Missouri “crown jewel” for spring turkey hunting

 Missouri “crown jewel” for spring turkey hunting

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Many hunters consider Missouri the top state for spring turkey hunting, which this year begins April 12 with a two-day youth season, followed by the regular season, April 21 to May 11.

Wild turkeys are now abundant in Missouri, yet a little more than 50 years ago the wild turkey had all but vanished from the state. “The wild turkey is a conservation success story in Missouri,” said Bob Pierce, a University of Missouri Extension wildlife specialist.

Even the suspension of Missouri’s turkey season in 1937 failed to halt the decline in population. By 1952, habitat loss and poaching reduced the number of wild turkeys in the state only about 2,500, with most of those birds in remote, hard-to-reach sites in the Ozarks.

“Today, all 114 counties in the state have huntable turkey populations,” said Pierce. The wild turkey’s rebound in Missouri was the result of a 25-year program that involved promoting good land-management practices and carefully reintroducing the birds to various parts of the state.

In the 1950s, the Missouri Department of Conservation bought a tract of land in the Ozarks where some wild turkeys still survived. Thanks to intensive land management, in just a few years the turkey population at the Peck Ranch Wildlife Area grew from nine to more than 100.

State conservationists identified suitable areas for reintroducing wild turkeys and held town meetings with residents of those areas to gain their cooperation in protecting the turkeys after their release.

In 1960, turkey season resumed in a handful of Missouri counties. Hunters harvested 94 turkeys over the three-day spring season. In 2007, more than 100,000 hunters harvested more than 50,000 wild turkeys across the state in the spring and fall seasons.

“Today, Missouri is nationally regarded as the place to go for turkey hunting on a statewide scale,” said John Burk, regional biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). “Missouri is a template for other states.”

“Missouri is the crown jewel for spring tom hunters,” according to the Mid-America Hunting Association, an organization that facilitates turkey hunting on private land in Missouri, Kansas and Iowa.

Pierce said that turkeys proved more adaptable than previously thought. “They’re doing quite well in areas we didn’t think they could survive in.”

That makes habitat-management easier for landowners interested in supporting wild turkey on their property.

“Landowners can take action to ensure that quality habitat for wild turkeys is available throughout the year on their property,” said Pierce.

Several management practices have benefits for turkeys, he said.

To provide acorns and other forms of hard mast for turkeys to eat, Pierce said that landowners can thin brushy woods to favor mast-producing trees such as oaks.

Creating or maintaining open areas such as hay fields, open woods or pastures of grass or clover provide important ground for nesting and raising poults, he said.

Open areas can also serve as food plots, providing supplemental sustenance for wild turkeys. Plants such as corn, beans, winter wheat and legumes help wild turkeys during times when natural food sources are in short supply.

More information on managing habitat for turkeys and other wildlife can be found in MU Extension publication, “Enhancing Wildlife Habitats: A Practical Guide for Forest Landowners,” (NRAES64) and in the five-disc DVD set, “Missouri Woodland Steward” (DVD15).

Both guides can be ordered online at http://extension.missouri.edu/explore/agguides/forestry/.

For information from the Missouri Department of Conservation on the spring and fall turkey hunting seasons, see http://www.mdc.mo.gov/hunt/turkey/.

For information from MDC on habitat management for wild turkey, see http://www.mdc.mo.gov/hunt/turkey/wildturk/manage.htm.

A variety of resources related to wild turkey hunting and wild turkey habitat-management are available on the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Web site at http://nwtf.org.