Spring turkey harvest down 9.3 percent

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JEFFERSON CITY–A 9.3-percent dip in the 2011 spring turkey harvest confirms what Missourians already knew – it has been a stormy three weeks in the Show-Me State.

Resource Scientist Jason Isabelle, the Conservation Department’s turkey specialist, announced today that hunters checked 38,328 turkeys during the regular spring turkey season April 18 through May 8. That is down 3,926 from last year.

Adding the harvest from the youth turkey season April 9 and 10 brings Missouri’s 2011 spring turkey harvest to 42,226. That is down 8.6 percent from last year. Spring turkey permit sales were down 4,885, or 3.3 percent, from last year.

Top harvest counties were Franklin, with 840 turkeys checked, Texas with 699 and Bollinger with 675. Juvenile gobblers, known as “jakes,” made up 19.6 percent of the harvest. That is virtually identical to last year, when jakes comprised 20 percent of the harvest.

Isabelle predicted a smaller harvest this year because of a decline in turkey numbers statewide.

“We still have very strong wild turkey numbers in most areas compared to other states,” said Isabelle, “but there is no question that the population is down, and more in some areas than others. That was bound to affect our harvest this year. Cool, rainy and often windy conditions during much of turkey season magnified the effect.”

Isabelle said the season got off to a good start. The youth harvest was virtually identical to last year’s, and the opening-day harvest was slightly higher than in 2010. Then it turned cool and turned stormy.

Isabelle said rain, cool temperatures and wind have a double negative effect on hunting success. Stormy weather causes male turkeys to gobble less, making them harder to hunt. Nasty weather also discourages hunters from going afield.

“The turkeys are out there every day,” said Isabelle. ”You can hunt them effectively, even on rainy days, but it’s harder, and it can be uncomfortable. Quite a few hunters choose not to hunt at all on rainy days. I suspect that when we look at our hunter survey data, we’ll see a reduction in the number of days that hunters took to the field this spring.”

Isabelle said he doesn’t expect this spring’s relatively light harvest to have a significant effect on the state’s turkey population. This is partly because 99 percent of the harvested turkeys are males, and turkey reproduction is determined by the number of hens. MDC sets the hunting season late enough in the spring to allow ample opportunity for gobblers and hens to breed prior to the start of the season.

“Harvesting 4,000 fewer gobblers in the spring is a minor factor compared to annual reproduction,” said Isabelle. “In a good year, our hens can produce more than 300,000 poults (young turkeys). That dwarfs the total number of gobblers we harvest, even when hunting conditions are good.”

Isabelle said Missouri has enough wild-turkey hens to stage a population recovery. To do that, however, the birds need favorable weather. Wet conditions take a toll on nesting success of ground-nesting birds like turkeys. It also reduces survival of poults, which are susceptible to hypothermia when cool, wet weather prevails.

Isabelle said wet conditions so far this spring have not helped turkey nesting, but most areas haven’t been as hard-hit as southeastern Missouri.

“Even in areas where flooding has occurred, hens still have time to re-nest and bring off a good crop of poults,” he said. “We have had several years of bad nesting conditions, but I’m hoping this will be the year when we get warmer, drier weather, and turkey numbers bounce back a bit. May and June are critical months for wild turkey production, and it’s still not too late for conditions to improve.”

The Conservation Department recorded three firearms-related hunting incidents during the regular turkey season and two during the youth season. Last year, the agency recorded four incidents during the regular season and two during the youth season.

County-by-county spring turkey harvest totals are available at http://mdc.mo.gov/hunting-trapping/reports/turkey-reports/spring-turkey-harvest-map.”

-Jim Low-