Missouri Expanded Fall Turkey Season Begins

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Hunters in the Ozarks and east-central Missouri can expect an increased number of wild turkeys this fall. They have a superabundance of acorns to thank for the increase, but may have trouble finding all those birds for the same reason.

Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer said volunteers who count turkey poults - birds hatched this year - reported seeing 2.2 young birds for every hen they counted in the eastern Ozarks, indicating good nesting success in this area. Also posting strong poult numbers this year was the Union Breaks, which includes the tier of counties on the south side of the Missouri River and the west side of the Mississippi River roughly from Marshall to Cape Girardeau. Observers in this area counted 1.7 poults per hen. In contrast, observers reported the lowest poult-to-hen ratios in west-central Missouri (1.1).

Other regional poult-to-hen ratios were 1.4 in northwestern Missouri, 1.6 in northeastern Missouri and the western Ozarks, 1.3 in the Ozark border and 1.5 in the Lindley Breaks, which stretches along the north bank of the Missouri River and the western shore of the Mississippi River roughly from Glasgow to Hannibal. The statewide poult-to-hen ratio was 1.6. This is an improvement from last year's figure of 1.2.

Beringer said this year's improved wild turkey nest success probably reflects the unprecedented number of acorns produced by oak trees statewide in 2005. The abundance of this turkey food staple allowed hens to enter the nesting season in excellent condition and produce large, healthy broods.

Early reports indicate another large acorn crop this year. Beringer said this could make fall turkey hunting more of a challenge.

"Hunters who like to go glassing (using binoculars) to find turkeys out in fields may think there are not as many birds around this year,"he said. "The birds will be in the woods, and they won't even leave much sign there. Acorns are so abundant that they are going to eat their fill in about 10 minutes instead of having to scratch through a lot of leaves looking for food."

More than 25,000 people hunted turkeys in Missouri last fall. That number was up approximately 10 percent from 2004. Beringer attributed the increase to liberalizations in the season. Last year the season was lengthened from 14 days to the entire month of October. Furthermore, the Conservation Department liberalized the bag limit, allowing hunters to take two birds - the season limit - on the same day.

Beringer said the longer season gave hunters more time to work turkey hunting into their busy fall schedules and spread their activities out, decreasing the likelihood of encountering other hunters in the field. He said he believes the changes will increase interest in fall turkey hunting.

Last year Missouri hunters harvested 13,286 turkeys during the fall season. That was up 2,622 from 2004, but still short of the record harvest of 14,487 set in 2002.

For more information, get a copy of the 2006 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information booklet, available wherever hunting permits are sold.