Preliminary data from the Missouri Department of Conservation shows that turkey hunters checked 34,055 birds during Missouri’s 2018 regular spring turkey season April 16 through May 6.
Top harvest counties were Franklin with 760 birds checked, Texas with 732, and Laclede with 657. Young turkey hunters harvested 1,729 birds during the 2018 spring youth season, April 7-8, bringing the overall 2018 spring turkey harvest to 35,784.
This year’s harvest total is down 17% from last year’s overall spring turkey harvest of 43,339 birds. MDC Turkey Biologist Jason Isabelle indicates that a drop in harvest was not unexpected given the poor production in recent years. “We’ve had very poor production the last two years,” said Isabelle. “This resulted in fewer two-year-old gobblers and a lot fewer jakes this year.”
He noted that it is common for jakes to make up over a quarter of the spring harvest following years of good production. The last two years, however, jakes have made up just 13% and 15% of the harvest. “Low numbers of jakes in the spring harvest the past couple years just confirms what we learned from our summer brood survey; we’ve dealt with some very poor hatches in recent years,” said Isabelle. In addition to poor production, Isabelle added that less than ideal conditions during the youth season and opening day of the regular season impacted this year’s harvest as well.
“Winter-like conditions made for a tough start to the season,” he said. In addition to its effect on hunting, Isabelle notes that the late spring also impacted the timing of turkey flock break-up and nesting this year. “The recent poor production and this year’s late spring made for a challenging 2018 spring season.” He indicated that he has corresponded with several colleagues in neighboring states that reported lower spring harvests this year as well.
With the hunting season over, Isabelle and other MDC staff have been preparing for the summer brood survey which is used to determine the success of the hatch. Isabelle is hoping turkey production will reverse its current trajectory.
“Unfortunately, poor hatches have reduced turkey numbers in many areas of the state,” said Isabelle. He notes that fluctuations in turkey numbers are to be expected. “We’re going through a tough stretch right now like we did during the late 2000s. Because nest success and poult survival are the primary drivers of turkey population trends, we’re going to need some better production to help numbers rebound.”
The 2018 spring turkey season had two non-fatal hunting incidents. One turkey hunter mistook another hunter for a turkey and another hunter accidentally discharged a round into his foot.