By JIMMY WATSON | The Times

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — If Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries turkey study leader Jimmy Stafford could go turkey hunting anywhere in the state on opening day, he would likely opt for a stand around the Jackson-Bienville Wildlife Management Area.

“That's the spot to be,” Stafford told The Times.

The 2015 Louisiana turkey season, which opens statewide on Saturday, could provide a bumper crop for hunters looking for a free meal. Bad weather last winter meant fewer than the normal number of birds were taken, so hunters who missed a bird in 2014 should have better luck this time around.

“The season got off to a mediocre start last year, so there should be a good carry-over to this year in 2-year-old birds, which is what people are looking for,” Stafford said. “I'm very optimistic about the quality of the season in North Louisiana.”

The 2015 season is launching a few days later than normal, which should also help expand the population. Stafford said that should move the birds closer to their prime gobbling performance. A lot of birds were harvested during over the weekend in the youth lottery turkey hunt, which further points to a good season.

The top wild turkey producing parish in the state is Vernon Parish with Claiborne and Union parishes close behind, according to Stafford.

“Vernon Parish has a lot of very good forested habitat for the birds,” he said.

The western area of the state is typically productive including the Fort Polk, Clear Creek and West Bay WMAs.

Hunters can harvest one bearded gobbler per day, two for the season (no hens), during the campaign. Hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.

A very loose estimate of the turkeys harvested last year is 7,000 to 8,000 birds statewide. Hunters are required to tag their kills before moving them, and call in a report to the LDWF through a number on their tags. But that doesn't always happen.

“Not everyone calls in like they're supposed to and some hunters want to stretch it,” Stafford said. “I don't understand why they don't want to call in because that's what helps us in our management of the birds, something everyone is interested in.”

North Louisiana hunters seeking public opportunities can hunt on areas of 600,000-acre Kisatchie National Forest, or one of the numerous wildlife management areas in the state. Before entering those, however, they should check specific requirements for hunting on a WMA through the LDWF hunting regulations.

Stafford said the LDWF encourages hunters to be careful and safe, always assuming there's another hunter in the same area they are.

“When you harvest a bird, I tell people to put something hunter orange over it to carry it out,” he said.

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Information from: The Times, http://www.shreveporttimes.com