2021 Spring Turkey Season Forecast
With bluebird skies, comfortable weather, and beautiful blooms, it is hard to have a bad day afield in the spring turkey woods. Nonetheless, some days are more action packed than others. When it comes to season forecasts, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP) has several data sets to pull from to give hunters an expectation of what they may find when they hit the woods on March 15th. The following predictions are based on a combination of data from the MDWFP annual brood survey and observations from hunters who participate in the Spring Gobbler Hunting Survey (SGHS).
In most years, the incoming 2-year-old gobbler cohort is the key to the season. This age-group tends to make up the bulk of the year’s legal toms, they gobble a lot, and tend to be more easily lured to hunter’s calls. As a result, gobbling activity and overall harvest are closely linked to the availability of 2-year-olds. MDWFP’s data suggests most of the state will see a decrease in this age-group during 2021. Following on the heels of a lackluster 2019 hatch, all regions of Mississippi saw jake observations drop in 2020. In most areas, jakes observations were in the bottom fifth of rates recorded since the SGHS’s inception in 1995. Based on these figures, most Mississippi hunters should prepare themselves for a tougher-than-normal 2021 season. The exception may be parts of southern Mississippi, where data suggests turkey populations are rallying thanks to two strong hatches in the last three years.
Mississippi’s north-central counties have been home to some of its most abundant turkey populations and this trend is not likely to change anytime soon. Nonetheless, brood surveys have suggested poor reproduction in three of the last five years. Jake observations from 2019 and 2020 were the lowest combined two-year stretch in the region’s history. Last season’s forecast predicted hunters in northeast Mississippi should anticipate a challenging spring. The 2021 forecast suggests more of the same. This season's harvest will likely be below what hunters have come to expect, although it may offer a slight improvement over 2020.
A great unknown coming into last spring was the effect the record-setting 2019 flood would have on the Delta’s standing turkey flock. Floodwaters obviously impact nesting and reproduction, but generally do not influence survival of adult birds. However, the 2019 flood was unique and kept large swaths of the south Delta and lands behind the mainline levee system inundated for months. Based on data collected from SGHS participants last season, its clear the 2019 flood wreaked havoc on the population. Total turkey sightings dropped 51% from 2019 to 2020. This, in combination with a near complete reproductive failure in 2019, spells trouble for Delta hunters in 2021. One silver lining is that the 2020 hatch seemed much better, which may provide some boost in the overall number of turkeys hunters see, however, legal, adult gobblers are likely to be few and far between.
Following a good 2020 hatch, hunters should encounter growing turkey populations across central Mississippi this spring. While this news is the upside of 2021, the downside is that carryover from last season was below average, with a greatly reduced class of incoming 2-year-old gobblers. The combination of these two data points suggests overall number of legal gobblers will probably decline and most toms hunters encounter will be older-aged birds. With an abundance of young hens and fewer subordinate gobblers, central Mississippi’s turkey hunters should expect frustrations this spring.
Three summers ago, southwest Mississippi posted one of its best hatches in years. This cohort of gobblers translated into higher harvest rates last year. Despite this, overall turkey numbers were down and jake sightings were below average. These conditions suggest the fate of the 2021 season in southwestern Mississippi will heavily depend upon 3-year-old gobblers carried over from last season. Sightings from summer surveys suggest good gobbler carryover, nevertheless, 2021 will probably be an average season for hunters in the southwestern corner of the Magnolia State.
Following last summer’s bumper hatch, the piney woods of southeast Mississippi should be filled with more turkeys this spring than in many years. Although brood data and jake observations from last season indicate 2021’s 2-year-old crop may not necessarily be overly abundant, gobbler carryover in last summer’s survey appeared favorable. The increase in overall numbers of birds should give the region’s hunters much to crow about, even if luring a legal bird into range may be tough.