Check Out WMAs for Turkeys
Wildlife and the Outdoors
Check Out WMAs for Turkeys
Steven W. Barnett, Wildlife Biologist
Hunters in Alabama are becoming increasingly aware that outstanding turkey hunting opportunities exist on wildlife management areas (WMAs) statewide. These improved conditions are not just happenstance. Many factors have led to where we are today with turkey numbers and harvest opportunities.
Habitat quality is always the primary limiting factor as it relates to growth of wildlife populations. This universal truth applies to all wildlife including wild turkeys. Area biologists with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) have demonstrated on public lands that wild turkey populations will thrive by employing biologically sound habitat management strategies. This has been shown on many WMA habitat types, including those in cooperative ownerships. The result is a successful partnership between WFF and landowners, enabling wildlife species to coexist along with other management objectives on WMAs.
Habitat management practices used on WMAs include prescribed burning in woodlands, wildlife friendly timber harvesting, applying herbicides to control undesirable vegetation, disking, mowing, and planting forages in wildlife openings, and planting mast-bearing trees. These practices improve habitat for turkeys from spring nest to fall flocks. Area biologists, as well as many private landowners, understand that good habitat is a function of year-round management, not just seasonally.
The cumulative effect of turkey restoration efforts, protection, intensive habitat management, partnerships with landowners, along with contributions from hunters and the National Wild Turkey Federation, has resulted in impressive hunting opportunities on Alabama WMAs. Looking at 10-year WMA statistics, harvest data parallels an apparent turkey population growth. In the 1995 spring seasons, 874 gobblers were taken as compared to 1,395 gobblers harvested in the 2004 spring seasons. When measuring hunting effort, an average of 16.1 man-days were required to harvest a turkey in the 1995 spring seasons compared to 13.6 man-days in the 2004 spring seasons. In the 2004 spring seasons, 6 WMAs registered 10 man-days or less to harvest a turkey. These WMAs were Autauga, Blue Spring, Choccolocco, Coosa, Oakmulgee, and Upper delta. However, excellent hunting opportunities exist on all 27 WMAs that encompass over 745,000 acres statewide.
If hunting effort is compared between WMAs and private lands, more man-days are needed to take gobblers on WMAs based on harvest data. This data does not reflect fewer turkeys on WMAs, but suggests that hunting pressure is more of a limiting factor on WMAs than private lands. To illustrate the point, the same lovesick gobbler that runs to a poorly scratched out yelp on private land may balk at your sweetest pleas for romance on public land because he has encountered many hen calls from hunters.
Planning and preparation are the keys to being a successful turkey hunter on WMAs. Hunting pressure plays a role, but it can be minimized through preseason scouting, looking for tracks, droppings, scratching, and strutting marks. Locate gobblers prior to the spring season opening by logging gobbling locations with the aid of topographic maps, compass, and GPS. Avoid the urge to call-in gobblers before season to “educate” them. Also, make note of wildlife openings with chufa and clover because these sites can serve as staging areas for gobblers locating hens, strutting, and feeding. Focusing ahead of the curve will help you be successful hunting turkeys on WMAs.
On WMAs, you must possess a current state hunting license, WMA license, and WMA permit. Hunting hours are daylight until noon. Report all harvested turkeys as directed on the permit. Nineteen WMAs will host youth turkey hunts on the Saturday before the regular spring season opening date in 2005. Also, a youth turkey hunting area will offer hunts on a limited basis throughout the 2005 spring turkey season.
For more information, contact Steven W. Barnett, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, at P.O. Box 247, Daphne, AL, 36526 or at 251-626-5474.