Hunters checked 5,929 turkeys during Missouri’s fall firearms turkey season Oct. 1 through 31, continuing a long-term decline in participation in the fall hunt.
Top harvest counties were Greene with 208 turkeys checked, Webster with 158, and Laclede with 152. Harvest numbers were down statewide. The decline was smallest in northeastern Missouri (11 percent from 2012) and greatest in the St. Louis (50 percent), central (41 percent), and Kansas City (32 percent) regions. The declines in harvest were approximately 25 percent in the northwest, southeast, southwest, and Ozark regions.
This year’s fall firearms turkey harvest is the third-smallest on record. The smallest was in 1978, when hunters checked 4,389 turkeys during the fall firearms season. The fall harvest increased dramatically for the first nine years after it began, building to 28,139 in 1987. It has declined steadily ever since.
A parallel decline in sales of fall firearms turkey hunting permits indicates that the harvest decrease is largely the result of waning hunter interest. Further evidence is the fact that the fall archery turkey harvest increased steadily during the same period. Archers checked 108 turkeys in 1978 and 3,217 last year.
“Fall turkey hunting had a brief period of increasing popularity early on,” says Jason Isabelle, a resource scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. "Over time, I think that fall turkey hunters have gradually been drawn away to archery deer hunting and all the other hunting opportunities available in October. Fewer and fewer people have hunted turkeys in the fall each year, even throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, when the state’s turkey flock was growing rapidly and when our spring harvest continued to increase.”
The Conservation Department sold 14,898 fall firearms turkey permits this year, which is a decrease of 9 percent from 2012 and well-below the 115,020 permits sold for this year’s spring season. Isabelle says he expected the decrease, because turkey nesting success was down compared to the previous two years.
“For the last several years, fall firearms turkey permit sales have tended to track the hatch,” he says. “When hunters see fewer birds in the woods they generally buy fewer permits.”
Isabelle notes that in spite of the downward trend, the fall firearms turkey season remains popular with some hunters. These turkey fanatics enjoy the extra month of hunting opportunity.
Fifty-three percent of the turkeys checked during the fall firearms turkey harvest were hatched earlier this year. That is in line with the juvenile-adult ratios of other years. Population models and more than 30 years of experience show that the current level of fall harvest has no effect on the potential for wild turkey population growth.
For county-by-county combined fall firearms and archery turkey harvest figures, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/264.