It was the first day of the second week of the spring 2013 Missouri turkey hunting season. The morning hours were waning and my old knees were aching from walking so much while trying to locate a gobbler.
The morning seemed to be a great one for turkey hunting. The weather was mild, it wasn’t windy, and the sun was shining brightly. Nevertheless, I had not heard a gobbler all morning. I guess nobody told the turkeys it was a great day for them to be gobbling!
I was sitting on an old stump just inside the woods along the edge of a cow pasture resting my 50-year-old knees. It was about 10:45 when a crow cawed. I imagined that in the distance I heard a tom shock gobble in response. I spun around on the stump and scratched out some extremely loud and long yelps from my friction call. Sure enough, the gobbler revealed his location to me.
I could tell where the turkey was but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to walk that far to get it. It was a long way off and my knees were burning with pain. Well, you’ve heard the old saying, no pain, no gain, and so off I went.
I called several times along the way but never got another response. I walked all the way to the next ridge-top and then scanned the woods for a good place from which to call. I picked a white oak, leaned my shotgun against the trunk and called again. This time I heard at least two toms answer me! Their rattling calls came from about 100 yards away, just over the crest of the ridge. I put my facemask on, sat down, propped my shotgun across one knee and called again. Another gobble, a little closer this time, told me the toms were on their way and my heart began racing.
It wasn’t long until I saw the first of the gobblers crest the hill about 40 yards away on the other side of a barbed wire fence. Two more long-beards followed in procession behind him. The lead bird broke away and ducked under the fence and proceeded toward me. Dense brush prevented me from shooting until he was about 20 yards away. I was ready to blast him but he stopped right behind a small tree. If he took one or two more steps I was going to pull the trigger, but he froze, fixated on my position.
Meanwhile, turkey No. 2 walked right down the fenceline within 15 yards to my left. I can’t believe I did it without spooking the first tom or the other two for that matter, but I ever-so-slowly eased my gun to the left. When I got the bead on gobbler No. 2, I putted to get it to stop and then I shot. My second bird of the season was on the ground. This one weighed 20 pounds, sported a 10 1/2-inch rope of a beard and 1-inch spurs.
The reason I told you that story is, well, I like telling it. But seriously, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s resource scientist Jason Isabelle, I can expect the same kind of successful spring season this year as I did in 2013. That’s good news for me — and for you!
“I think 2014 will be a good spring season, very comparable to last year, maybe even a little better,” Isabelle said. “Although turkey production was down in 2013, there should still be a good group of 2-year-old birds from the successful hatch we had in 2012.”
Isabelle is the wildlife biologist that oversees Missouri’s wild turkey flock, and he is very optimistic about the spring season, at least for this year.
“It was the good hatch from 2011 that helped make hunting good last spring, and the above-average hatch in 2012 will make this spring season good,” Isabelle said. “Plus the leftover gobblers that didn’t get shot from 2011 will be good 3-year-old birds for this season too.”
Hunters bagged 42,220 turkeys during Missouri’s spring hunt last year, and considering that Isabelle is predicting as good a hunt or better should make you and me feel pretty good about the prospects this year.
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Missouri has an established turkey population that fluctuates up and down like a rollercoaster year to year, based on that spring’s wild turkey production. The MDC has been surveying department staff and citizen volunteers in what is known as the Wild Turkey Brood Survey since 1959. Those participating in the survey record the number of turkeys they see during the months of June, July and August. They report the number of hens, poults, and even gobblers they observe and what county the see them in. They also observe and enter the number of hens that have poults, how many poults the hens have, and how large the poults are when they see them. All of this data is compiled and analyzed by MDC personnel.
