Wild turkeys make the most of break from weather

News from the region
Published Date

JEFFERSON CITY–Given one nesting season free of late freezes or frog-strangling rains, Missouri’s wild turkey flock has pulled off one of the best hatches in several years.

Resource Scientist Jason Isabelle, the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) turkey specialist, today released results of the annual Wild Turkey Brood Survey. Each year, citizen volunteers and MDC staff record the number of wild turkey hens and recently hatched turkeys, called “poults,” that they observe during June, July and August. Isabelle divides the number of poults by the number of hens to provide a poult-to-hen ratio, which is a measure of turkey nest success and poult survival.

The state-wide poult-to-hen ratio has varied little in recent years, ranging from 1.0 to 1.2. This year’s ratio was 1.7, the highest it has been since 2002.

”This year’s poult-to-hen ratio is certainly a step in the right direction after the poor hatches we’ve had the past several years,” said Isabelle. A statewide ratio of 1.7 for a few years in a row would have a fairly dramatic impact on turkey numbers.”

Isabelle said some hunters already are noticing a substantial difference in turkey numbers and are reporting more birds this summer in areas where young turkeys have been hard to find the last few years.

“A good turkey hatch throughout much of Missouri is certainly great news for fall turkey hunting enthusiasts,” said Isabelle. “Fall hunting provides a tremendous opportunity to pursue wild turkeys in the beautiful fall woods.”

Isabelle noted that only 13,500 hunters bought fall firearms turkey hunting permits last year, compared with spring-turkey permit sales of more than 100,000. The few hunters who do pursue turkeys in the fall often have the woods to themselves.

Hunters harvested 5,928 turkeys during Missouri’s 2010 fall firearms turkey season, compared with 46,000 in the spring. Isabelle said the fall harvest–which comes out to an average of 50 turkeys per county–has no significant impact on the number of turkeys that survive until the following spring.

Wild turkeys and other ground-nesting wildlife have suffered through a series of cold springs and unprecedented summer rainfall over the past five years. In 2007, a freak cold front dragged the mercury into the teens for several days in a row around Easter. In 2008, Missouri experienced record rainfall – more than 80 inches in some areas compared to the annual average of about 40 inches. 2009 was nearly as wet as 2008, and unusually heavy summer rains continued to plague turkeys last year. This year is the first in five with near-average spring temperatures and without repeated, heavy summer rains.

“Missouri’s wild turkeys have suffered through some poor hatches for the last four years in a row,” said Isabelle. “We have always been confident that they would bounce back when the weather returned to normal, and this year they did.”

Turkeys raised the largest broods in northeastern Missouri and the eastern Ozarks, where observers reported seeing 2.1 to 2.3 poults per hen. Counties along the south side of the Missouri River and the west side of the Mississippi River from Cooper County to Pemiscot County showed poult-to-hen ratios of 1.6 to 1.7. The western Ozarks and western Ozarks border counties reported poult-to-hen ratios of 1.5 to 1.6. Missouri’s western prairie counties and the northwest corner of the state had the lowest ratio of 1.4 poults per hen.

To view a detailed Wild Turkey Brood Survey map, visit at http://www.mdc.mo.gov/node/16163.

-Jim Low-