Maybe some of the biggest college football fans in Mississippi are wild turkeys. The state has a fall turkey hunting season from October to November. But in college football crazy country, the fall hunt harvest isn't that heavy.
That reprieve for gobblers is about to change. The state's spring turkey hunting season draws many more hunters, and state officials think the spring of 2014 should provide plenty of birds. Mississippi's statewide spring turkey hunting season runs March 15 to May 1.
Dave Godwin, the wild turkey program coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, said last year hunters bagged about 30 thousand turkeys in the spring season.
"We can make projections based on whether it was a good hatch or bad hatch in previous years. This year should be a very good year, as the 2012 hatch year was a very good year," Godwin said.
He explained that it takes about two years for a turkey to gain maturity, where it can be legally hunted. Thus, this year's crop would have been hatched in 2012.
"The length of the turkey's beard is the determining factor. The rule is six inches for a legal beard," Godwin said.
Most year old turkeys will have a beard in the three to four inch range. And by the second year that will grow to the eight to 11 inch range. Hunters are allowed to bag one adult gobbler per day, and three in the spring season.
"For the hunters, it's easy," Godwin said of the ability to tell if a turkey is old enough to be taken. "You really don't get into a scenario where you're thinking about whether or not the turkey is legal to shoot."
The fact there even is a turkey season is a success story of Mississippi conservation. Through the early part of the last century, turkeys were hunted into near extinction in the state. Godwin's condensed history lesson explains one of the department's goals when it was formed in the 1930's was to help build wildlife populations.
He said the development of what is called a cannon net in the 1950s was a tremendous step forward in the preservation of wild turkeys.
"They could launch that over wild turkeys, so they could catch them and then stock habitat in areas where they could flourish," Godwin explained.
By the 1980s turkey population in Mississippi had rebounded to the point that hunting could again take place without endangering the species. Cooperation between the department and hunters since then has helped keep the turkey population at levels which allow good hunting seasons such as last year and what is expected this spring as well.
"Turkey hunters here are a good group," Godwin said. "There's a lot of respect for the resource. They're passionate about turkeys. Older hunters especially remember what it was like."