Fall turkey hunters throughout much of Missouri are likely to see more mature birds than they have in years past, but fewer young wild turkeys.
Missouri Department of Conservation Resource Scientist Jason Isabelle said this year’s brood survey showed a statewide ratio of 1.3 poults (young turkeys) to each hen. That’s down from each of the past two years, when the statewide poult-to-hen ratio was 1.7.
This year’s ratio is better than it was from 2007 through 2010, when it ranged from 1-to-1.2 poults per hen. However, fewer hens were observed with young during the brood survey compared to last year, indicating lower nest success in 2013.
Isabelle attributes this year’s lower poult-to-hen ratio to a late spring and above-normal rainfall in May. As an example of that abnormally heavy rainfall, the weather station at the University of Missouri’s Jefferson Farm south of Columbia recorded 10.44 inches of rainfall in May.
Heavy rain during the incubation period in April and May can reduce the number of hens that nest successfully because damp conditions make it easier for predators to find turkey nests by scent. Cool weather during the brood-rearing period from late May through June can reduce the number of poults that survive after hatching, because young turkeys are susceptible to chilling.
“We were still seeing flocks of 20 and 30 birds in early April, when we normally expect flocks to be broken up in preparation for nesting,” Isabelle said. “That slow start to the breeding season, followed by heavy rains in May, was not conducive to high nest success.”
On the bright side, warmer, drier summer weather was generally favorable for poult survival this year, and prevented the kind of losses suffered during the cold, wet summers of 2008 through 2010.
“Things have to be really dry before they would start to have a negative impact on poult survival,” Isabelle said. “Generally, drier conditions are more conducive to good poult survival than wet conditions.”
Isabelle said hunters should consider acorn abundance when planning their turkey hunting strategy this fall. A scarcity of acorns forces turkeys to forage more widely or visit agricultural fields, making them easier to find. Abundant acorns allow them to move around less, making them less visible to hunters.
“If you have lots of acorns in your area, a productive hunting strategy often is to simply cover a lot of ground until you locate a flock,” Isabelle said. “Stopping to hen yelp every hundred yards or so can be a great way to locate a flock of fall birds.”
One bright spot in this year’s fall turkey hunting outlook is the result of good turkey reproduction in 2011 and 2012 throughout much of Missouri. Birds hatched in those years are mature now, increasing the number of adult “toms” and giving hunters a better chance of bringing home birds with long beards and big, meaty bodies.
Isabelle said hunting adult gobblers in the fall can be challenging, but rewarding as well.
Details about fall turkey hunting regulations are found in the 2013 Fall Deer and Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information booklet. It is available wherever hunting permits are sold or online at mdc.mo.gov/node/3656.