Mississippi turkey hunting: Mandatory tagging, season change approved by MDWFP commission
'The research that MSU did for us showed that an increase as small as 2% in hen survival could stabilize or increase the population.'
In its Thursday meeting
, the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks
approved two changes for turkey hunters in Mississippi.
The biggest change is hunters will be required to physically tag harvested turkeys, but not just yet.
"They passed tagging, but there's a caveat in there that it will not go into effect until 2025," said Adam Butler, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Wild Turkey Program
Butler said the delay in implementing it until 2025 is because of challenges. He said the agency is in the process of changing to a different license sales vendor, which is a complicated process. So, from a logistical standpoint, it will be simpler to work out details of issuing tags when a new vendor is in place.
Turkey hunters in Mississippi are already required to report harvests to the agency. The requirement went into place in 2019, but Butler estimated hunter-compliance was only at about 30%-40% as of the 2022 season. Harvest reporting provides valuable data used in management of turkeys.
Although tagging is more of a law enforcement tool to help deter illegal over-harvest, Butler said it may improve harvest reporting compliance.
"The tagging part of it hopefully will reinforce harvest reporting," Butler said. "The two go hand-in-hand in my mind."
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Fall turkey season suspended
The commission also gave final approval to the staff recommendation of suspending the fall season for turkeys. The fall season was limited and not popular in Mississippi. It also allowed the harvest of hens.
Butler said studies in other states have shown that fall seasons that allow hens to be harvested negatively impact the population. He said a Mississippi State University study in Mississippi indicated the same.
"Our study showed that very small decreases in hen survival have big impacts on the turkey population," Butler said. "The research that MSU did for us showed that an increase as small as 2% in hen survival could stabilize or increase the population."
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Butler said those hens are needed in Mississippi.
"Over the long-term, we don't have the turkeys we used to," Butler said.
Butler said he's optimistic about coming years because reports last year indicated Mississippi experienced the strongest hatch in 25 years and this year's hatch may be strong as well.
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No change in spring turkey season structure
The commission voted against changing the opening day of the spring season.
Butler had recommended moving the opening day from March 15 to the Saturday closest to March 20. Butler said that would improve hunter experiences by opening on a Saturday when more hunters could participate. It would also move opening day to a time when gobbling activity is higher.
However, a number of hunters spoke before the commission against the change. They argued that gobbling activity in much of the state is already high by March 15. They were also against the change because it would shorten the season by as much as eight days on some years.
While the majority of hunters who offered opinions on the change during the 30-day comment period were in favor of moving the opening date, commissioner Leonard Bentz noted that only 135 comments were received in a state with an estimated 60,000 turkey hunters