Missouri's top turkey expert says hunters can expect another good spring turkey season. While the 2008 spring turkey harvest is not likely to set any records, Show-Me State hunters' success rate still will inspire envy in hunters from most other states.
Missouri's spring turkey season opened April 21 and runs through May 11. Hunters are allowed to take one bearded turkey during the first week of the season and one bird a day during the second and third weeks of the season, up to a season limit of two. Only one turkey may be taken each day during the spring season. Hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to 1 p.m. Central Daylight Savings Time.
The regular season was preceded by a Youth Turkey Season April 12 and 13, with a limit of one turkey. Hunting hours during the youth season were one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.
Details about turkey hunting regulations are explained in the 2008 Spring Turkey Hunting Information booklet, which is available wherever hunting permits are sold, or at mdc.mo.gov/hunt/turkey/sprturk/.
A large part of the thrill of turkey hunting is hearing lots of gobbling. Highly vocal males are easier to hunt, since their calls give away their locations and indicate how receptive they might be to hunters' calls.
The most vocal male turkeys are those that are two years old. Consequently, the amount of gobbling activity hunters hear in a given year depends heavily on how successful turkeys were at raising their young two years earlier.
Dailey said Missouri's 2006 turkey hatch was one of the better ones in recent years. Observers reported seeing 1.6 poults -- recently hatched turkeys -- for every hen counted that year. That means hunters should hear plenty of gobbling on warm, sunny spring mornings this year.
On the other hand, hunters are likely to see fewer one-year-old male turkeys -- known as jakes -- than normal this year. Last year's nest success was the second worst ever recorded since the beginning of modern turkey hunting in 1960. The cause was an unusually severe freeze last April.
"Hunters will probably notice that this year and next year," said Resource Scientist Tom Dailey, who oversees the Missouri Department of Conservation's turkey management program. But turkeys can bounce back very rapidly when favorable nesting conditions return, so I have a lot of hope pinned on this year's hatch."
That hope rests on normal rainfall and temperatures. Dailey said extreme cold and heavy rains in April, May and June, when hens are laying and incubating eggs, can cut into nesting success. Cold, wet weather also is hard on newly hatched turkeys.
"It is normal for turkey populations to fluctuate from year to year as a result of variations in weather," said Dailey. "You get a few years together where turkeys just can't catch a break, and their numbers dip a little. Then you get several years in a row where everything is right, and they bounce right back."
Dailey said the key to keeping the state's wild turkey flock strong is nesting and brood-rearing.
"If you have close to half a million birds like we do right now, that's nearly 200,000 hens. If they raise an average of two poults each, you can have quite a recovery in just one year."
Dailey said annual surveys showed turkey hens with an average of as many as 4.5 poults per hen during the era of turkey restoration, when the state's turkey flock was expanding to fill unoccupied areas. The average has been much lower in recent years. This is to be expected in a stable turkey flock that is in balance with available habitat. Last year, observers reported a poult-to-hen ratio of 1:1.
Dailey predicted this year's spring turkey harvest, including birds taken during the youth season, will be similar to last year's, around 48,000.
"Only a handful of states are in the same league as Missouri when it comes to turkey population and harvest," said Dailey. "There is a good reason why nearly 9,000 people pay a premium for nonresident permits to hunt turkeys in Missouri every year. An abundance of suitable habitat and careful turkey management continues to pay off in the Show-Me State."