Spring in the Turkey Woods:
Mississippi’s 2023 Turkey Season Forecast
Mississippi’s spring turkey season opens on Wednesday, March 15th and ends May 1st. Hunters aged 15 and under can get an early youth-only opportunity beginning March 8th. If you’re wondering what to expect when you hit the spring woods this season, here’s 2 words: more turkeys. The 2022 hatch was a record-breaker. While its full effects won’t be felt until next season, there’s plenty of optimism to go round for 2023. The following forecasts breaks things down for each region of the Magnolia State.
With its perfect mix of hardwoods and fields, the northern third of the state is home to some of the state’s most abundant turkey numbers. Nevertheless, populations have slide over the past 5 years due to underperforming hatches. Available data indicates mixed signals for 2023. On one hand, both the 2020 and 2021 hatches were well below the regional average. However, there’s reason to believe late clutches bolstered overall reproduction much better than the brood surveys indicated. This was confirmed by a nearly 30-40% increase in jake sightings last spring. This bump, coupled with the good hatch of 2022, means north Mississippi hunters will likely have more turkeys on their hands this spring than in several years.
For nearly 60 years, the private lands along the margins of the Mississippi River have held some of the state’s densest turkey populations. However, this region was hammered by repeated floods from 2008 to 2019. As a result, turkeys struggled. After a bounce back season last spring, properties behind the mainline Mississippi River levee system seem posed for an incredible return to glory in 2023. Two of the region’s best hatches on record have occurred in the past three years and jake sightings the past two springs have been nearly twice the long-term average. While public and private lands in the south Delta still have a way to go to climb back from a decade of flooding, properties adjacent to the Mississippi River from Washington County northward should expect one of their better springs of the past twenty years.
The 2023 season in central parts of the state should be better than the past few years but may still not quite measure up to some of the best years of the past. The region has posted solid hatches three straight years, and total turkey sightings have increased the past two seasons after hitting an all-time low in 2020. Last spring, hunters in the region saw approximately 11 jakes per 100 hours afield, which was in line with the average of the past decade, but still under the long-term average since the mid-1990s. There will be more turkeys in the woods in central Mississippi this spring, no doubt, but expectations for 2023 should be set more to ‘average’ than ‘exceptional.’
Southwestern Mississippi has deep turkey roots, and while there’s some great times on the horizon, 2023 may be a bit of a struggle. With a recorded value of two-and-a-half poults per hen, the 2022 hatch was the third best recorded for the region since MDWFP’s summer brood survey began in 1994. That is the good news. The bad news is that last spring’s jake sightings were near an all-time low for the region. This combination – lots of jenny hens with fewer adult gobblers – will likely spell frustration this spring. The bright spot will be tons of jakes which forecast much better fortunes for 2024 and beyond.
Of the state’s nearly 60,000 turkey hunters, those who hunt deep in the Piney Woods probably have the most reason to smile this spring. This region has had a surge in turkey numbers over the past few years. Four of the past five hatches in the region have been above the level needed to yield population growth. The 2022 hatch tied the region’s best on record. Jake sightings have steadily marched upward since 2016, and jake numbers since 2021 have been the best two-year stretch of the past 20 years. The forecast for southeast Mississippi looks great. This spring should be one of the region’s best since the early 2000s, and even better days may await over the next few years.
While Mississippi has long been a blueblood turkey hunting state, the past 10-15 years have been troubling for many of the Magnolia State’s diehard turkey hunters. Nevertheless, signs of optimism abound. The 2022 hatch was one of the best on record and far outpaced every other southeastern state. Unsurprisingly, sightings by deer hunters over the winter indicated dramatic increases in turkey numbers throughout the state. The Delta and southeastern Mississippi, both former turkey-rich regions which have respectively suffered in recent decades from the environmental effects of flooding and hurricanes, have shown clear evidence of rebounding populations returning to their former status. Reports from around the state seem more positive than they have in years. Nonetheless, the waves of good fortune have not quite yet fully crested. The 2023 season will be encouraging for most yet tough for some. Properties with better habitat will produce solid hunting. Marginal areas may have a spillover increase in birds from the 2022 hatch but will be limited in adult gobblers. Regardless, springtime in the Mississippi woods is sure to be special and always to be treasured.