November 22, 2007

Fall Firearms Turkey Season Harvest Drops Below 11,000

This yearís harvest decrease is part of a long-term decline in the popularity of fall turkey hunting.

Hunters checked 10,857 turkeys during Missouriís 2007 fall firearms turkey season, the lowest number in more than 20 years.

This was the third year that Missouriís fall firearms turkey hunt spanned the entire month of October. The harvest fell 1,070 or 9 percent short of last yearís.

Top harvest counties were Laclede with 252 turkeys checked, Franklin with 247 and Wright with 224. The Missouri Department of Conservation recorded one firearms-related fall turkey hunting accident.

Unregulated hunting nearly wiped out wild turkeys in Missouri by the 1930s. Missouri citizens put their foot down in 1936, when they voted to amend the state constitution and give sole authority for game management to a four-person Conservation Commission. Well-enforced, science-based game laws were among the citizen commissionís first priorities.

Also high on the new Conservation Department to-do list was restoration of game animals. The agency brought back the wild turkey by trapping birds in isolated pockets where they had survived and releasing them in areas where citizens promised to protect them from poaching. By 1960 the flock had grown large enough to sustain a spring hunt in some areas. The first fall hunt came in 1978.

Participation in the spring and fall seasons grew as the stateís turkey flock burgeoned. However, interest in fall hunting reached a plateau in the late 1980s and then began to wane. The fall turkey harvest peaked in 1987, when hunters harvested 28,139 turkeys in two weeks of hunting. Sales of fall turkey permits also peaked that year, at 52,922. Hunters killed approximately one bird for every two permits sold that year. This 50-percent success rate is slightly inflated, since an undetermined number of landowners hunted legally on their property without permits.

Resident and nonresident fall turkey hunting permit sales totaled a little more than 20,000 this year. Hunters had a full month to pursue turkeys with guns. The success rate, again not counting those who hunted with free landowner permits, was about 58 percent.

The novelty of fall turkey hunting boosted the seasonís early popularity. The newness gradually wore off, however, and liberalization of other October hunting seasons lured hunters into other pursuits. Fall firearms turkey hunting permit sales have declined by 62 percent since 1987.

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