2014 Turkey Outlook
Missouri Turkey Hunters in for a Good 2014 Spring Season
A good hatch in 2011, along with an increased number of jakes in 2012, resulted in more 2-year old gobblers in 2013. Missouri’s turkey population hadn’t experienced two consecutive years of production comparable to 2011 and 2012 in more than a decade. These hatches bolstered turkey numbers throughout much of Missouri. Because hatch success drives turkey abundance, continued improvements in production will be needed to increase turkey numbers in the Show-Me State. After two years of improved production, the 2013 hatch was poor at the statewide scale, with the best production occurring in the eastern Ozarks.
As a result, there will be fewer jakes available for harvest during 2014. Based on responses to hunter surveys, most spring turkey hunters in Missouri focus their attention on harvesting adult gobblers. Therefore, 2013’s hatch should not impact the 2014 spring harvest a great deal. In contrast, the increased poult production in 2011 and 2012 will result in more 2- and 3-year-old gobblers available for harvest during the upcoming spring seasons.
Missouri’s turkey population has undergone a transition during the past several decades. In the 1970s and 80s, when the recently-restored population was expanding rapidly, people often reported seeing flocks of turkeys that numbered well into the hundreds. During that time, production was extremely high as turkeys took advantage of vacant, highly-suitable habitat.
But, a basic ecological principle eventually caught up with Missouri’s turkeys. As wildlife populations grow, factors that limit their size exert ever-greater influence. Habitats become crowded, predators find easy pickings, and disease spreads more quickly. By increasing mortality, decreasing production, or doing both, each limiting factor puts the brakes on an expanding population.
Missouri’s wild turkeys are no exception. Although the hatches of 2011 and 2012 should increase turkey numbers, and there’s potential for continued growth, it’s unlikely turkey numbers will increase to the peak populations observed following restoration. Wild turkey populations are dynamic, and turkey reproductive success is rarely stable. In the future, ebbing and flowing of turkey numbers can be expected, as this is the nature of the species.
A Comprehensive Approach to Wild Turkey Management
The Conservation Department takes a comprehensive approach to managing the state’s turkey population. In addition to analyzing harvest data, brood surveys and wildlife observation surveys are conducted each year to monitor trends in turkey production and abundance. Additionally, the Conservation Department surveys more than 10,000 turkey hunters annually to obtain information about hunter opinions, success, and satisfaction. The Department’s approach to turkey management is guided by its Wild Turkey Harvest Management Plan. Along with management objectives, such as ensuring the long-term well-being of the turkey population and allowing harvest within sustainable limits, the plan outlines criteria that are evaluated each year to establish harvest regulations.
The Department sets spring turkey season to begin after a considerable proportion of breeding has occurred. Due to this timing and the fact that male turkeys represent 99 percent of the harvest, spring hunting does not limit turkey population growth. Although a portion of the fall harvest consists of female turkeys, current fall harvest levels are within acceptable limits. In 2013, fall firearms hunters harvested about 6,000 turkeys, which is considerably lower than the harvest of over 46,000 turkeys during the spring season. Each year, biologists monitor both harvests, and make changes to regulations when appropriate.
Turkey regulations are reviewed annually by both the Department’s Regulations Committee and the Conservation Commission. Decisions are based upon both science and public input. The Department strives to ensure the well-being of the state’s turkey population and to provide world-class turkey hunting.
Missouri’s Wild Turkey Population Remains Strong
Missouri is recognized as offering some of the nation’s best turkey hunting. Each year, the state’s turkey harvest ranks among the highest in the country. The improved production of 2011 and 2012 should result in an increase in the number of 2- and 3-year-old gobblers during the 2014 spring season. Missouri’s turkey population remains strong, offering hunters an opportunity to enjoy one of the state’s most cherished natural resources.