The exploitation of our virgin forests, subsistence hunting, market hunting, and unregulated sport hunting all played a role in the declining wild turkey population in the state.

April 7 marks the opening of Turkey season on private lands in the State of Louisiana. Our state is divided into three divisions: areas A, B, and C. In area A the season extends to May 6. Area B closes April 29, and area C shuts down on April 22.

Youth and Physically Challenged Hunt (restricted to youth and wheelchair confined physically challenged hunters) opens up in Areas A, B, and C on private land March 30 thru April 1.

Nearly half of the state has no turkey season. In some of the areas there is no habitat suitable for a turkey population. The other spots don't have enough birds to allow hunting to take place.

Prior to 1880, the wild turkey population in Louisiana was estimated to be as high as one million birds. However, by the turn of the century, the state's turkey population started a noticeable decline.

The exploitation of our virgin forests, subsistence hunting, market hunting, and unregulated sport hunting all played a role in the declining wild turkey population in the state.

By 1946, Louisiana's turkey population was estimated to be only 1,463 turkeys. Beginning in 1962, a restoration program that consisted of trapping and releasing wild, captured birds into a suitable habitat was initiated. Since that time, the state's wild turkey population has grown to an estimated 80,000 birds.

Locating suitable release sites for wild turkeys has been key to the success of Louisiana's turkey restocking program. Over the years, LDWF received many requests from landowners and sportsmen to stock wild turkeys. LDWF continues to get five to ten requests annually.

It has been LDWF's policy for many years that restocking requests be evaluated by a regional biologist and/or Turkey Program Leader prior to being approved. Criteria used in the evaluation are the presence or absence of wild turkeys, distance from presently occupied turkey range to request area, amount of suitable habitat at the release site, support by local residents, land use trends, and potential for expansion.

LDWF's trapping and relocation efforts have resulted in the capture and release of 3,856 turkeys. Wild turkeys have been released in 45 parishes since 1963. During the mid-1990s, a total of 766 turkeys (480 captured in-state and 286 received from out-of-state) were released at 35 sites in 20 parishes. Most areas in the state capable of supporting viable wild turkey populations have now been restocked.

I got the opportunity to make my first turkey hunt last season. A good friend, Rick Kogler allowed me to hunt at his place in Angie, La. accompanied by my co-host, Goosie Guice as my guide.

I also got to kill my first turkey as a respectable gobbler that sported a 9” beard and .75” spurs made the mistake of giving into his yearn to mate and came too close to Goosie's calling and our decoy.

Turkey hunting is not easily accomplished, but if you'd like to give it a try don't be afraid. I know turkey hunters, and they love to call turkeys for someone else to shoot. Put out a request and your chance of getting a volunteer to call one for you is better than you think.

Safety in the outdoors is always something that should be on our minds as we head out to spend some time enjoying nature. There are more shooting accidents while turkey hunting than one might imagine.

A person looks nothing like a turkey, so it's hard to figure out how that happens. But it does. Turkey hunting requires moving around, even going towards a gobbler doing its thing. A hunter could even move toward a hen clucking. The problem is that it might be another hunter calling.

The adrenaline is really flowing (as I can attest to as I prepared to shoot my first turkey), and that makes it possible to make a terrible mistake. Someone walking through the woods just makes the possibility greater.

Don't ever wear red! Not a cap or a neck scarf! Fatal accidents have taken place when someone wore red. A gobbler's head gets really bright red when he anticipates hooking up with a mate! The responsibility is on the hunter so always, always make sure of your target before shooting!

Next, this is the kind of outdoor story I dread reading about. A single vessel boating incident led to a fatality in Tangipahoa Parish.

LDWF agents recovered the body of Edward Ridgel Jr., 66, of Tickfaw, from South Pass Manchac on March 14, around 7:45 a.m. The agents received a call from Ridgel’s family that he had not returned home from a fishing trip around 6:30 p.m. on March 13. Ridgel’s family told agents that he launched his boat from North Pass Landing in the morning to go fishing.

The LDWF agents with members of the Manchac Fire Department and Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office (TPSO) deputies immediately began searching for Ridgel.

A commercial crab fishermen making his rounds spotted an unmanned 16 foot aluminum vessel in South Pass Manchac around 7:15 a.m. Agents arrived on the scene and found Ridgel’s body in the water around 7:45 a.m., about 30 feet from the boat.

It is unknown at this time how Ridgel was ejected from the vessel. Ridgel’s body was turned over to the Tangipahoa Parish Coroner’s Office to determine an official cause of death. Ridgel was not wearing a personal flotation device at the time of his accident.

Nobody ever leaves home on an outdoors outing thinking they won't make it home. But unfortunately it happens. Don't let it happen to you! Remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard, be safe in the outdoors, and may God truly bless you!

Lyle Johnson is a free-lance writer, co-host of Ascension Outdoors TV and Curator of the Louisiana State Fish Records. He can be contacted at reelman@eatel.net.

Outdoor Calendar

EASL Monthly Meeting: 3rd Monday every month, East Ascension Sportsman’s League meeting held at Chef KD’s on Highway 74 starting at 7 p.m. A meal served and special speaker will be in attendance.

Turkey Seasons Open Statewide: April 7 in Areas A, B, & C. Area C closes Apr 22, Area B closes Apr 29, & Area A closes May 6. Special Youth Season Mar 30 & 31.

Anything Outdoors Helping Kids Frog Rodeo: March 23, held out of Doiron’s Landing in Stephensville, La. Entry fee $50, $10 for Big Frog. Launch at Doiron’s or Belle River public launch. All info on Facebook Page or call Jacob Heath at 504-782-0705.

Delta Tau Delta Bass Classic: March 23, Benefitting Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, location at Spunky Monkey on Highway 70 in Belle River. Contact Tournament Director Alex Landry at 225-717-9299 or alex.landry@selu.edu.

Marsh Madness Kayak Fishing Tournament: March 23, Coco Marina, Cocodrie. Lafayette Kayak Fishing Club event. Open to public. Entry fee $30. Tackle exchange format. Minimum top 3 payout. Heaviest stringer 2 slot reds, optional trout calcutta. Website: lafayettekayakfishing.com.

Louisiana Sportsman’s Coalition Public Meeting: March 27, 7 p.m., Cajun Outboards, La. 1, Addis. LASC is campaigning to open all waters to the public.

Trinity Outdoor Disabled Adventures Bass Classic: April 6, Trailer Bass Tournament with weigh-in at St. James Boat Club. Find all info on their Facebook Page, Trinity Outdoors Disabled Adventures, LLC.

Prairieville Broncos Bass Tournament: April 6, Doiron’s Landing Stephensville. Team tournament $160 entry fee. Captain’s meeting April 4 (location TBA). Call Scott Watson 225-610-0699, Karen Watson 225-270-1565, or email prarievillebroncosfootball@yahoo.com.

Need an event publicized? Contact Lyle at reelman@eatel.net.