Turkey season opens Saturday and runs through May 15.
DNR officials say harvest levels this spring should be in line with the last few seasons.
“There should be many vocal 2-year-old gobblers available for harvest this year thanks to the high reproduction rate in the summer of 2008,” said Kevin Lowrey, the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division wild turkey project coordinator.
An estimated 56,113 resident Georgia hunters bagged 27,323 turkeys last year, according to the DNR. The bird to hunter ratio (harvest rate) for 2009 was .49 birds per hunter – the same as in 2007 and 2008.
Lowrey said Georgia’s current turkey population is estimated to be at 300,000 birds.
That high number is one of Georgia’s great conservation success stories. Wild turkeys were hunted almost to extinction by market hunters in the 1800s, and as recently as 1973, the wild turkey population was as low as 17,000 in Georgia.
Intensive restoration efforts, such as the restocking of wild birds and increased emphasis on biologically sound hunting seasons, have helped re-establish turkeys in suitable habitat in every county. This resurgence is due to the efforts of private landowners, hunters and conservation organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation.
The NWTF Georgia Chapter has donated more than $3,220,977 since 1985 on projects that benefit wild turkey and other wildlife. The NWTF works cooperatively in partnership with the Wildlife Resources Division and other land management agencies with the focus on habitat enhancement, hunter access, wild turkey research and education.
Georgia turkey hunters are privileged with one of the longest turkey seasons nationwide. The bag limit is three gobblers per season.
Because most hunters pursue wild turkeys on private lands, the Wildlife Resources Division reminds hunters to always obtain landowner permission before hunting.
Georgia’s Wildlife Management Areas also offer excellent turkey hunting opportunities. Through the WMA system, resident hunters have access to nearly one million acres of prime hunting land.
Success rates and total harvest numbers from 2009 may help indicate which WMAs hunters should target this year.
In the northwest, Crockford-Pigeon Mountain and Berry College WMA reported the highest harvest rates. In the northeast, Dukes Creek WMA and Wilson Shoals WMA had the highest harvest rates.
In west central Georgia, hunters should try Joe Kurz WMA and Rum Creek WMA. In east central Georgia, Di-Lane Plantation WMA and Tuckahoe WMA reported high harvest rates.
In the southeast, hunters should visit Dixon Memorial WMA and Sansavilla WMA. Middle Georgia hunters should try River Bend WMA. Finally, down in southwest Georgia, River Creek WMA and Chickasawhatchee WMA had the highest harvest rates.
A special WMA license, costing $19, is required for any person 16 years or older who does not possess a valid honorary, sportsman or lifetime license when hunting wild turkey on a WMA, Public Fishing Area or state park. In addition, both a valid hunting license and a big game license are required to legally hunt wild turkey.
Wild turkey legally can be hunted with shotguns, loaded with No. 2 or smaller shot, any muzzleloading firearm, longbow, crossbow or compound bow.
Because hunters are completely camouflaged and imitate the clucks and cackles of hens to attract gobblers to them, great care must be taken to avoid hunting accidents during turkey season.
“Hunters should always be sure to identify their target before pulling the trigger and should never shoot at sound or movement,” advised Lt. Judd Smith of the DNR’s law enforcement section. “Turkey hunters have to utilize their firearms safety knowledge and remember always to keep themselves and others safe while in the woods.”
Safety tips for wild turkey hunting
Hunters are encouraged to review the following turkey hunting safety precautions:
• Never wear red, white, blue or black clothing while turkey hunting. Red is the color most hunters look for when distinguishing a gobbler’s head from a hen’s blue-colored head, but at times it may appear white or blue. Male turkey feathers covering most of the body are black in appearance. Camouflage should be used to cover everything, including the hunter’s face, hands and firearm.
• Select a calling position that provides at least a shoulder-width background, such as the base of a tree. Be sure that at least a 180-degree range is visible.
• Do not stalk a gobbling turkey. Due to their keen eyesight and hearing, the chances of getting close are slim to none, but a hunter in motion greatly increases his/her chances of being mistaken for game.
• Be careful using a turkey call. The sound and motion may attract other hunters. Do not move, wave or make turkey-like sounds to alert another hunter to your presence. Instead, yell in a loud voice so other hunters know you are in the area.
• Be careful when carrying a harvested turkey from the woods. Do not allow the wings to hang loosely or the head to be displayed in such a way that another hunter may think it is a live bird. If possible, conceal the turkey in a blaze orange bag or garment.
• Although it’s not required, it is suggested that hunters wear blaze orange when moving to and from a vehicle and hunting site. When moving between hunting sites, hunters should wear blaze orange on their upper bodies to lessen chances of being mistaken for game.
For additional turkey hunting information or turkey hunting safety tips, visit www.gohuntgeorgia.com, or call (770) 918-6414.