Turkey hunting

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is collecting public input on revisions to their Wild Turkey Management Plan during the month of June.

The Missouri Department of Conservation is collecting public input on revisions to its Wild Turkey Management Plan during the month of June.

Reina Tyl, wild turkey biologist, said the plan will guide the department’s program.

She said Missouri has one of the largest turkey populations in the United States and there are more than 100,00 hunters who pursue the bird each year.

Tyl said most nesting activity occurs from April to June. A hen will have a 10- to 12-egg clutch on average, but some nests are lost to predators each year. Hens will attempt to re-nest if their first attempt fails early enough in the season.

She said the main predators of the birds in Missouri are coyotes, bobcats, foxes and great horned owls.

According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, the largest turkey harvested in the United States was a 38-pound bird in Kentucky. The Missouri record for the largest tom was taken in 1990 and weighed in at 33 pounds. The average bird harvested in Missouri weighs around 25 pounds.

Tyl said back in 1938, the turkey season was closed because there were so few native birds remaining in the state.

In the 1950s, the conservation department began intensively managing five refuges in the southern Ozarks where remnant turkey populations existed and the turkey populations began to grow.

The restocking efforts by capturing and translocating wild birds began in the mid-1950s with the invention of the rocket net.

A successful release in Ste. Genevieve County in 1960 accelerated stocking efforts in southern Missouri.

At the time, biologists were skeptical that turkey populations could thrive in northern Missouri because there were fewer trees on the landscape. There was then a successful release in Adair County in the early 1960s which had less than 20% forest cover which changed biologists’ views of turkey habitat requirements.

By the late 1970s, the restoration effort was complete and turkey populations were established in every county in the state. More than 2,600 turkeys had been translocated to more than 200 sites in 91 counties.

Tyl said turkey population numbers have changed over time. There was improved production in 2011, 2012 and 2014 which contributed to abundance stabilization. However, there were poor hatches between 2016 and 2019 which has caused a decline in turkey abundance.

The declines have also happened in portions of Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma.

She said factors potentially affecting turkey production are loss of habitat, increased populations of nest predators and a decline in insects as a food supply.

Tyl said the department is working with landowners to increase more areas of turkey habitat including creating nesting and brood rearing habitat. There are cost-share programs for landowners interested in putting habitat in the ground.

The department recently completed a draft copy of its wild turkey management plan and is asking for public comment.

Missouri’s first Wild Turkey Harvest Management Plan was created in 1997 when turkey populations were growing and approaching peak abundance.

Since the 1997 plan was implemented, there have been considerable changes in wild turkey production and abundance.

She said many regions have experienced declines in abundance of birds and declining participation during the spring and fall firearms seasons.

The number of spring turkey hunters has been declining since the early 2000s and the number of fall firearms turkey hunters has been declining since the late 1980s.

The current plan has goals related to population stabilization, habitat management and hunter recruitment. The plan centers on continuing monitoring and research of the species to maintain long-term stability of the wild turkey population.

The draft plan can be read online at mdc.mo.gov/turkeyplan. Feedback can be provided by filling out the survey on the website. The public comment period will be open until the end of June.

Mail written comments to: Missouri Department of Conservation, Attention: Michele Baumer, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102.

Margaret Slayton can be reached at margaret.slayton@newspressnow.com.