Missouri's Opening Day Turkey Harvest Up From 2009

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Flawless weather helped hunters harvest 6,759 turkeys on the first day of Missouri's spring turkey season.

Top turkey-harvest counties on opening day were Franklin with 164 turkeys checked, Ste. Genevieve with 151 and Cape Girardeau with 127. Other counties that broke the 100 mark included Benton, Bollinger, Callaway, Gasconade, Osage, Perry, St. Clair and Texas.

The opening-day harvest was 12 percent larger than last year's. Hunters were helped by flawless weather and a slight improvement in turkey nesting success in 2009. Turkeys hatched last year made up 20 percent of the opening day harvest this year, compared to 17.5 percent last year.

The Missouri Department of Conservation's Telecheck database, which went into operation in 2005, shows the following opening-day harvest statistics.

  • 2005 – 10,119
  • 2006 – 7,860
  • 2007 – 6,010
  • 2008 – 7,004
  • 2009 – 6,013

Resource Scientist Tom Dailey, the Conservation Department's turkey specialist, said he was particularly interested in the opening-day harvest statistics from northwest Missouri.

"I have been watching the northwest closely because of the low poult count there in summer 2009," said Dailey. "The number of poults per hen was down 16 percent from 2008, and the lowest in the state at 0.8 poults per hen."

Dailey suspected the poor nest success of turkey hens in 2009 might hold down this year's turkey harvest in the 19-county Northwest Region whose corners are Ray, Atchison, Mercer and Chariton counties. That turned out to be true on opening day. The per-county harvest there averaged 41, compared to a statewide average of 59 turkeys per county.

Turkey numbers also apparently are down in the 15-county Northeast Region, where hunters checked an average of 54 turkeys per county. The average in the state's remaining regions, comprising 80 counties, was 65 turkeys per county.

"This probably was a result of last year's cool, wet spring, followed by a rough winter," said Dailey. "There was snow on the ground for most of mid-December through the end of February. On top of all that, we had the freak Easter freeze that hurt reproduction in 2007 and record rainfall in 2008. Ground-nesting birds have had a tough time for a few years now."

Dailey said he was glad to see that jakes – year-old male turkeys – accounted for about 20 percent of this year's opening-day harvest. Historically, jakes have made up about 25 percent of the total spring harvest. That number fell to 17.5 percent of the opening-day harvest in 2009 as a result of poor reproduction in previous years. This year's larger jake harvest reflects a slight improvement in turkey reproduction last year. However, the number of jakes in the harvest is not likely to cut deeply into future years' supply of mature gobblers.

Dailey said the mild temperatures and relatively dry weather that prevailed the first three weeks of April make him optimistic about a good turkey hatch this year. If those conditions hold through May, this year could mark the start of a turkey population recovery in north Missouri.

"Sooner or later we will get a few years in a row of favorable conditions and good nest success," he said. "When that happens, turkey numbers will rebound a bit. Even so, we might never again see the big harvests we had from 1999 through 2006, when the spring kill topped 50,000 each year."

The Conservation Department recorded one nonfatal firearms-related hunting incident on opening day.