Hunters Shoot 22,308 Turkeys During First Week of Season

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This year’s first-week harvest was down just 2 percent from 2007.

JEFFERSON CITY-Hunters checked 22,308 turkeys during the first week of Missouri’s spring turkey season. The state’s top turkey biologist says that is very good, considering the circumstances.

The first-week harvest was virtually the same as last year, when hunters bagged 22,764 birds. Top harvest counties were: Franklin, 459; Osage, 414; and Texas, 411.

Missouri Department of Conservation Resource Scientist Tom Dailey said he was pleased to see the opening-week figures.

“Keeping up with last year’s harvest is good news,” said Dailey. “The state’s turkey flock has had some tough breaks in recent years, especially last year.”

A severe cold snap the first week of April 2007 made things tough for both turkeys and turkey hunters. The deep freeze forced some hens to desert their nests and reset the clock on turkey mating behavior. As a result, last year’s first-week turkey harvest was the smallest in 10 years, and this was followed by production of young turkeys that was the second-lowest on record.

Missouri’s spring turkey season is timed to put hunters in the woods at about the same time that turkey hens begin incubating their eggs. This timing permits hens and gobblers to take care of the business of replacing themselves before hunters start harvesting male turkeys. It also makes gobblers more receptive to the calls of hunters.

Hunters had different conditions this year. This spring has been cooler and wetter than normal, and turkey mating behavior might be behind schedule.

“The week before the season opened, our volunteer gobbling study indicated that the number of gobbles heard per observer was only 27 compared to 38 in 2007,” said Dailey. “There is a chance that gobbling will pick up as the season progresses. We know there are relatively more 2-year-old-birds, but fewer jakes, because of fair production in 2006 and very poor production in 2007.

Opening day was warm and sunny. Hunters checked more than 7,000 birds that day alone.

Thunderstorms marred the second day of the season in much of the state, but weather during the following five days was generally favorable for hunting.

Before the season opened, Dailey predicted that this year’s final turkey harvest would be similar to last year’s, with hunters taking approximately 3,000 turkeys during the two-day youth season and another 45,000 during the regular spring season. He stands by that prediction. In previous years the first-week harvests have been 45 to 50 percent of the total taken during the three-week season, so this year’s harvest likely will not be much different than in 2007.

“Weather is the least predictable factor in turkey harvest,” said Dailey. “If we continue to have good weather, this year’s harvest could be around 45,000 again. Wind, rain and colder-than-normal temperatures might cut into that a little, but we have a strong start.”

Dailey said he hopes the weather also will help turkeys make up some of the losses they have suffered in recent years. He said a strong spring harvest will not prevent turkey numbers from increasing if hens get a chance to bring off a strong crop of poults.

“With some luck, we will have average weather in May and June, and the state’s turkey flock will begin to rebuild,” said Dailey. “Turkeys are surprisingly prolific. Their numbers can bounce back within a few years with the right conditions.”

-Jim Low-