Birth and Rebirth at Caney Mountain
too small to be believable, Leopold’s 1941 report backs up Morrison’s memory. In a survey done in the spring of 1940, Leopold counted 10 turkeys on the 5,530-acre Caney Mountain area. In a broader survey that encompassed 76,800 acres, Leopold recorded a paltry sum of 35 turkeys.
When W.J. Morrison died in 1942, Bernice took on his father’s job as refuge patrolman at Caney Mountain and continued to work closely with Leopold. Just as important as the turkey numbers they saw steadily increasing were the management strategies they were documenting. Caney Mountain was a test site that would either be the first step of a turkey restoration project that could be replicated in other parts of the state, and perhaps the country, or the final chapter of a failing wildlife management effort.
“Some practices being applied in this area may be applicable to other turkey refuges in Missouri,” Leopold wrote in his 1941 report. “Others need testing. Still others may never find general application. But from this project may eventually come some fairly definite knowledge of how to manage wild turkeys on an Ozark refuge.” Fortunately for today’s hunters, those experimental strategies produced results, first at the Caney Mountain area and later at the Peck Ranch Conservation Area in Carter and Shannon counties, which was purchased in 1945.
“With the wild turkey refuge at Caney Mountain and the later purchase of thousands of acres at the Peck Ranch Conservation Area, there was finally enough land to protect and manage whole-heartedly for turkeys,” says Conservation Department Wildlife Division Chief DeeCee Darrow. “As the population grew and we relocated birds to other parts of the state, it was the start of something that was to rewrite conservation history in Missouri.”
Morrison moved to Kansas in 1943, but he returned to Missouri in 1956 and got a job with the Conservation Department. Turkey hunting was still closed throughout the state but, by this time, Missouri’s wild turkey numbers were well on the road to recovery. Morrison had several wildlife-related duties and one of his main jobs was trapping turkeys and transporting them around the state.
“You had to wait until the turkeys were on the bait and their heads were down, then you fired the nets. And you talk about a job … getting those turkeys out of the net—now that was work,” Morrison recalled with a chuckle. It was work that bore its first real fruit in 1960 when Missouri held its first turkey season since the late 1930s.
In addition to trapping turkeys, Morrison has also harvested his fair share of turkeys over the years. Despite the wear and tear that 92 years of life is beginning to impose on Morrison’s frame, he still considers himself a turkey hunter.
“I don’t know whether I’ve stopped (turkey hunting) or not,” he says, and laughed, noting that he hunted last spring. “It’s still pretty exciting to hear that old gobbler in the spring.” Thanks to the efforts of people like Morrison more than a half-century ago, that’s a sound that can be enjoyed by many Missourians today.
“I like to think that I had a small part in bringing the turkeys back,” he says.