One of the absolute pleasures of spring turkey hunting is sharing the hunting experience with friends and family. Unlike deer hunting, which is almost always a solo sport, turkey hunting with a buddy makes the hunt even more enjoyable.
My turkey hunting buddy is my son Tony III. He and I have shared many spring mornings together chasing Missouri gobblers, and the opening day of the 2017 season was no exception.
"Come on, Dad, they're already gobbling!" my son pleaded excitedly to me as I was making my way out the cabin door.
As we made our way up the logging road through the Ozark timber, the gobblers were indeed already sounding off from their roosts in the dawn's early light. We worked our way to an adjacent point from where the nearest bird was gobbling and took our position.
I let out a few yelps from my aluminum pot call and the tom immediately answered from the ground. After another call and a double-gobble response, we could tell he was closing the distance fast. I could see that my son had an eye on the bird from the way he gripped his Winchester 1300 and had it up to his shoulder.
From my vantage point I never saw the bird. I let out one last series of soft yelps and the bird cut me off. In mid-gobble the 1300 roared. Tony went to retrieve his bird and it turned out to have a triple-beard and sported 1-inch spurs. A fine Missouri spring gobbler!
After taking his bird back to the cabin and cleaning it, we got back up in the woods and about three hours later called in a pair of boisterous gobblers. I shot the first one that popped up over the ridge. Mine only had the usual single beard, but it too had some 1-inch spurs.
What a way to start our spring turkey season!
This article should serve as a primer about what you can expect for the 2018 Missouri spring turkey season.
TURKEY HARVEST REVIEW
Hunters bagged a grand total of 43,339 turkeys during the 2017 spring turkey seasons. That figure is 5,035 fewer birds than those killed during the 2016 season. Torrential rains during most of the final two weeks of the season were probably the main culprit behind the decline in harvest numbers. However, there is no denying that turkey harvest totals are down from what they once were in Missouri. The period from 1999 thru 2006 marked the highest spring turkey harvests recorded in modern history in the Show Me State. During this 8-year period, spring turkey hunters killed more than 50,000 birds per year, with the high mark coming in 2004 when our hunters tagged 60,744 turkeys.
"Turkey numbers in Missouri peaked in the early 2000s and we have seen a decline in turkey numbers related to poor hatches since then," said Jason Isabelle, resource scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Isabelle went on to say that four years of poor hatches in a row in the late 2000s set our turkey numbers back. But better production in 2011, 2012 and 2014 helped rebuild turkey numbers statewide. The boost in turkey numbers has helped keep turkey harvest numbers during the past five years relatively stable. As mentioned earlier, the 2017 season saw hunters tag a total of 43,339 turkeys in the youth and regular portions of the seasons combined. The previous 4-year harvest totals were as follows: 2016 was 48,374, 2015 totaled 48,432, 2014 had 47,601, and 2013 saw hunters tag 46,135 birds in the spring.
"But the last two years of poor turkey production (2016 and 2017) isn't the best news for turkey hunters," Isabelle said. "Back-to-back years of poor productivity is going to set us back a bit."
BROOD SURVEY REVIEW
Since 1959, the MDC has conducted an annual brood survey during the months of June, July and August. These observations greatly help the MDC in determining the success of that year's hatch.
In 2017 only 27 percent of hens seen had a brood, which is down from 29 percent in 2016, and down 33 percent from the 5-year average.
The 2017 statewide poult-to-hen ratio was only 0.8:1 which is the same ratio as recorded in 2016. That's a statewide average of less than 1 poult per every hen observed for two years in a row.
"It's often common for our spring turkey harvest to be made up of about 25 percent jakes," Isabelle said. "But in 2017, the spring season included only 12 percent jakes taken."
Fewer jakes in the 2017 spring harvest is a direct reflection of poor productivity in 2016. Of course, the bad hatch of 2017 will have a direct impact on the number of jakes in the spring harvest of 2018. But beyond that, there will be fewer 2-year-old adult gobblers in the flock this spring.
"Generally the most vociferous birds and the ones quickest to come to the call are 2-year-old gobblers," Isabelle said. "Unfortunately the 2018 season will have fewer of this age-class gobblers, and hunters will likely hear less gobbling."
Resource Scientists with the MDC have divided Missouri into nine different regions that are similar in habitat type. That makes it easier for biologists to understand trends in harvest and productivity. Here's a look at those regions and how the turkeys are doing there.
This 19-county region includes Atchison, Nodaway, Holt, Andrew, Buchanan, Platte, Worth, Gentry, Clay, DeKalb, Clinton, Harrison, Daviess, Caldwell, Ray, Mercer, Grundy, Livingston and Carroll counties.
