Wild-turkey production up for second year

JEFFERSON CITY–Admirers of the wild turkey in Missouri have cause for celebration for the second year in a row, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).

Each summer, citizen volunteers and MDC staff record the number of wild turkey hens and recently hatched turkeys they see. This year’s wild-turkey brood survey showed strong reproduction, bolstering gains posted last year.

Resource Scientist Jason Isabelle, MDC’s turkey program leader, divides the number of young turkeys, called poults, by the number of hens. The resulting poult-to-hen ratio is a good measure of turkey nest success and poult survival.

From 2007 through 2010, the statewide poult-to-hen ratio ranged from 1.0 to 1.2. This year’s survey showed a ratio of 1.7, the same as in 2011 and up 42 percent from the average over the past five years.

This year’s poult-to-hen ratio exceeded the five-year average in all nine of Missouri’s turkey-production regions. The eastern Ozarks had the highest number, with 2.5 poults per hen. The Mississippi Lowlands in southeastern Missouri was not far behind with 2.2 poults per hen. Poult-to-hen ratios ranged from 1.5 to 1.7 throughout the rest of the state. A map showing regional brood-survey results is available at mdc.mo.gov/node/16163.

The 2011 and 2012 brood survey numbers are dramatic improvements from 2007 through 2010, when the ratio ranged from 1.0 to 1.2 poults per hen. Isabelle says the difference is due in part to weather. Record rainfall cut into turkey production prior to last year. Warmer weather and drier conditions during the nesting and brood-rearing seasons enabled Missouri’s wild-turkey flock to make significant gains.

“Hunters can expect to hear more gobbling next spring, as birds hatched in 2011 mature,” says Isabelle. “The boost from this year’s continued good nest success should continue that trend into 2014.”

Approximately 15,000 hunters buy firearms turkey hunting permits each fall, compared with spring permit sales of more than 100,000. The few hunters who do pursue turkeys in the fall often have the woods to themselves.

Hunters harvested 7,077 turkeys during Missouri’s 2011 fall firearms turkey season. Isabelle said that current fall harvest numbers are well within acceptable limits and do not impact the potential for long-term population growth. The success of the hatch drives wild turkey population abundance. In a good year of production, hundreds of thousands of turkeys are added to the state’s population.

“Missouri’s wild turkeys suffered through poor hatches for several years in a row,” said Isabelle. “We have always been confident that they would bounce back when the conditions became favorable, and they continued to do that this year.”

-Jim Low-

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