Reports Mixed For 2018 Georgia Turkey Season
GON Hunt Advisor Reports
Before the Georgia turkey season began, there was hope among hunters that this season would mark the beginning of a return to the quality of turkey hunting we used to have in Georgia.
Based on reports from GON’s Hunt Advisor team, it was a mixed bag in the Georgia turkey woods, with less-than-stellar gobbling even in the areas where hunters were seeing birds and had some success.
Here are reports from across the state.
Madison County: Keith Ingram, of Comer, reports, “Another turkey season is steadily coming to a close, and this past April 3 made this season without a doubt the most memorable one in 34 seasons of hunting. I had taken Joshua Riddle, of Honea Path, S.C., youth weekend, and things just didn’t come together, but he did get to hear several gobblers.
“Joshua hunts through the Outdoor Dream Foundation, and his mom Jamie brought him back over for another hunt on the 3rd. It was, as they say, a textbook hunt. The bird gobbled pretty good on the roost no more than 100 yards out. I had Joshua and his mom in a ground blind, and I sat outside of it on his side where I could talk to him. When I started sending a few tree calls, the tom cut my call. The next time he gobbled, he was on the ground and closer, and I gave a fly-down cackle. He double gobbled and was on his way. I never called to him again, and in a few minutes he popped out of the woods on the logging road to our left. He went into strut, and it seemed like it took him forever to come into range, and I was having to tell Joshua to just let him ease on closer to the decoys. Joshua showed great patience and dropped the ol’ tom at about 30 yards for his first turkey.
“The gobbler was a very nice 2-year-old, and he will be on display in Joshua’s man cave when he gets him back from the taxidermist, thanks to Leslie Fordham, who had bought a free mount certificate at an ODF banquet and gave it to Joshua.
“The season has been another good one for me. I’m still looking for that third bird, but if it doesn’t happen, that’s alright. The gobbling has been pretty consistent. I’ve heard at least one gobbler every time I’ve been out, but I feel the numbers are still very low and don’t seem to be any better from last year. I spend a lot of time in the turkey woods every year, and it’s depressing to see the shape the flocks are in compared to just 15 to 20 years ago. I will spend most of what’s left in the season chasing those mountain birds, where late season seems to be somewhat better. There’s nothing better than a public-land gobbler. The hens all across north Georgia should be starting to sit soon, so maybe the remainder of the season will be good everywhere. But as of April 15, I ran across several hens roosted close together with a gobbler nearby, and when they flew down, one hen came to me, and the rest took the tom the opposite direction. That was also the first and only hen I’ve called in all season.
“I don’t have an answer to solve the numbers problem, but just some thoughts on what might help. Cut limit back to two mature birds, and make jakes illegal except for kids under 16. We have buck restrictions, why not gobblers, also? Shorten the season back to the first weekend in May like it used to be. I understand that everyone would not agree, and I respect that—these are just some thoughts I have.”
Laurens County: Tim Knight, of Dublin, reports, “The season here in middle Georgia has been feast or famine. Although my youngest son killed a great bird with his bow and my oldest son Josh and myself have tagged out on gobblers, it has been a fickle season to say the least. I had gone to a property that I knew held birds due to tracks and strut marks and dust bowls. Yet I went quite a few mornings and did not hear a single gobble. I did finally get a great bird on that property by just walking and calling and finally struck a gobble mid morning. Nothing like going from not hearing anything to having one almost blow your hat off when he gobbled. I had just enough time to get set up with my bow before he was in my lap. There have been many mornings that were beautiful and heard several gobblers that wound up being henned up, only to go back the next morning and hear absolutely nothing under the exact same conditions.
“If you still have tags, then spend some time scouting for tracks and droppings and strut marks along with dusting bowls. Don’t get caught up in just gobbling. Tracks don’t lie. Be patient, and set up at known strutting zones or fields or old logging roads that wind through the turkey woods. Have patience, and just cluck and purr. This will get you opportunities at gobblers late season. I had a wise old turkey hunter, the late Mr. Tom Fisher, of Cochran, tell me years ago that it’s not time to kill the old gobblers until you can smell the honeysuckle blooms. I have found that to be 100 percent spot on. To be successful at anything, you must have a never-quit attitude. This is especially true if you chase gobblers with archery equipment. There is some good hunting left if you’re willing to put in the time.”
