Things are looking up for Missouri’s wild turkey flock and for those who hunt the wily birds.
That is the latest word from Resource Scientist Tom Dailey. He bases his optimistic outlook on results from a statewide survey. Each summer, volunteers send in reports of the number of wild turkey hens they see and how many poults (little turkeys) each hen has with her. In 2007, the statewide poult-to-hen ratio was 1.1 to 1. Last year it fell to one poult per hen.
“There is good news for turkey hunters in much of the state this fall,” said Dailey, who oversees turkey management for the Missouri Department of Conservation. “Poult production improved over last year’s near-record low. Statewide, the ratio of poults to hens was 1.2, this year up 8 percent from 2008.”
This year’s poult-to-hen ratio was highest in the Bootheel and eastern Ozarks regions, where observers reported 1.6 poults for every hen. That represents a 48-percent improvement for the Bootheel and a 26-percent increase in the eastern Ozarks compared to 2008.
Detailed survey results are available at http://www.mdc.mo.gov/20607.
This year’s poult-to-hen ratios were below last year’s in northern and western Missouri. However, Dailey noted that many of these counties still have some of the state’s largest turkey populations and some of the best hunting.
“The northern part of the state started out with more turkeys,” said Dailey, “so they still have plenty, in spite of this year’s disappointing nesting success.”
Dailey said weather has been the main brake on turkey numbers in recent years. A bizarre Easter freeze in 2007 destroyed many eggs before they hatched and sent hens and gobblers back to pre-mating season behavior. Last year’s all-time record rainfall took a heavy toll on young turkeys, which are extremely susceptible to death by hypothermia. Wetter-than-average weather this spring and summer also cut into poult survival.
Missouri’s fall firearms turkey season runs from Oct. 1 through 31 in all but Dunklin, McDonald, Mississippi, New Madrid, Newton, Pemiscot and Scott counties. The daily and bag limits are two turkeys of either sex.
Dailey said the fall season provides a tremendous opportunity for die-hard turkey hunters to pursue their favorite game with practically no competition. He noted that only 17,000 hunters chased turkeys during last year’s fall season, compared to more than 150,000 in the spring season.
In spite of setbacks in recent years, Missouri’s annual wild turkey harvest of approximately 50,000 remains one of the largest in the nation.
Observers report the best nesting success for Missouri’s wild turkey flock since 2006, in spite of heavier than normal rainfall. That means hunters will find more juvenile turkeys to hunt this fall and more jakes, as year-old gobblers are known, next spring.
(Missouri Department of Conservation photo)