First Week's Turkey Harvest Down as Predicted

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Missouri turkey hunters bagged 3,032 fewer turkeys during the first week of the spring hunting season, confirming predictions from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Missouri hunters brought 18,916 turkeys to check stations and checked another 7,070 by telephone and Internet for a total of 25,986 turkeys during the first seven days of the three-week season. That is 10.5 percent short of last year's record harvest of 29,018.

Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer, who oversees the state's turkey management program, predicted the dip in turkey harvest prior to the April 18 season opener. He says the smaller first-week harvest is not a sign of problems with the state's turkey population.

"Ever since we began turkey restoration work in 1954 we have seen steady growth in our turkey flock and a steady increase in the spring harvest. In recent years, there have been signs that the growth was leveling off."

For one thing, the ratio of young birds compared to hens seen with hens each summer has declined. Also, reproduction has been down the past two years. That has been partly because of weather during the nesting season, but also partly because the size of the flock is stabilizing.

Beringer said another factor contributing to the harvest dip is weather during the first week of hunting. Conditions were good for the first five days of hunting, but the last two days of the first week, Saturday and Sunday, April 23 and 24, were unseasonably cold, with hard frosts in many areas. Rain and winds gusting to 60 mph further hampered hunters' efforts.

"All in all, this is a very respectable number," said Beringer. "Hunters could make up a little of this loss during the remaining two weeks if the weather is good. It is important to remember that 26,000 turkeys is about what we harvested for the entire season just 20 years ago. Our turkey flock remains very strong."

Counties leading harvest totals were Franklin, with 551 turkeys checked, Texas, with 517, and Laclede and St. Clair counties, which tied for third with 446 each.

Regional harvest totals were: Northeast, 3,922; Central, 3,891; Northwest, 3,643; Kansas City, 3,553; Southwest, 3,287; Ozark, 3,207; Southeast, 2,413; and St. Louis, 2,070.

One-year-old turkeys, also called "jakes," made up 23.4 percent of the first-week harvest, compared to 18.7 percent last year. Beringer noted that this is consistent with the fact that jakes made up a smaller-than-usual percentage of turkeys killed last spring.

"Fewer jakes one year means fewer two-year-old gobblers the following year. The reduced reproduction two years ago is showing up in our harvest numbers."

The Conservation Department recorded five people injured in four firearms-related turkey hunting accidents during the first week of the season. None was fatal. Five people were injured and one was killed during the same period last year.