Meriwether County: Jason Swindle Sr., of Carrollton, reports, “The season has been great. Even though the temps have been up and down, gobbling has been consistent. The travel patterns of the birds were consistent until the hens started nesting. We had a multiple jakes on camera last year. They are now 2-year-old birds and have been gobbling mostly in the afternoons. The gobblers have been in food plots around 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.
“May is a tough month to hunt turkeys because of the heat and overgrown food plots. I have found that cutting food plots in late April brings birds back into the plots looking for grasshoppers and other insects. I put all trail cams on the cut food plots and pattern their early morning movement.”
Crisp County: Jodi Manders, of Vienna, reports, “The report from our neck of the woods is that it’s been an interesting season so far. We have experienced turkey behavior that we haven’t witnessed before. In the middle of the day we found a gobbler and a hen lying down in some thick grass on the edge of the field, and they stayed there for a good long while.
“This season the turkeys seem to gobble more just at daybreak on the roost and just after fly down. Then they become silent—that’s when you ‘hunt’ turkeys—for the rest of the morning with an occasional gobble. Man those birds are hard to find when they decide to be quiet. We did get an opportunity this week to sit and watch some mature gobblers feed in the field late afternoon, and boy did they put on a show. We called them in to 30 yards, and I experienced the drumming of three gobblers up close, and it felt like the ground was rumbling. It was exciting to say the least. Three jakes also came in from behind us, and you haven’t experienced gobbling until you hear it 10 yards right beside you.
“The population of hens seem to be down a little this year. They like hanging out in the fields, but they will move into the pines and scratch around to feed in the pine straw. We have seen poults tracks already the week of April 28.
“If you are still planning to hunt late season, you can hunt the roosting areas in hopes of getting one and hunt where they feed frequently. I have taken two this year earlier in the season, the first one was early morning at 8:30 and called the second one in two hours later. There’s still time to go get one or three. Hunt safe, God bless!”
Harris County: Jimmy Harper, of Hamilton, reports, “Just when I thought the turkey hunting couldn’t get any worse on the properties I hunt in Harris County, something called the 2018 season happened. If the properties my sons and I hunt on are any indication, and I have to believe they are, what is happening in our beloved turkey woods is not a temporary trend but a serious problem, and our turkeys are in real trouble. I say that because the downturn we’re seeing is so dramatic, has been going in the wrong direction for so many years now, and is showing no real signs of turning around.
“On the primary property I hunt in Harris County, a 791-acre timber company lease which I hunt hard—all season, mornings and afternoons—I have not seen a single mature gobbler all year, and I’ve only seen one jake. To make matters worse, none of the other dozen members of our hunting club have seen a mature bird either, and gobbling has been almost non-existent. Even last season, it took me until the very last day to kill a gobbler, and this is the same lease where, just a few short years ago, limiting-out was the norm for me and not the exception, and during several years that was done within the first couple of weeks of the season.
“I understand this decline in our turkey population isn’t limited just to Harris County, or even to Georgia. I also can’t help but notice that this decline has coincided almost exactly with the increase in coyote numbers. I’m hearing from the experts what I consider to be hard-to-believe explanations for the turkey decline, and even harder-to-believe suggestions to address it. It can’t all be blamed on habitat loss when you’re talking about a significant decrease in the turkey population on the same exact property over a period of several years. And I’ve heard the suggestion that we should start our turkey seasons later, possibly around the second week of April, because us turkey hunters are interfering with the turkeys breeding, both by being in the woods and by shooting them in March. But our season dates are basically the same now as they were when our turkey population exploded 20 years ago, so that suggestion simply makes no sense to me.
“The properties I’ve been hunting turkeys on for years are getting very close to the point now of not having huntable populations of turkeys, so something obviously has to be done. I understand this may not be popular with some other turkey hunters, but I’d like to see the Georgia DNR step in now, before it’s too late, to protect our turkeys until their population can recover.
