50 Years of Missouri Turkey
Celebrating a wild return and a strong hunting future.
Happy 50th anniversary Missouri turkey hunters! Last spring’s hunting season marked 50 years of the annual rite that Missourians enjoy so much. Missouri’s modern spring hunting began in 1960 with a three-day season in 14 counties. Six hundred ninety-eight hunters harvested 94 turkeys.
Today’s seasons involve all 114 counties, more than 150,000 hunters and more than 55,000 turkeys harvested annually. Hunters even set a record this year. Archers bagged 3,298 turkeys during the fall season that ended Jan. 15.
As impressive as these numbers are, more important is the simple presence of this great bird—gobblers in the spring, poults in the summer and flocks together in the winter.
Trapping and Transplanting
The turkey revolution occurred from 1954 to 1979. Wild turkeys were trapped and transplanted (translocated) to areas where the species was scarce or nonexistent. Missouri’s environment was perfect for turkeys, and populations grew exponentially with birds filling the many areas of good habitat and eventually moving into marginal habitat. Led by the Department’s turkey biologist, John Lewis, MDC staff worked with landowners to translocate and protect this renewed natural wonder.
Research and the Blue-Ribbon Panel
Turkeys are precious to Missourians, and this was reflected in early conservative hunting seasons, most notably the daily mid-day closure. As the population grew, more opportunity was provided—more hunting days, fall firearms and archery seasons, a youth season—and the limit was raised from one to two turkeys.
Turkey populations soared in the 1980s and 1990s, and turkey biologist Dr. Larry Vangilder, with substantial support from the National Wild Turkey Federation, embarked on research on the life and habits of the species. Research made it clear that bolder liberalization was appropriate, and this was put into action in the 1998 Missouri Wild Turkey Harvest Management Plan.
The Plan wasn’t just based on research, a Blue-Ribbon Panel convened by the Conservation Commission provided hunter input. The priority was a high-quality spring hunt, which translates to an abundance of vocal gobblers and room to hunt without interference from other hunters. Research dictated that if we are to guard against overharvest of mature gobblers, the spring season must begin after the peak in breeding activity in early April. This is a principle that both minimizes the chance of overharvest of mature gobblers, and ensures that most hens are bred, providing the young turkeys to annually replenish the population.
What Goes Up Must Come Down
By the 1990s