Slinging a bag of decoys over his shoulder and picking up his gun, my guide, Leon Atkins, whispered, “He’s about 400 yards away. We’ll work our way towards him and set up where we can get above him a couple ridges over and put the sun in his eyes. He’ll have to cross a couple coulees to get to us. Turkeys see almost 360 degrees, so we’ll need all the advantage we can get.”
Meanwhile, back in the town of Natchez, Miss., across the Mississippi River from Vidalia, my spouse was resting peacefully at a Bed and Breakfast, called “The Briars,” where we were staying a couple days. The circa 1816 home, according to Atkin’s wife, Kristy, is historically renowned as the residence where Jefferson Davis married Varina Howell in 1845.
The home sits on the bluffs of the Mississippi River, offering a spectacular view of the river and is surrounded by nearly 20 acres of groomed gardens, with live oaks arched around a circle drive.
Guests can select and stay at any one of several suites, such as the old school house, the carriage house or the guesthouse, and candlelight dine at The Briars own restaurant, “The Dining Pavilion.”
What awaited my spouse following her breakfast at the pavilion was nothing less than a good pampering in the form of a massage, while I trekked through the upland hardwoods chasing gobblers.
These amenities and my turkey hunt were all included as part of a reasonably priced two-day package The Briars offers called, “Gobblers and Gardenias.” And, my spouse and I couldn’t have selected a better time of year to be there, as the azaleas were in full bloom, and purple wisteria draped like giant grape clusters on the trestles and arbors they clung to.
But, that’s not all the package has to offer. The Atkins take it a step further by including a horse drawn carriage ride for two. With a reservation, the carriage driver will pick you up at The Briars and take you through the historical downtown area, where magnificent antebellum homes grace the streets.
Our trip to Natchez also happened to coincide with the “Spring Pilgrimage of Antebellum Homes,” that continues through April 14. Locals dress up in period clothing and offer tours of the stately homes, providing a brief history of previous proprietors and various collections of antiques, along with wonderful anecdotes.
How could a husband go wrong when he tells his wife, “Hey, honey — I’m going turkey hunting and you’re coming with me.” Needless to say, it didn’t quite go down like that, but she didn’t say no, either.
So, who came up with the idea? Atkins says his wife, Kristy.
“She came up with the idea as a way of increasing business during the off-season,” said Atkins, who is a lifelong resident of Natchez and has been hunting turkeys for more than 40 years. “We did a similar thing last fall called ‘Bucks and Bells’ during deer season. That went over really well, so we decided to try this. All of the hunts are on private land and fully guided.”
Atkins said they also are considering putting together quail hunting packages and golf packages.
The fact is the majority of Louisiana’s prime turkey hunting habitat is behind locked gates on private land and the remainder on public land is heavily hunted.
Closest to St. Mary Parish is Sherburne Wildlife Management Area, east of Lafayette along Interstate 10.
In spite of pressure, public land hunting for turkeys can be good, where lottery opportunities exist. However, where they don’t, more often than not, turkeys wise up quickly, making it much harder to harvest a gobbler.
This year also has been a tough year for Sherburne WMA as a result of 2011 flooding that severely impacted the turkey population on the refuge.
According to Tony Vidrine, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Mississippi Alluvial Region manager, “It’s been a very poor season on Sherburne WMA, just as I expected. We lost a few turkeys during the Morganza (Spillway) flood of 2011 and had a complete hatch loss. We cut the last weekend off of the season, but the harvest was very low. We only had 13 birds checked in, including the youth hunt.”
Atkins teased the tom with the softest enticing yelps he could possibly muster from his box call each time we heard a gobble. How could the turkey possibly hear? (That was my initial thought.). Then, an even closer and louder gobble came that narrowed down the direction the bird was coming.
In visualizing the turkey’s approach, I thought of the shape of a funnel. The vast expanse of cone-shaped woods lay before me, with a lone gobbler sifting down to the spout where Atkins and I sat waiting in ambush.
“Get your gun ready,” Atkins said, coaching me in the same whispered voice he had been using since we first heard the bird. “When he walks behind a tree, then move. Lift your gun over the brush in front of you, so you don’t get tangled.”
Atkins didn’t miss anything, I thought to myself.
“You see him,” Atkins whispered even lower this time.
“No,” I replied.
Then, suddenly, I could see the gobbler. Its head was bright blue with a crimson red waddle that seemed more like police lights flashing as it approached. I was mesmerized and was astounded by its speed as it rushed to the decoys. When I moved to shoot, the bird caught sight of my folly and spooked flying off.
After a little consoling from Atkins, we set off in a different direction to try again. This time, I was ready and wasted no time harvesting my gobbler.
Turkey season in Louisiana, unlike Mississippi, is short and divided into three areas — A, B and C — that have seasons that run through April 22, April 15 and April 8, respectively. Mississippi’s Turkey Season runs through May 1.
There is still time to book your “Gobblers and Gardenias” hunt with The Briars Bed & Breakfast. For more information, contact Kristy or Leon Atkins by calling (601) 653-0017 or (888) 609-1127. More information about The Briars is available at www.thebriarsbb.com
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