The region ranked sixth in harvest totals with 4,952 turkeys tagged during the 2017 spring seasons. The top three counties were Daviess with 525 birds, Livingston and Harrison tied with 466 each, and Mercer with 445. In the words of Jason Isabelle, this area's harvest trend over the past five seasons has been fairly stable.
The region enjoyed a 1.3:1 poult-to-hen ratio in 2017, which was the second best in the state for productivity.
This region is composed of the counties of Putnam, Sullivan, Linn, Chariton, Schuyler, Adair, Macon, Randloph, Scotland, Knox, Shelby, Monroe, Audrain, Clark, Lewis, Marion, and Ralls.
This region ranked third in harvest numbers last year with a total of 5,884 turkeys bagged. The top three counties were Monroe with 512 birds, Putnam 475, and Sullivan 456. Isabelle was quick to point out that the region's harvest numbers show a slight trend of increase over the past five seasons.
The Northeast Region had a 1.1:1 poult-to-hen ratio this past spring, ranking it third in productivity statewide.
This small region includes only eight counties. Those are Howard, Boone, Callaway, Montgomery, Pike, Lincoln, Warren and St. Charles.
The area ranked eighth in harvest numbers, but that was largely because of its small size. The top three counties in harvest last year were Callaway with 789 turkeys checked in, Boone 490, and Pike 388. According to Isabelle, the region has remained stable in harvest numbers for about the past 10 seasons.
As far as turkey productivity in 2017, this region tied for fifth place statewide with a poult-to-hen ratio of just 0.8:1.
This 12-county region includes Cooper, Moniteau, Cole, Osage, Gasconade, Franklin, St. Louis, Jefferson, Ste. Genevieve, Perry, Bollinger and Cape Girardeau counties.
It ranked second statewide with a total of 6,285 turkeys harvested last spring. The top three counties were Franklin with 1,053 birds, Osage 739, and Ste. Genevieve 678. Isabelle said this region has remained stable in harvest totals over the past five seasons.
The region came in fourth place, barely eking out Lindley Breaks with a meager 0.9:1 poult-to-hen ratio.
This region includes the 14 counties of Jackson, Cass, Bates, Vernon, Barton, Jasper, Lafayette, Johnson, Henry, Dade, Lawrence, Saline, Pettis and Greene.
The top three counties in harvest last spring were Greene with 700 birds, Vernon 568, and Henry at 541. According to Isabelle, the region remains stable in terms of harvest numbers over the past five season.
With just a 0.6 poult-to-hen ration this past year, West Prairie Region tied for last place statewide in turkey productivity.
This region includes the 15 counties of McDonald, Barry, Stone, Taney, Ozark, Howell, Douglas, Wright, Texas, Laclede, Pulaski, Phelps, Camden, Miller and Maries.
The top three harvest counties were Texas with 907 birds, Laclede 731, and Phelps turning in 663 birds. Isabelle said this region is enjoying an increasing trend in harvest over the past 5 seasons.
This area tied for last place in productivity last year with a slim 0.6:1 poult-to-hen ratio.
This 10-county region includes Newton, Christian, Webster, Dallas, Polk, Cedar, Hickory, St. Clair, Benton and Morgan counties.
The top three harvest counties were St. Clair with 698 birds, Benton 646, and Cedar 580. Isabelle said the area is showing an increasing trend in harvest numbers.
This region ranked sixth in productivity with a very modest 0.7:1 poult-to-hen ratio.
This 13-county region includes the counties of Oregon, Ripley, Butler, Shannon, Carter, Wayne, Dent, Reynolds, Iron, Madison, Crawford, Washington, and St. Francois.
The top three harvest counties were Dent with 678 birds; Crawford 524; and Washington 480. More good news from Isabelle: This region is experiencing an increasing trend in harvest numbers.
However, the area tied for fifth in productivity with just an 0.8:1 poult-to-hen ratio.
This six-county region includes Stoddard, Scott, Dunklin, Pemiscot, New Madrid and Mississippi.
The top three harvest counties were Stoddard with 260, Scott 156, and New Madrid at 63. Despite the low harvest numbers, Isabelle said the region has a slightly increasing trend in harvest.
The good news is that this region ranked second statewide in productivity with a 1.2:1 poult-to-hen ratio. With that encouraging news, the increasing trend in population and harvest should continue.
"I always reiterate that turkey numbers are rarely stable throughout time," Isabelle said. "We go through years where the population jumps and others where it goes down. This is normal and expected. We can bounce back with a few good years of productivity."
Despite fewer jakes and less 2-year-old adult gobblers this spring, hunters can still enjoy a successful hunt by scouting their birds ahead of time. Get to know the whereabouts of the gobblers in your hunting area by scouting with your eyes and ears. That knowledge can go a long way toward putting a gobbler on the ground for you!