Missouri Turkey Numbers Low for Opening Week

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Hunters checked 22,771 turkeys during the first week of Missouri's spring turkey season, the smallest number in 10 years. The Missouri Department of Conservation predicts a harvest of approximately 50,000 turkeys for the three-week season.

Top harvest counties were Franklin, with 476 turkeys checked, and Callaway and Ste. Genevieve counties with 389 each. The Conservation Department recorded two nonfatal, firearms-related turkey hunting accidents.

The number of birds checked on the opening day of the spring turkey season followed the same trend as the first-week harvest. Hunters checked 6,010 birds on the first Monday of the season this year, down 24 percent from 2006.

Jeff Beringer, the Conservation Department resource scientist in charge of managing the state's wild turkey flock, attributed the dip in turkey harvest to below-average nesting success in recent years, and unusual weather preceding the season.

"Surveys in 2003 and 2004 showed low numbers of poults (young turkeys) compared to previous years," said Beringer. "In 2005 we had the second-lowest poult numbers on record. That is especially bad for hunters this year, because two-year old males are the ones that gobble the most. Not hearing birds gobbling decreases the quality of the hunting experience and makes it harder to find birds."

Beringer said turkey reproduction rebounded in 2006, brightening next years' hunting prospects. Improved nesting success in 2006 already showed up this year. The number of jakes - one-year-old male turkeys - in the first-week harvest increased slightly this year.

Although weather conditions were nearly perfect for the entire first week of the season, the progress of turkey mating and other spring events, such as tree leaf-out, have been affected by the record cold weather in early April.

"The weather has been a rollercoaster this spring, with temperatures in the 80s in late March and down into the teens in early April," said Beringer. "Many turkeys slowed down or quit mating during the cold weather."

The extreme cold set spring vegetation back as much as four weeks in the southern half of the state. These factors, combined with the earliest spring turkey season opening date ever, might have delayed hens' egg-laying. When lots of hens still are receptive to mating, hunters have more difficulty getting gobblers to respond to their calls.

Beringer noted that the first-week spring turkey harvest normally accounts for approximately 45 percent of the number of birds taken during the three-week season. Based on that, he expects this year's harvest to be about 50,000, down slightly from last year.

Beringer said extremely cold weather in April may have affected turkeys' nesting success.

"It's still a little early to tell," he said. "I don't think it will make a huge difference, but this was a very unusual event, and only time will tell. Some eggs may have frozen, but there still was time for renest attempts. The most important time period for turkey nest success is the end of May and early June, when poults hatch. If it isn't too cold or rainy then, we could have a very good hatch this year."

Missouri's spring turkey season continues through May 6. For more information, visit www.mdc.mo.gov/hunt/turkey/sprturk/, or call the nearest Conservation Department office.

Missouri's largest first-week turkey harvest occurred in 2000, when hunters checked 30,440 turkeys. Last year's figure was 24,951.