The numbers are still coming in, but the trend is clear. Missouri’s 2008 turkey production was among the worst on record.
That, according to Resource Scientist Tom Dailey, means tougher hunting conditions for Missouri’s month-long fall turkey season.
Dailey is the Missouri Department of Conservation’s turkey-management expert. He has been collecting reports from dedicated volunteers around the state who count the number of young turkeys – called “poults” – seen with hens. The conservation department has been conducting these brood surveys for the past 47 years to provide a trend line of the state’s turkey population. The trend remains down this year.
As of Sept. 11, the average number of poults per hen was 1.01. Last year’s statewide average was 1.0. The lowest figure on record was .8 poults per hen in 1961.
Dailey said reports still are coming in, and he expects those late reports to raise this year’s statewide average, since older poults are larger and easier to count. However, he does not expect the increase to be significant. In the end, he thinks this year’s production to be virtually identical to last year’s.
“Ice storms in January and December of 2007 didn’t help turkeys any,” said Dailey, “but the big kicker last year was the April freeze that caught the birds right in the midst of their mating and nesting. That really hurt. This year’s winter was more normal, but then we got record floods that clobbered turkeys in low areas, plus cool, wet weather that affected production even in upland areas.”
Draper noted that the 2007 “Easter freeze” also reduced production of acorns and other wild-turkey food items, causing hens to come out of the winter this year in poorer condition for nesting.
Early brood survey results showed the lowest production – .71 poults per hen – in Missouri’s West Prairie Region. Next was the Ozark Border Region with .84 poults per hen. These were followed by the Mississippi Lowlands (.88) the West Ozarks West (.94), the Northeast and Northwest regions (.97) the Lindley Breaks just north of the Missouri River in east-central Missouri (1.01), the East Ozarks (1.23) and the adjoining Union Breaks on the south side of the Missouri River (1.27).
In practical terms, this means tougher conditions for hunters this fall. Dailey noted that young birds – which are less experienced and wary – normally make up a large part of the fall turkey harvest. With two years of low production, young birds will make up a smaller percentage of the turkey population. Hunters will have more older, experienced birds to contend with this year.
Missouri’s fall firearms turkey season opens Oct. 1 and runs through Oct. 31. The season limit is two birds of either sex, and both birds may be taken on the same day. Texas County usually finishes the season with one of the highest harvests in the state.
For full details of hunting regulations get a copy of the 2008 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Information Booklet, which is available wherever hunting permits are sold. The same information is available at www.mdc.mo.gov/hunt/.