I've been told when the United States officials were deciding on a national mascot, there was much deliberation between the bald eagle and the turkey. Though I've heard several people describe turkeys as majestic, I have to say, I find them to be kind of goofy-looking.
Don't get me wrong, I love turkeys. Turkey sandwiches, turkey divan and especially an oven-roasted or smoked turkey. However, if fashion police existed for wildlife, the male wild turkeys (aka: gobblers) would warrant some serious infractions with their over abundance of decoration.
Seriously though, I'm truly glad to see that Missourians value wild turkeys as a resource and continue to manage areas to maintain their success. If you research wild turkeys you'll learn that even though the gobblers may appear to be wearing too much regalia, the wild turkey is in fact one of the shyest animals in the woods and hunters must research their craft if they're going to lure one of these sly birds in for harvest.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, eastern wild turkeys are part of a group of birds that include pheasants, grouse and quail and they're the largest of North American game birds. An adult male weighs 17 to 30 pounds and an adult hen will weigh from 8 to 12 pounds.
Missouri's turkey population peaked in the 1980's and some Missourians say they recall when we had almost a million wild turkeys in our state, but it's actually very difficult to come up with the actual number of the turkey population. According to the MDC, the current turkey population estimates on the annual spring harvest represent about 15 percent of the spring breeding population.
Hunting regulations have very little effect on overall year-to-year turkey abundance. According to the MDC, added restrictions to the spring season, such as a one-bird limit or a shorter season, would have little or no effect on the turkey population and the MDC has "fine-tuned" the timing of spring turkey season to ensure the turkeys have ample time to breed. Following breeding, mature males are expendable and nearly all (99 percent) of the spring harvest is males, according to the MDC. Although the youth season does occur when some hens have not yet been bred, the impact on the turkey population is small because only a few thousand birds are harvested.
Even so, this year department wildlife biologists said poor nesting weather over the past several years has reduced wild turkey numbers in some parts of the state. They say we need some consecutive years of drier, warmer spring weather for our turkey numbers to bounce back, which means turkey hunters may work even a little harder this year for the harvest.
However, we can be proud of our state because Missouri Game and Fish magazine and the National Wild Turkey Federation continue to recognize Missouri as having some of the best turkey hunting in the nation.
One reason for Missouri's successful turkey hunting is that the MDC turkey management plan is a product of cooperation between MDC scientists and citizens who care deeply about wild turkeys. This makes for a good combination that produces an increase of nesting and brood-rearing habitat to boost turkey numbers.
As a landowner, you can request advice from MDC field staff who will recommend land management techniques that will support turkey and other wildlife on your property.
As a turkey hunter, your interest in the turkey population is something you can use to educate others on the value of our turkey population and maybe even influence a landowner to look into making their property more popular with the turkeys.
If you haven't tried your luck at hunting wild turkey go to www.mdc.mo.gov to find extensive information on the sport.
You can learn about the many ways to perfect calls, get advice on the best places to hunt and even print up a gobbler profile to get a solid working knowledge of the bird.
I wish the best of luck to our Southeast Missouri turkey hunters as they prepare for the spring turkey season, especially our youth hunters who might have their first harvest April 4-5. Don't forget, if you have the same kind of affection for turkeys as I do, you can also find recipes on the best ways to prepare the birds at www.mdc.mo.gov.