overcome. The state’s once abundant wild turkey populations were reduced to only a few thousand individuals.

In 1932, the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission (now known as the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks) was established, and restoring wild turkey populations immediately became a top priority. However, early efforts to restore turkeys mostly failed due to the lack of an effective means to trap and relocate wild birds.

The agency purchased captive-raised or game-farm turkeys and released nearly 3,000 into the wild by the late 1930s. However, these releases were mostly unsuccessful because they did not have the instincts needed to survive and reproduce in the wild.

In the early 1950s, a technique called “cannon netting” was developed for capturing wild turkeys. This effective technique consisted of a large net attached to steel projectiles fired from mortar-like cannons. It offered hope for turkey restoration in Mississippi and many other states.

By the 1960s, Mississippi’s forests were recovering, and timber harvests were managed sustainably. Turkey restoration efforts were in full swing, with turkeys being captured and relocated from areas of abundance to new areas with suitable habitat but few birds. Conservation officers ensured these newly relocated flocks were protected from poaching and overharvest. Early restocking efforts proved successful and continued into the early 1990s. In all, 3,674 wild turkeys were caught and relocated within the state.

Today, Mississippi’s wild turkey population is estimated at around 250,000 birds, and the spring gobbler hunting season is open in all 82 counties. More than 20,000 gobblers are harvested each spring, which is more than the total statewide population at the end of the 1930s.

In an effort to build upon the wild turkey conservation successes of previous generations, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks recently developed a strategic plan for turkey management. One of its primary objectives is to collect comprehensive data on turkey populations to accurately inform policy decisions and evaluate management actions. A central strategy is the implementation of a mandatory reporting system for all turkey harvests.

Hunters should be aware that, beginning with the 2019 spring season, this tool is now in effect. All turkeys harvested in Mississippi must be reported through the agency’s Game Check system by 10 p.m. on the day the harvest occurs. For more information, visit here.

Enjoy a safe and successful hunt, and be sure to report your turkey harvest. As hunters and conservationists, let’s do our part in helping our state’s wildlife agency to ensure turkey hunting remains available and in good shape for future generations to enjoy. They are the reason we have what we have today.

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