Wild turkey hatchling numbers take wing

Friday, September 30, 2011 | 3:11 p.m. CDT; updated 5:20 p.m. CDT, Saturday, October 1, 2011

COLUMBIA — Turkey hunters in Boone County have something to cluck about.

The region's wild turkeys achieved the highest hatch ratio in the state this year: 2.3 newly hatched turkeys, or "poults," per hen. The statewide average was 1.7 poults per hen, the highest number since 2002.

Saturday marks the start of the fall season for firearms turkey hunting in Missouri. It runs through Oct. 31.

The results of this year's wild turkey brood survey were compiled by the Missouri Department of Conservation, which manages the population of wild turkeys in the state. The department divides Missouri into nine "turkey productivity regions" for the survey. Boone County is grouped with seven other counties.

Volunteers and department staff members count the newly hatched turkeys and hens they see during the summer. The department uses these figures to calculate the poult-to-hen ratio, a sign of how well wild turkeys nested and how well poults survived.

Wild turkeys experienced poor hatches for several years because of cold snaps in the spring or heavy rains in the summer, according to a release from the department. From 2006 to 2010, Boone County’s region and the state both had an average ratio of 1.2 poults per hen.

The previous high for the region that includes Boone County was 2.5 poults per hen in 2000.

The warm, dry weather in June and July provided better conditions for the hens to nest and their young turkeys to survive, said Jason Isabelle, a resource scientist with the Department of Conservation.

Almost 7,000 citizen volunteers, along with department staff members, count the wild turkeys they see. While driving, they look for hens and poults in the fields off the road and in other areas. They record their observations on postcards, which they return to the department at the end of June, July and August.

"Hunters should notice more birds out there on the landscape, and next spring there should be more males out there gobbling," Isabelle said.

Wild turkeys in Boone County can trace their parentage to wild turkeys in the Missouri Ozarks. In the 1950s, the only place in the state where wild turkeys lived was in the Ozarks. The department trapped turkeys from that area and released them throughout the state, Isabelle said.

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