Spring turkey season begins today, which means hunters will soon find out whether mid-Missouri’s recent run of warm weather benefits the hunter or the hunted.
“I think this recent warm-up will help the hunters,” said Jeff Beringer, a resource scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. “It has caused everything to get green, which should get the turkeys broken up and into their breeding ranges. They had been kind of wadding up into their winter flocks.”
Ken Drenon, who works for the Conservation Department’s research department, predicts a good but not great season. “We’re not expecting a record season this year, but it’ll still be a good season,” he said.
A successful turkey season depends on the size of the hatch. During the two-day youth turkey hunting season — held April 10 and 11— 402 fewer birds were taken compared to last year, Drenon said.
“We had some hail last year that probably hurt last year’s hatch on a local level,” said Beringer. “So, I’d say populations are down a little bit.”
Still, he said the turkey population remains healthy, with 600,000 to 800,000 birds statewide.
“I would classify it (Boone County’s turkey population) as above average,” Beringer said. During the spring of 2003, Missouri hunters took 53,932 for the regular season, and more than 60,000 including the youth season.
“Missouri leads the nation in turkey hunting as far as harvest goes,” said Drenon. “I don’t think anyone really comes close to us as far as overall harvest.”
Drenon said turkey hunting is more solitary than other types of hunting.
“The quality of the hunt depends a lot on hunters not being interrupted by other hunters,” he said. “There are a lot of different variables in there.”
The warm weather has its advantages and disadvantages.
“As the vegetation greens up, it’s harder to see the birds but easier to hide the hunters,” he said.
About 130,000 hunters are active during the season, and Beringer expects a similar turnout this year. The season runs through May 9.
Drenon said today’s starting date will be helpful.
“Not having a weekend opener helps to maintain the quality of the hunt throughout the three-week season,” said Drenon. “You still have three weekends for hunters to participate.”
Hunters are allowed one bird the first week and one bird a day for the rest of the season for a total bag limit of two birds. The department says this helps to reduce the number of hunters in the woods on any given day.
Because of the sport’s popularity, Drenon said safety should be on the minds of all hunters. “One accident is too many,” he said.