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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — When Dr. Jimmy Little started turkey hunting, he didn't have a goal. In fact, he admits he didn't even know how to hunt them. It was simply one more reason to get outside.
"In 1972 I think it was," Little, of Crystal Springs, said. "I had never thought about turkey hunting. Spring was always fishing time for me."
While spring meant fishing, Little couldn't ignore the huge population of birds in the areas he hunted.
"I've always loved the outdoors, and it was another opportunity to get out in the woods, Little said. "You could go down to that Homochitto National Forest and it was full of turkeys. You wouldn't see another hunter."
The same held true at his Claiborne County hunting grounds.
"You wouldn't believe how many turkeys there were," Little said. "The hard thing to do was quit when you got your limit.
"It didn't take long to get your limit, and you'd go back to fishing."
Just as he did in fishing, Little said he kept a log book and noted every turkey he harvested. And with years of high numbers of birds, the limits began to add up.
That continued for 16 years, until nature ran its course.
In the spring of 1988, Little said he could ride around fields at his southwest Mississippi hunting camp and see flocks with 30 to 60 gobblers. Soon after, he began finding dead and sick birds.
Little said one of his friends captured two sickly hens and took them to a biologist. The culprit was determined to be blackhead disease.
With the population so high, Little said disease spread rapidly and dealt a blow the birds in that area never fully recovered from.
"There were still turkeys around and I kept hunting them and killing them, but it's never come back to where it was in the heyday in the area I was hunting," Little said.
Even so, Little was no longer a novice, and the harvest numbers continued to climb. He also found with fewer turkeys, they became easier to call.
"You had to hunt harder to find them, but they responded to a call better," Little said.
By the early 2000s, Little had harvested 90 gobblers and made it a goal to reach 100. But as luck would have it, the final 10 proved more difficult than he expected.
"Once I got to 90, I kind of stalled out," Little said. "Things kind of slowed down trying to get the last few turkeys."
Family and other obligations reduced his time in the woods, and a house fire claimed his trusty Browning A-5 shotgun. Little said he missed several birds because he had trouble adjusting to a new gun.
His aging ears also became an issue.
"With these hearing aids I can hear them, but I have no idea where they are," Little said.
Despite his setbacks, Little managed to harvest 99 birds by the time he was 84 years old, but 100 seemed almost out of reach.
"I didn't think I would make it," Little said. "It took me three years to get that last one."
At 87 years old, Little hit the 100 mark with a double-bearded trophy.
With a lifelong passion for the outdoors, Little said he isn't ready to put his shotgun in a corner just yet. His goal is different now.
"My goal now is to go again," Little said. "My goal now is just to go again when the season opens."
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com
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