“What I would suggest is to go back to the regulations/limits that we had quite a few years ago, but which let our flocks grow, and that’s two gobbers per season instead of three. But I’d go even further than that, because we’re in a worse situation than we’ve been in for many years, especially with coyotes now in the equation. I’d also suggest limiting the harvest to mature gobblers only—6-inch beards or longer—with the exception being that jakes would be legal game during the Youth/Mobility Impaired Weekend. I truly believe that we’re all going to have to make sacrifices for the long-term benefit of our turkey resource—and so our children and grandchildren will have the grandest of gamebirds around to hunt!”
Muscogee County: Jimmy Harper, of Hamilton, reports, “Preseason scouting on the 185-acre private farm I hunt along with the landowner in Muscogee County indicated that we likely only had one mature gobbler on the property to hunt between us. This was a similar situation to the one we faced the previous season, but very unlike what we had become accustomed to on this well-managed farm. Up until the last few years—when the coyotes moved in in large numbers—we had at least a half-dozen mature gobblers to hunt each and every year in the planted fields and chufa patches. Nothing has changed on this farm but the coyote numbers—and the number of turkeys. Simply stated, as the coyote population has increased, the turkey population has decreased at the same time. That’s the only significant thing that has changed on this farm, and how it is managed, in the last 30 years. So I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about why the turkey population is not anywhere near what it was just a few years ago.
“I was lucky enough to call in that one mature gobbler the first week of the season and get an hour’s worth of video of him destroying my strutting jake decoy, but I honestly didn’t want to shoot the only gobbler we were certain that we had to hunt, and I also wanted the landowner to have the first opportunity to shoot him with his bow. So, while I called, and with the gobbler focused on the smashed jake decoy, the landowner, who had been hunting on an adjacent filed, snuck through the woods and used my blind as cover to ease up to the edge of the field. Unfortunately, as he drew his bow and leaned out from behind my blind, the gobbler finally came out of his trance and started walking away, and the arrow only cut three tail feathers at their base.
“Having given the landowner his chance, I called that same gobbler back in to the exact same setup on our next hunt and rolled him—after getting even more great video for our Accept the Challenge TV show on Pursuit—with my CVA Apex shotgun. What amazed us both was that, once this ‘bad boy’ 2-year-old was dead, another 2-year-old bird moved right in from the adjacent farm, and my landowner friend was able to put an arrow through him on a morning hunt. But that was in early April, and we haven’t seen another gobbler, or even heard a gobble, since then. But we’ll be out there trying—and hoping—until the very last day of the season. We always are—even if we’re likely just ‘enjoying nature.’”
Twiggs County: Richie Green, of Jeffersonville, reports, “I said last month it was gonna be interesting to see how the warm February and cold March would play a part this turkey season, and it did. Gobbling turkeys have been hard to come by where I hunt. I’ve hunted almost every day from daylight to dark the first two weeks of the season and only had one day where they acted like they were ready to die. The other days you were lucky to get two gobbles from the same bird. That doesn’t mean it’s been a bad year though. Two of my buddies came down from Ohio, and we tripled up on March 26. Then me and my buddies I hunt with in Georgia tripled up on public land when we got drawn for the Bond Swamp NWR hunt. Bob Powell, Keith Smith and myself killed three good birds on April 6. Bob killed his at fly down, and Keith got his around 10 a.m., but mine didn’t stroll by till 10:40 with a jake and two hens.
“The birds are here, but they don’t want you to know it. It’s more like deer hunting than turkey because you just sit and call till they come by, if they come at all. I don’t see the birds that used to be in the fields beside the highways anymore like days past. I’m beginning to think that the chicken litter in the fields for fertilizer might really be killing the turkeys like some people believe it does. Or maybe the armadillos play a part by eating the eggs like I know the hogs do.
“If it warms up in May, they could get more vocal, but as I sit in the woods writing this waiting on one to show up, I kinda doubt it.”
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