April 18, 2002

No Change Is Good News For Turkey Hunters

With favorable weather, this year's spring turkey harvest is likely to be about the same as last year's record kill.

Where do you go from "phenomenal"? In the case of Missouri turkey hunting, you go on to "phenomenal again."

Mike Hubbard, turkey biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, says Show-Me State turkey hunters are headed for another terrific spring turkey hunting season. He said this year's spring turkey harvest should rival last year's record-setting harvest of 57,842 birds unless bad weather cuts into hunter success.

"If we have a nice, warm spell right before the youth turkey season, it could be phenomenal," said Hubbard. The youth hunt takes place a week before the regular spring turkey season. This year's dates are April 13 and 14. The regular season runs from April 22 through May 12.

Weather always is a key factor in spring turkey hunters' success. "When we have warm, fair weather, hunters spend more time in the woods, and the harvest is good," said Hubbard. "When it's rainy and windy, people don't hunt as often or as long, so they naturally don't kill as many birds.

Aside from changeable spring weather, everything looks great for spring turkey season. Hubbard said turkey reproduction was just slightly less than average last year. "That's actually really good," he said. "With a statewide flock of 550,000 birds, it would take several years in a row of terrible reproduction before hunters would notice a difference."

That certainly hasn't been the case in recent years. Two years ago turkeys had an excellent year for nesting, and the year before that nest success was 20 to 25 percent above the long-term average. Hubbard says the ample 1999 crop of turkeys ensures that hunters will find lots of big mature gobblers roaming the woods this year.

According to Hubbard, turkey reproduction was best in the eastern Ozarks last year. Hunters there will find lots of young, inexperienced male turkeys, called "jakes."

Last year's turkey crop was not quite as good north of the Missouri River and in the state's western prairie region. Nest success there was off due to cold, wet weather in early June. The two-week spell of unseasonable weather cut nest success from 2.3 poults (young turkey hatchlings) per nest in 2000 to 2.1 in 2001. Hubbard said that isn't enough to make a noticeable difference for most hunters.

Hubbard said weather to date has been fairly average, although it might not seem so. He said spring has come early the past two years, causing trees to leaf out and prompting male turkeys to begin gobbling early. He said continued average weather should put hunters in the woods right when they should be.

"If the weather doesn't turn cold and rainy, we ought to have a tremendous turkey season again this year."

Turkey hunting regulations are the same as last year. One difference, however, is that turkey transportation tags come attached to the permit. The tag must remain attached to the permit until a turkey is taken. The legal requirement to have a yellow "Be Safe" sticker on the receiver of your shotgun while hunting turkey remains in effect. These used to be part of the transportation tag. Now, however, they are supplied separately by permit vendors. Ask for one when you buy your turkey hunting permit.

The Conservation Department sold 117,736 turkey hunting permits last year. Approximately four out of every 10 hunters bagged at least one gobbler. Last year, 14,600 Missourians age 15 and younger took part in a Youth Spring Turkey Season. They killed 2,530 birds during the two-day season, which was the first of its kind in Missouri. Details on this year's youth-only turkey season are found in the 2002 Spring Turkey Hunting Information booklet, which is available at permit vendors statewide.

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