The Missouri Formula for Turkeys

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

Perhaps most importantly, the generous season gives weary hunters an excuse to pass up hunting on windy or rainy days, knowing they have more hunting days available.

Tracking Turkeys

Accurate biological information forms the basis for modern day turkey management decisions. It helps biologists understand if turkey populations are growing, declining or remaining statewide and regionally.

Almost 2,000 people record observations of hens and poults each summer. This provides statewide and regional information on the annual turkey hatch. Requiring hunters to check-in their turkeys enables us to calculate the harvest rate of turkeys per square mile so we can identify problem areas or recognize local or regional population shifts.

We can also measure hunter success rates. Since we implemented the three-week season in 1998, turkey harvest per square mile of forest and hunter success rates have continued to climb. This suggests that the season extension has not negatively impacted our turkeys. Had the impact been negative, we would have had the information and could have responded quickly.


Despite a below-average hatch in 2004, Missouri hunters can look forward to another excellent season this spring.

Facing similar prospects, hunters harvested 60,744 turkeys last spring, breaking the previous record of 58,421 turkeys taken in 2003. Franklin County led the state in 2004. Hunters there took 1,099 birds. Runner-up was Laclede County with 1,071 birds, followed by Howell County with 985 birds.

With extended cool temperatures and rain that lasted well into summer, nesting conditions weren't optimal for turkeys in 2004. However, the sheer number of turkeys in Missouri should produce enough birds to keep the population stable.

Hunters encountered fewer jakes during the spring 2004 season, so there may be fewer 2-year-old birds in the woods than usual in 2005.

- Bryan Hendricks

Do you ever wonder why the Department records spur lengths at check stations or requests spur lengths from people checking birds by phone? Spur length is a good indication of a turkey's age. Adult toms with spurs shorter than 1 inch are generally 2-year-old birds. Those with spurs from 1 to 1 3/8 inches 3 to 4 years old, and those with spurs longer than 1 1/2 inches are the grandpas.

We look at the distribution of spur lengths each year and compare them to past years to see if age structures have changed. If we were to see a decline in a certain age group, we would know that something is happening in the turkey population.

The ratio of jakes to adult birds is another way we measure the pulse of the turkey population. If we began to see a preponderance of jakes in the turkey harvest, we might need to scale back on bag limits or season length. On average, jakes account for 20 to 30 percent of the harvest.

Turkey hunting has evolved since the first season in 1960. Today we have more than 125,000 turkey hunters, compared to just 698 in 1960. Annual harvests have increased from 94 birds to more than 60,000 birds. Because of hunters' willingness to provide biological information, coupled with knowledge gained from turkey research projects and the continual monitoring of poult production, we can keep a close watch on Missouri's turkey population and manage it to provide better opportunities for turkey hunters.

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