The morning arrived cold. Snow covered the fields and woods as I turned loose my English setter for the last hunt of the 2003 quail season. My partner’s dogs also ranged ahead as we worked through a CRP field alongside a shallow valley. The dogs were excited, but tracks in the snow showed they were working turkeys.
Photo by Spencer Turner.
I waited, expecting a flush of large black birds. No flush, but as I watched the valley’s far side, a line of birds snaked up the hillside single file. Seemingly endless, the line of birds continued up over the valley top. It seemed like I watched the birds for 10 minutes, but I’m sure it was only three or four before stragglers finished the climb and disappeared over the hill.
That was an eye-opening experience. The spring turkey season should be fun, I thought. I hunted spring turkeys, less than a half mile from where we hunted those quail.
Little did I know the next turkey season would be the start of a gradual decline in turkey numbers, especially gobblers and jakes, as Missouri suffered under a series of wet, cold springs and poor poult production.
Spring turkey hunting and hunter success depends strongly on the presence of young (and dumb) males. Boy, does that sum up my turkey hunting! I need lots of young, dumb males in the flock. When you look at those cold turkey-hunting statistics provided by Missouri’s turkey biologists, jakes and 2-year-old males make up a large portion of the spring kill each year.
What does this mean for turkey hunters in spring 2010?
Missouri’s turkey population over the past six years has experienced failures in nesting success because of cold spring rains and the obviously inclement weather that comes with it. Harvest of spring turkeys has declined steadily from a peak of 60,700 in 2004, a record year, to 46,300 in 2008 and finally to 44,713 in 2009.
To quantify what happens each year, volunteers and MDC staff collects brood and hen data over the summer. In 2008, biologists found statewide hen production numbers, the average number of poults produced per hen, was 1.06 poults. In 2009, it was up somewhat.
Tom Daily, resource scientist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri’s turkey biologist, reports for 2010, “There’s good news for turkey hunters in much of the state. Poult production in 2009 was 1.2 this year, up 8 percent from 2008.”
At least the news is positive. However, turkey hunters need to look more closely at broad, general statistics. Statistics can provide a false impression of what is really happening in specific locations in the state.
Local weather can create serious problems during nesting, not reflected in broad general statistics. For example, Boone County, where I live, received more than 14 inches of rain from May through July in 2009. Local weather conditions can improve or reduce turkey production.
To get a better picture of turkey production in 2009 and a snapshot of what we can expect during the spring hunting season, let’s look at regional poult production. That picture will help us decide where to hunt turkeys this spring.
The Bootheel and eastern Ozark regions had the highest production, 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 with 2008.
Northwest, north and northeast Missouri counties on the other hand, again experienced series of wet, cold rains during nesting in 2009. In the northwest and northeast regions, poult-to-hen indices decreased to 0.8 (minus 16 percent) and 1.0 (minus 7 percent), respectively in 2009.
The news isn’t all doom and gloom. Missouri hunters lead the nation in numbers of gobblers harvested each year during the spring hunting season. We kill more turkeys each year than hunters in any other state. For example, in 2009, we killed more than 44,700; 2008, more than 46,000; in 2007, more than 48,000; and in 2004, more than 60,000, a record year. That was the year after I watched the parade of turkeys during my quail hunt.
Join me now for suggestions on where to hunt turkeys this spring and some tips for hunting old, mature gobblers.
Hands down, hunting private ground improves odds for a successful trip. I hunt a private farm in northeast Missouri with about 500 acres of mixed cropland, wooded draws and CRP plots that’s surrounded by other private landowners that also manage for wild turkeys. And, more important, they limit hunter numbers on the property. On private farms you compete with fewer hunters, and the turkeys will be less stressed and easier to call in the spring than those on public hunting grounds.
Pages: 1 2