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Missouri’s fall firearms turkey harvest, popularity wanes

From the Missouri Department of Conservation

-- Missouri’s 2009 fall turkey harvest topped last year’s mark by 13 percent. Hunters checked 8,355 turkeys during the fall firearms turkey season Oct. 1 through 31. That is 970 more than last year, which was the lowest on record.

Top counties for this year’s fall firearms turkey harvest were Greene with 266, Webster with 223 and Wright with 215.

This year’s harvest is the second lowest in the fall turkey season’s 32-year history. The largest fall firearms turkey harvest occurred in 1987, when hunters checked 28,139 turkeys. Missouri Department of Conservation Resource Scientist Tom Dailey said fall turkey hunting participation typically mirrors summer poult production.

“With this year’s poult production up 7.9 percent from 2008, we expected harvest to increase,” said Dailey. “Counties, with 200 or more harvested were Greene, Webster, Wright, Bollinger and Franklin. Hunting north of the Missouri river was particular low, with only one county, Ray, making the top 25. This harvest pattern pretty well matches the poult production pattern – fair to poor in the north, with more poults per hen in the south.”

Between 1987 and 2006, the number of hunters buying fall turkey hunting permits fell from 52,922 to 23,141. During that same period, Missouri’s spring turkey harvest gained popularity. In 1987, the spring harvest was 35,950, just 28 percent more than the fall season. By 2006, it had climbed to 54,714, 3.6 times the fall harvest.

Dailey attributes this shift to increases in other hunting opportunities in the past 20 years, and to differences between fall and spring turkey hunting.

“In 1987 firearms deer season consisted of nine days in November, and you could only shoot one deer a year in most parts of the state,” said Dailey. “Today we have 42 days of firearms deer hunting that start in mid-October and run into January, and you can shoot all the antlerless deer you want. That, along with healthy duck and goose populations and special youth hunts for deer, ducks, quail and pheasants and all the other hunting opportunities in October has drawn off quite a number of hunters.”

Dailey said the novelty of a fall turkey season attracted many hunters in the early years. However, gobblers are not as vocal in the fall, and they are harder to hunt.

“Fall is some hunters’ favorite time to hunt turkeys,” he said, “but for many, perhaps most hunters, that dawn chorus of toms gobbling their heads off that you only get in the spring is a big part of the excitement of turkey hunting. For them, fall hunting just doesn’t measure up.”  --By Jim Low

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