2013 MISSOURI TURKEY PRODUCTION
In 2013, a grand total of 44,372 turkeys were observed statewide. That total included 2,906 broods. The statewide poult-to-hen ratio in 2013 was 1.3:1. In other words, the average was 1.3 poults observed for every hen. That is 24 percent lower than the 2012 ratio; 7 percent lower than the 5-year average; 7 percent lower than the 10-year average, and 24 percent lower than the 20-year poult-to-hen ratio average. So you can see that the state’s 2013 wild turkey production was substantially down last spring. But that should not affect turkey hunters this season.
“Most hunters are hunting adult gobblers anyway,” Isabelle said. “So the fact there will be fewer jakes this spring shouldn’t be a problem or affect the overall harvest this year.”
However, if you look ahead to 2015, things start to look a little less optimistic, yet still not bad. We’ll have to wait and see what kind of production we have this spring before we predict that far in advance.
2012 MISSOURI TURKEY PRODUCTION
For a more accurate prediction of what hunters might expect during the 2014 spring turkey season in Missouri, we’ll have to look back at the 2012 Missouri Wild Turkey Brood Survey results. The weather played a key role in the very successful hatch that Missouri experienced in 2012. Dry weather during the bird’s nesting and brood-rearing periods really boosted our state’s turkey numbers.
The statewide poult-to-hen ratio in 2012 was 1.7 poults per hen, which is the exact same figure from the 2011 season. That ratio is 42 percent higher than the previous 5-year average and 21 percent higher than the 10-year average ratio.
The regional poult-to-hen ratios observed in 2012 all exceeded the previous 5-year averages. That is all good news for turkey hunters across Missouri for the spring of 2014. The highest productivity was found in the Ozarks East and Mississippi Lowlands regions, which had 2.5 and 2.2 poults per hen observed. But production was great statewide in 2012, which means good numbers of 2-year-old gobblers to call in. Two-year-olds are usually more vociferous and willing to come to the call than older birds, but they still have respectable beards, spurs and body weights.
The MDC divides the state into nine different regions, all with similar habitats, when managing wild turkeys. These regions are the Lindley Breaks, Mississippi Lowlands, Northeast, Northwest, Ozark Border, Ozarks East, Ozarks West, Union Breaks, and West Prairie. We’ll take a closer look at each of these regions and see how each fared in turkey production during 2012. It’s the adult gobblers from 2012 that we’ll be hunting this year. Plus, we’ll see how each of those regions did in the spring harvest numbers.
Keep in mind that some of these regions are a lot larger in area than others. For instance, the Northwest Region has 19 counties while the Mississippi Lowlands has only six. It would just stand to reason there would be larger harvest numbers within the larger regions.
This 15 county region includes Barry, Camden, Douglas, Howell, Laclede, Maries, McDonald, Miller, Ozark, Phelps, Pulaski, Stone, Taney, Texas, and Wright counties. It finished first statewide in regards to spring turkey harvest last year with 6,721 birds taken. The top three counties were Texas with 879 gobblers killed, Laclede with 646, and Douglas 623.
The area finished in a tie for fourth in statewide poult-to-hen ratio in 2012 with a 1.6:1 ratio. In other words, an average of 1.6 poults, per every hen was observed in the region. That figure is higher than the 5-year average ratio of 1.2:1.
This 12-county region includes Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Cole, Cooper, Franklin, Gasconade, Jefferson, Moniteau, Osage, Perry, Ste. Genevieve, and St. Louis counties. It finished in second place statewide last year in the number of turkeys harvested, with hunters bagging 6,225 birds. Top counties were Franklin with 996, Ste. Genevieve at 678, and Bollinger 656.
The 2012 poult-to-hen ratio of 1.5:1 put this region tied for fifth place statewide, but was above the 1.3 5-year average in the region.
The 17-county Northeast Region includes Adair, Audrain, Chariton, Clark, Knox, Lewis, Linn, Macon, Marion, Monroe, Putnam, Ralls, Randolph, Schuyler, Scotland, Sullivan, and Shelby counties. It finished in third place in 2013 spring turkey harvest with 6,024 birds checked in. Top counties were Macon 602, Adair 492, and Sullivan 487.
