State Officials Delighted with Spring Turkey Harvest

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Harvest statistics from Missouri's 2005 spring turkey hunting season show biologists were correct in predicting a less-than-record harvest. With slightly better weather, however, hunters might have proved the experts wrong.

Hunters bagged 53,798 turkeys during the regular turkey season April 18 through May 8. That is down 5 percent from last year's record of 56,882.

With the addition of this year's record youth-season harvest of 3,894, the 2005 spring turkey harvest totals 57,692. That is down just 4 percent from last year and the fourth-largest on record. That is a remarkable achievement considering the odds facing Missouri hunters at the start of the season.

Missouri Department of Conservation Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer predicted a decrease in this year's turkey harvest because of poor turkey reproduction in recent years. On top of that, the weather refused to cooperate. Heavy rain and high winds plagued hunters the first weekend, and rain and near-freezing temperatures continued throughout most of the season.

"I am delighted that hunters almost proved me wrong," said Beringer, the Conservation Department's turkey expert. "We had good weather the first few days of the season, and that probably helped."

Beringer said he received widely differing reports of turkey activity in different parts of the state.

"People from some areas said they weren't hearing any gobbling, and those from other areas said they were gobbling like crazy. Some people said hens were still with gobblers late into the season, and others said they were all on the nest in their areas. I think the cool spell we had may have set back the normal progression of turkey breeding in some parts of the state."

Beringer pointed to the number of juvenile male turkeys, commonly called "jakes," taken by hunters as a possible explanation for the better-than-expected harvest. In the past the jake harvest has shown a strong correlation with the number of young birds seen the previous summer-the poult-to-hen ratio.

Last year's poult-to-hen ratio was 1.6, which should have predicted a jake harvest of approximately 16 percent of the total kill. In fact, jakes accounted for nearly 24 percent of this year's harvest.

"We worked on the jakes a little harder than I expected. That might mean that reproduction was better last year than we thought."

Jakes made up 19 percent of last year's harvest. In 2001, the figure was 26 percent.

Beringer said another explanation of this year's elevated jake harvest might be the fact that turkey reproduction also was off two years ago. Two-year-old birds normally account for eight out of 10 birds harvested each spring. With fewer two-year-old gobblers around to compete for hens, jakes might have been courting hens more actively than usual-increasing their exposure to hunters. Also, hunters who held out for mature gobblers until the end of the season might have decided a jake was better than no turkey at all.

This year's top harvest counties were Franklin with 1,048, Texas with 1,011 and Laclede with 897 turkeys checked.

Regional harvest figures were: northeast, 8,615; northwest, 8,035; central, 7,880; Kansas City, 7,241; southwest, 6,887; Ozark, 6,491; southeast, 4,619; and St. Louis, 4,040.

The Conservation Department recorded seven firearms-related turkey hunting accidents this year. One was fatal. That is a slight improvement from last year, when Missouri had eight spring turkey hunting accidents, including one fatality.

Missouri has averaged approximately eight accidents per spring turkey season over the past decade. In the previous 10 years, the average was 17. The worst spring turkey season on record was 1985, with 29 nonfatal accidents and two fatalities.

"Mandatory hunter education has saved quite a few lives over the years," said Conservation Department Hunter Education Program Coordinator Rick Flint. "We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the hundreds of volunteer hunter education instructors who have helped making hunting so much safer."

Missouri leads the nation in turkey harvest. Statistics compiled by the National Wild Turkey Federation list the Show-Me State's 2004 spring turkey harvest of 60,744, compared to runners-up Wisconsin (47,477), Pennsylvania (41,000) and Mississippi (40,000). Last year's fall turkey season pushed Missouri's annual turkey harvest to more than 73,000. That is more than the number of turkeys estimated to live in many states.

Hunters from other states flock to Missouri each spring to share the turkey bonanza. This year, 9,610 nonresidents bought Missouri spring turkey hunting permits, pumping $1.4 million into Show-Me State conservation programs and spending millions more on food, lodging, fuel, equipment and guide services.