Missouri Spring Turkey Harvest Exceeds Expectations
Hunters made the most of the final week of Missouri's 21-day spring turkey season, shooting 8,263 birds. The last week's harvest boosted the regular-season tally to 42,254, an increase of 429 from last year.
Top harvest counties for the regular season April 19 through May 9 were Franklin with 872, Texas with 755 and St. Clair with 701.
Missouri's spring turkey season has two parts. Hunters age 6 through 15 shot 3,945 turkeys during the youth season April 10 and 11. This boosted the combined spring turkey harvest to 46,199, which is 1,491 more than last year.
Resource Scientist Tom Dailey had predicted the total harvest would be approximately 44,000. He attributed the 5-percent larger harvest to two factors.
"We had the usual mixed bag of weather during the hunting season this year," said Dailey, the Missouri Department of Conservation’s turkey expert. "The opening weekend was pretty rough, with lots of wind and rain, and the last Saturday was windy. Other than that, though, conditions were extremely favorable for hunting."
The second factor contributing to this year's better-than-expected turkey harvest was a slight increase in wild turkeys' nesting success in 2009. The Conservation Department measures nesting success by the number of poults – young turkeys – seen with turkey hens during the summer by volunteer observers.
"Compared to the long-term average, last year's poult-to-hen ratio wasn't what you would call great," said Dailey, "but it was slightly better than the two previous years. It allowed turkeys to hold their own in many areas and increase in some others."
Dailey said he was pleased that this year's spring harvest did not include a higher-than-normal percentage of young turkeys. "Jakes," as year-old male turkeys are called, made up 21 percent of this year's harvest, compared to the historic average of approximately 25 percent.
"Hunters could have shot more jakes this year because we had a few more of them than in recent years," said Dailey. "Apparently the opposite happened, so we will carry over quite a few jakes to next year. That means more two-year-old birds next spring."
Dailey said 2-year-old toms are the ones that gobble most, and hunters measure the quality of a day's hunt largely by the presence or absence of gobbling birds. He said the moderate take of jakes is a good sign for the future.
Also a good sign is the return of more moderate spring weather. Cold and rain reduce wild turkey's nesting success, and the past few years have set records for both. Dailey said with more normal weather during the summer there is every reason to expect the state's turkey population to rebound from its current dip.
"I've got my fingers crossed," said Dailey, "and I'm sure lots of other turkey hunters do, too."
The Conservation Department received reports of four firearms-related hunting incidents during the regular spring turkey season. That is the same number as last year, but none of this year's incidents was fatal, while one person died last year. Two hunting incidents – neither fatal – were reported during the youth season.