The region finished tied for fifth in the 2012 brood survey with a poult/hen ratio of 1.5:1, well above the 5-year average of 1.2.
Barton, Bates, Cass, Dade, Greene, Henry, Jackson, Jasper, Johnson, Lafayette, Lawrence, Pettis, Saline, and Vernon counties make up this 14-county region. It finished in fourth place statewide in terms of spring harvest last year with 5,257 birds taken. Top counties were Greene 690, Henry 502, and Vernon 497.
The 2012 Wild Turkey Brood Survey ranks this region tied for fifth with a 1.5:1 poult-to-hen ratio, but that’s well above the 1.0 5-year average.
This region includes the counties of Benton, Cedar, Christian, Dallas, Hickory, Morgan, Newton, Polk, St. Clair, and Webster. It came in at fifth place statewide in spring turkey harvest in 2013 with 4,723 turkeys bagged. Top counties were St. Clair 693, Benton 624, and Webster 579.
The area finished in a tie for third place statewide in the 2012 brood survey observations with 1.7 poults for every hen. That is above the 5-year average of 1.1.
The 13-county Ozarks East region includes Butler, Carter, Crawford, Dent, Iron, Madison, Oregon, Reynolds, Ripley, Shannon, St. Francois, Washington and Wayne counties. It finished sixth statewide with a 2013 spring harvest of 4,570 turkeys. Top counties were Dent 555, Crawford 475, and Wayne 432.
The 2012 Brood Survey has the region ranked No. 1 with an impressive 2.5 poults per hen, which is way above the previous 5-year average of 1.5.
This 19-county region is the largest in number of counties of all the turkey regions. Its counties include Andrew, Atchison, Carroll, Buchanan, Caldwell, Clay, Clinton, Daviess, DeKalb, Gentry, Grundy, Harrison, Holt, Livingston, Mercer, Nodaway, Platte, Ray and Worth. It finished in seventh place statewide last year in terms of spring turkey harvest. Top counties were Harrison 423, Daviess 353, and Mercer 348.
The 2012 Brood Survey has the area tied for third place with a 1.7:1 poult/hen ratio. That is well above the previous 5-year average of 1.1.
This eight-county region includes Boone, Callaway, Howard, Lincoln, Montgomery, Pike, St. Charles and Warren counties. It ranked eighth out of nine regions statewide last year in the number of birds harvested with 3,469 turkeys taken. Top counties were Callaway 710, Boone 487, and Lincoln 455.
As far as poult/hen ratios from the 2012 productivity season, the region tied for fourth place with a 1.6 to 1 poult-to-hen count. That is slightly above the previous 5-year average of 1.4.
This six-county region includes Dunklin, Mississippi, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Scot and Stoddard counties. It finished in ninth and last place with a total of 519 birds taken last spring. Top counties were Stoddard with 275, Scott 130, and New Madrid 51.
In contrast, this region came in at an astounding second place in turkey productivity in 2012 with a poult/hen ratio of 2.2, way above the previous 5-year average of 1.6.
“This spring won’t see harvest numbers like we had back in the early 2000s,” Isabelle said. “But it’s almost certain that we will have a season as good or better than last year.”
Isabelle suggests that hunters do a lot of preseason scouting if they want to be successful. He said that scouting is the common denominator among turkey hunters that are consistently taking both their birds every spring.
“The Ozarks and the Eastern Ozarks regional area should be really good this spring season,” Isabelle predicted. “We had very good hatches back in 2011 and 2012 in this part of the state, which means we will have plenty of adult gobblers for hunters here.”
Based on productivity from the 2012 season, the Ozark regions will be hotspots this spring. I predict that the Union Breaks and Lindley Breaks will also offer some hot hunting in 2014. Just about anywhere in Missouri should be better this year so get out and enjoy the spring by wrapping a tag around an old gobbler’s leg.