May 22, 2008

Missouri Spring Turkey Harvest Tops 46,000

JEFFERSON CITY-Hunters checked 43,416 turkeys during Missouris three-week spring turkey season, falling slightly short of predictions for the harvest.

Top counties in the 2008 spring turkey season were Franklin, with 838 turkeys checked, Texas County with 801 and Osage County with 696.

Totals were down pretty much across the board in northeast Missouri, with only two of the 15 counties in the reporting region reporting declining harvests from the previous year.

Scotland County hunters checked in 473 turkeys, down 37 birds from 2007. Clark County saw a slight increase, bagging 20 more birds in 2008 to reach a total of 435. Knox County hunters checked in 488 turkeys, down 58 from last year while Schuyler County hunters bagged 302 birds, down 53 from the year before.

The 2,898 turkeys checked during the Missouri Youth Spring Turkey Season bring the 2008 spring turkey harvest to 46,314. That is 2,148 fewer than last year, a decrease of 4.4 percent.

Near-perfect weather allowed hunters to check approximately 1,000 more birds on opening day this year than they did in 2007. By the end of the first week, however, they had fallen behind last years pace by about 460. They lost another 350 or so during the second week. The third weeks deficit topped 700, closing the season more than 1,500 behind last years total. This years harvest is the 11th largest on record and the smallest since 1997.

Before the season started, Resource Scientist Tom Dailey predicted a harvest approximately the same as last years. Dailey, the Missouri Department of Conservations top turkey biologist, attributed the lower-than-expected harvest to two factors.

We started this season with fewer birds than last year, said Dailey. Turkey nesting success in 2007 was the second-worst since we began keeping records in 1960, but I was optimistic that the weather would be more favorable for hunting this year, and that would boost the harvest a little.

Weather is a perennial wild card in determining turkey harvest. Warm, calm weather makes turkey behavior more predictable and encourages hunters to spend time outside. Cold, rainy, windy weather makes the big birds skittish and makes hunters more likely to sleep in.

The severe freeze that hit Missouri just before the season opened last year really put a damper on things, said Dailey. With average weather, hunters could have taken as many birds this year as they did in 2007, but we didnt get average weather.

Below-normal temperatures and frequent rain, often accompanied by violent weather, kept a lid on this years turkey harvest. The southern half of the state was particularly hard-hit. Parts of southeastern Missouri had received more than 12 inches above average rainfall by early May. Tornadoes ripped through southwestern Missouri during the final weekend of turkey season, and strong winds buffeted the rest of the state on the eve of the turkey season closer.

Dailey also noted a decrease in the number of juvenile male turkeys, commonly called jakes, in this years harvest. Young birds made up just 17 percent of this years spring turkey harvest, compared to 22 percent in recent years.

This goes along with what was observed in the field last year, said Dailey. The late freeze really hurt turkey nesting, and we saw that in this years harvest statistics. The five percent of the harvest that we lost on account of having fewer jakes this year would have put us just about where we were last year.

He said he is pleased that hunters were able to harvest as many turkeys as they did.

The fact that we still harvested 46,000 birds tells you something about how many turkeys we still have in Missouri. My hope now is that we will get back to more normal weather so the remaining birds can bring off a good crop of young turkeys.

Another factor not in turkeys favor is the conversion of grasslands to croplands.

Nesting and brood-rearing habitat could be reduced this year as the high prices of corn, soybeans and wheat are tempting farmers to put pastures, Conservation Reserve Program fields and other grasslands into crop production, said Dailey. A reduction in nesting and brood-rearing cover could reduce production of all of our ground-nesting birds, including turkeys, quail, ring-necked pheasants and songbirds.

He said an alternative to converting entire fields to crops is enrolling existing cropland in CP38 or CP33, U.S. Department of Agriculture cropland buffer programs. These practices allow farmers to crop the best parts of fields while maintaining wildlife habitat on the margins, where yields may be lower.

Dailey said Missouris turkey nesting prospects are not very bright because of the late, cool spring. Late springs sometimes translate into reduced nesting success. This years cooler-than-normal spring and late growth of vegetation are not in turkeys favor.

The Conservation Department recorded three firearms-related hunting accidents - all nonfatal - during the spring turkey season. That is one more than last year and well below the long-term average.

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