Lots of people view the first day of spring as a harbinger of azaleas, Masters Week and warm weather.
But Thursday’s equinox that bridges winter and summer also heralds the opening of Georgia’s spring gobbler season, which gets under way Saturday and runs through May 15, with a three-bird limit.
Most hunters look for the older, more mature birds, which state wildlife officials predict will present more challenges in some regions than others.
“One of the best areas will be the coastal plain, thanks to reproduction numbers that were stable in 2012, and then saw an increase this past year,” says Kevin Lowrey, Georgia’s wild turkey project coordinator. “However, due to both low reproduction numbers and a good harvest of gobblers for the past two years, 2014 might be a challenging year for hunters, especially in the Piedmont and ridge and valley.”
Although it is too early to gauge participation, 2014 also marked the state’s inaugural early “youth only” season held Saturday and today during which kids 16 and younger could hunt a week before the grownups if escorted by an adult who can do the calling for them.
Wild turkey hunting is second only to deer hunting in Georgia, which has a current turkey population of about 335,000 birds.
Although turkeys are a common sight across the state today, it wasn’t always that way. As recently as 1973, the wild turkey population was as low as 17,000. Intensive restoration and restocking efforts helped the recovery of wild turkeys in every county.
This successful effort resulted from partnerships between private landowners, hunters, conservation organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation and Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division.
OPENING DAY BIRD WATCHERS: Opening day of turkey season will have thousands of camo-clad hunters stalking the state’s forests and swamps next Saturday, but hunters at Yuchi Wildlife Management Area in Burke County might have some unexpected company.
The Augusta-Aiken Audubon Society will be playing host to a bird watching field trip there the same day.
Rather than hunting, the group will be observing and counting sparrows and smaller mid-winter birds that use the 7,800-acre parcel along the Savannah River.
Some of my Facebook friends who are hunters had wondered whether it is appropriate to have bird watching under way at Yuchi on the same day that turkey season opens – and I think the WMA has plenty of room for everyone.
Lois Stacey, the group’spresident, said she didn’t even realize that was the start of turkey season when the trip was first scheduled. However, she added, the group plans to keep a low profile regardless.
“Usually when I am at any of the WMAs I’m there late enough that I miss most of the hunters,” she said. “We don’t meet until 9 a.m. so it will be close to 10 a.m. by the time we get there.”
The group’s usual route is down River Road toBrigham’s Landing Road to the boat ramp, then a walk along the bluff trail.
“We stay on the road and don’t go into the woods,” she said, adding that some members wear blaze orange as a safety precaution.
CRAPPIE HAPPY: Even with spring almost here, the crappie run that has been excellent during the icy winter of 2014 is still going strong, especially if you’re chasing the big slabs that have made Clarks Hill one of the state’s choice venues.
“They are just starting to spawn and I think they’ll be going til the next full moon, so we would have three or four more weeks,” said William Sasser, a professional fishing guide who lives in Evans.
“The water is still a little high, and we are finding them in two to six feet of water,” he said.
Preferred lures are small jigs, usually one-sixteenth of an ounce.
“Right now, the smaller the better.”
Small shiners fished under a bobber can also produce, he said, with the bigger crappie weighing 1 to 1.5 pounds.
John Biagi, Georgia’s chief of fisheries management, said crappie fishing this time of year is popular statewide.
“Fishing for crappie is a great time to introduce someone new as there often is a lot of action,” he said. “So ask a friend or family member to go with you – and bring your camera!”
During the coldest part of winter, crappie tend to congregate in deeper water, generally 15 to 30 feet deep, near the mouths of major tributaries and in the main lake. Large schools can sometimes be located with sonar electronics.
As the water warms in late March, however, crappie move to more shallow water and will congregate around woody cover such as stumps, logs, downed trees, fish attractors and creek ledges.
MAPPING GEORGIA’S OUTDOORS: The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has finally unveiled its new interactive map that identifies DNR-managed lands and outdoor recreation opportunities.
“The map includes all DNR properties open for public use, from the smallest historic site to the largest wildlife management area,” said DNR Commissioner Mark Williams.
“It’s a quick way to find boat ramps, campgrounds, archery ranges and other places for enjoying the great outdoors.”
To view the free, interactive map, visit www.georgiaoutdoormap.com.