Missouri still turkey-rich despite tough breaks

News from the region
Published Date

JEFFERSON CITY–Hunters in northern Missouri can expect to see a few more jakes during the spring turkey season, and hunters statewide will have more mature gobblers to hunt this year. Otherwise, the 2011 spring turkey hunting forecast from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) looks a lot like those for the past few years.

Missouri’s spring turkey season opens April 18 and runs through May 8. The youth season is April 9 and 10. Details about bag limits and other regulations are found in the “2011 Spring Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information” booklet, which is available from permit vendors statewide or at www.mdc.mo.gov/node/4066.

Resource Scientist Jason Isabelle, MDC’s resident turkey expert, says he expects this year’s turkey harvest to be slightly lower than last year’s. He said the 2011 turkey season will be defined by two factors. One is a diminished but still robust turkey population. The other is the poor hatches that have occurred during the past several years.

“Our turkey population unquestionably is down in parts of the state from where we were five years ago,” said Isabelle, “but it’s still enough to make us the envy of most other states.”

Turkey harvest figures and population estimates compiled by the National Wild Turkey Federation back up Isabelle’s analysis.

2010 Spring Harvest 2011 Turkey Population

Wisconsin 47,722 not available

Missouri 46,000 308,000

Pennsylvania 42,478 360,000

Tennessee 37,000 310,000

Kentucky 36,000 220,000

Oklahoma 37,000 123,500

Arkansas 10,000 100,000

Nebraska 20,000 not available

Iowa not available not available

“I find those numbers very heartening,” said Isabelle. “Even with some challenging hunting conditions in parts of Missouri the past few years, it’s clear to see that we still have some of the best turkey hunting found anywhere in the country. Our turkey population is still very robust, and it will increase when we have a few years of good production.”

However strong it might be compared to other states, Missouri’s turkey population continues to suffer from several years of poor reproductive success, partly as a result of cold, wet weather during the nesting and brood-rearing season. The heaviest blow fell in 2007, when a freak Easter freeze killed eggs in the nest and stopped mating activity cold across most of the state. But the record rainfall of 2008 and 2009 was just as rough on turkey reproduction in many areas, and 2010 was not much better.

The good news, such as it is, took the form of slight improvements in nest success in the past two years.

“Production was up about 8 percent statewide in 2009 compared with 2008, so there should be a few more 2-year old gobblers in the woods this spring,” said Isabelle.

He said statewide wild turkey reproduction was about the same in 2010 as in 2009, but MDC did record some encouraging regional differences. Production was up 14 percent in northeastern Missouri and 34 percent in the northwestern portion of the state. Consequently, hunters in these regions should find more jakes than they did last year.

Hunters concerned with not hearing as many gobbling birds in their area may consider passing on jakes this spring, said Isabelle. “The more jakes that make it through the season, the more 2-year old gobblers there will be to hunt next year.”

“Two-year-old toms tend to be the most active gobblers,” said Isabelle, “and most hunters gauge the quality of hunting by the amount of gobbling they hear. Due to the relatively poor hatches that we’ve had the past few years, a larger proportion of our mature gobblers now are 3 years or older, and older birds are generally harder to fool. But if you outsmart one of those birds, you certainly have something to be proud of.”

Isabelle mentioned a few items that hunters should know before this year’s spring turkey season. Most significant is the change in tagging procedures under the new e-Permits system. E-Permits makes permit buying more convenient, allowing hunters to purchase turkey hunting permits using home computers and print and have the permits in hand immediately.

Tagging is different under e-Permits, because the self-adhesive transportation tags that formerly came with deer and turkey permits are gone. Instead, the permit itself is the transportation tag now. Hunters must notch the month and date on the edges of the tag that correspond to the date they killed a turkey and attach the notched permit to the bird.

The new tagging procedure requires care to protect permits from moisture or tearing. MDC suggests that hunters carry permits in zipper-type sandwich bags and use string, tape or other material to attach permits to harvested game. Hunters still must check turkeys through the Telecheck system by 10 p.m. the day the bird is killed.

Another of Isabelle’s noteworthy items is an error in the “2011Summary of Missouri Hunting and Trapping Regulations.” The summary of youth turkey hunting regulations on Page 19 says that young hunters who shoot turkeys during the youth season may not harvest a second turkey until April 26. The correct date is April 25. Information in the spring turkey booklet is correct.

Hunters also need to know that the refuge portion of Peck Ranch Conservation Area (CA) is temporarily closed to hunting and all other activity because of elk restoration work there. The portion of Peck Ranch CA outside the marked refuge fence – approximately 12,000 acres in all – remains open to hunting and other activities.

“We know this is an inconvenience for turkey hunters,” said Isabelle. “We hope they will remember the historic role Peck Ranch played in Missouri’s amazingly successful turkey restoration program and bear with us as we work to restore another native species to that part of the Ozarks.”

Finally, Isabelle mentioned that specific regulations for some CAs have changed this year. Those changes are outlined in the “2011 Spring Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information” booklet. He urges hunters to get copies of the booklet before the season and double-check the regulations on CAs where they plan to hunt.

Isabelle says better times are ahead for Missouri turkeys and turkey hunters.

“One of the things that we’ve learned about wild turkey populations is that they are dynamic in nature. They can increase fairly rapidly when conditions are favorable. I know this is cold comfort to hunters when we are several years into a population slump, but it’s true. With a couple years of improved spring weather, we can expect increases in production, and an increase in the state’s wild turkey population.”

Isabelle said he hears from hunters who want MDC to shorten turkey season or reduce bag limits, but those measures simply won’t help at this time.

“Production drives Missouri’s wild turkey population,” he said. “I know it seems logical to think that more restrictive regulations will help the population recover, but the truth is that those measures have little effect in situations like we are in right now. MDC will continue to monitor the turkey population very closely, and will be ready to make regulatory changes if we think that they would help the population. For right now though, we just have to be patient and wait for Mother Nature to deal turkeys a few good hands. That is the only thing that is going to turn things around.”

-Jim Low-