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Fall Turkey Season: Good Times & Good Management

Sep 29, 2009

Strutting TurkeysRumors are cropping up--especially in southern Missouri--that the Conservation Department might cancel this year’s fall firearms turkey season. This is not true, but like most rumors, it started with a grain of truth. The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission recently announced it was cancelling its fall turkey season. Someone got the message wrong and transferred the closure to Missouri.

Even though the rumor is false, conservation-minded Show-Me State hunters might reasonably wonder whether we should follow Arkansas’ example, just to be sure we protect our turkey flock. The answer, simply put, is “nope.”

Missouri boasts a long line of illustrious research biologists who have directed its wild–turkey management program over the past 60 years. Every one of them has been an avid turkey hunter, so the Conservation Department’s turkey management policies have always been based on a combination of knowledge gained with shotguns in hand, plus volumes of scientific data.

Those data come from a variety of sources, including annual surveys to keep tabs on the birds’ nesting success and painstaking field work to document various aspects of turkey behavior and biology. All this information gets fed into mathematical population models that enable biologists predict how hunting season length, bag limits and other regulations affect turkey numbers.

One thing they established long ago was that fall hunting has no significant effect on turkey numbers. That is not the same as saying a fall hunting season could not affect turkey numbers. If hunters shot enough turkeys in the fall, it certainly could. But the point is that Missouri’s fall turkey season has never attracted enough interest to push the fall harvest above a tiny fraction of the spring turkey harvest.

Population modeling shows that Missouri’s turkey flock could sustain a fall harvest as large as the spring harvest without cutting into next year’s turkey numbers. That is because a sizeable number of turkeys die each winter due to scarce resources – like acorns. Removing a moderate number of birds by hunting simply replaces this natural mortality.

The Conservation Department uses a more conservative, 50-percent benchmark to determine whether the October season needs to be re-examined. In recent years, Missouri’s fall turkey harvest has been less than 20 percent of the spring harvest. Last year’s fall firearms harvest was 7,385, or about 65 per county. By comparison, this year’s spring turkey harvest, including the regular and youth seasons, was 44,713.

Furthermore, interest in fall firearms turkey hunting has been on the wane for many years. The upshot is that biologists are VERY confident the fall harvest is not damaging Missouri’s future turkey hunting prospects.

So, if you are one of those very, very few people who chase turkeys in the fall, go out and do it with a good heart, secure in the knowledge that you are not putting a brake on Missouri’s incipient turkey recovery. If you do all your turkey hunting in the spring, or if you just enjoy watching turkeys and want to know they are being well cared for, rest assured that Missouri’s generous, month-long fall turkey season is no threat to your enjoyment.

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