Hunters check 18,788 turkeys during first week of season
Rain and severe weather complicated hunting during the first week of Missouri's 21-day spring turkey season, leading to a 10-percent drop in the first-week harvest.
Missouri hunters checked 18,788 turkeys April 18 through 24, a decrease of 2,233 compared to last year. Top counties during the first week of Missouri's regular spring turkey season were Franklin with 427 birds checked, Bollinger with 332 and Callaway with 329.
Resource Scientist Jason Isabelle is the Missouri Department of Conservation's lead turkey biologist. He predicted a slight decrease in this year's turkey harvest, because turkey numbers are down slightly statewide. The 10.6-percent drop in first-week harvest is more than he expected, but Isabelle said it is not surprising.
"Weather is always the wild card in trying to predict turkey harvest," said Isabelle. "Rain and wind make hunting more of a challenge, so you can count on the harvest going down during stormy weather. Having violent thunderstorms, tornadoes and intermittent rain during the first weekend of the season made the effect of weather especially important this year."
Although he predicted a dip in the spring turkey harvest, Isabelle also predicted that hunters would have more mature gobblers to hunt this year. That also is coming true. First-week harvest figures show that mature gobblers accounted for 80 percent of the birds checked, up from 77.6 percent last year.
"We saw a slight improvement in the hatch two years ago," said Isabelle. "That means we have more 2-year-old gobblers in the woods this year."
Isabelle said this is good news for two reasons. First, two-year-old birds generally gobble more than any other age class, and that makes for more exciting hunting. Second, because mature gobblers are bearing more of the harvest this year, that means more 1-year-old gobblers are going to make it through the hunting season and live to be 2-year-olds next spring.
Isabelle noted that turkey season continues through May 8, giving hunters ample opportunity to make up for lost time. If the weather cooperates, particularly on weekends, this year's harvest could still be close to last year's number.
The Conservation Department recorded two firearms-related hunting incidents during the first week of turkey season. Both occurred April 23, the first Saturday of the season.
One incident involved a 16-year-old hunter who died of a self-inflicted gunshot. His shotgun discharged as he was gathering up his gear with the shotgun leaning against his body. The trigger apparently caught on something and discharged, striking him in the head.
In the other incident, a 22-year-old victim suffered minor injuries when an 18-year-old hunter mistook him for a turkey. The incident occurred near a property line. The victim-wearing full camouflage clothing-stood up to make the other hunter aware of his presence and the shooter fired at him. MDC officials said this incident illustrates the importance of announcing your presence to approaching hunters by calling out to them before moving.
The Conservation Department also recorded two nonfatal hunting incidents during the youth turkey season April 9 and 10. One of those involved one hunter mistaking another hunter for game. The other involved a hunter caught in the line of fire.
Details about Missouri's spring turkey season are found in the "2011 Spring Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information" booklet, which is available from permit vendors statewide or at www.mdc.mo.gov/node/4066. Information about turkey hunting safety is available at www.mdc.mo.gov/node/4122.