A comeback in populations of the wild turkey is so simple it could begin this year. First of all, we need to end the fall gun season, which allows the taking of too many hens and gobblers. It does indeed affect breeding numbers for the following spring. How could it not? That argument is ridiculous. Right now we have the lowest number of wild turkeys in the Ozarks since the seventies.
A fall archery season could be left in place with no consequence, but when you see a decline in numbers like we are having now, the fall gun season harvest is something that cannot and does not improve things.
This past spring, during a 3-week season, record numbers of hunters killed 31,000 gobblers in Missouri and fewer inn Arkansas. That is the lowest number of spring turkeys taken in 40 years. A few years back, a lesser number of hunters during a 2-week season, killed ten thousand more gobblers. Reread this paragraph and think about what it says. Thirty-one thousand in Missouri is the lowest number taken in many years. Now do you think there is no problem?
In more than 500 responses I received from turkey hunters reading this column, there were about ten different reasons given for seeing turkey numbers receding annually for 8 or 10 years. All are a part of it, but established liberal regulations, set up to create the most money for Conservation Departments is the main reason given.
The most important and essential change biologists could make is shortening the season to the ten days, including two weekends, and only one gobbler. They obviously won’t do that here in MO because they’d rather lose turkeys than money. I think that can be said of other states in the south and Midwest, but it should be noted that some of those states are changing their regulations, tightening up seasons, lowering limits and trying to bring numbers of wild turkey back up. Missouri and Arkansas has done nothing, and will not next spring. And the way things are now, I predict the number of gobblers taken in Missouri next spring will fall a few thousand short of that record low number killed this past spring.
No one can count on the conservation departments to do much to restore the wild turkey numbers if they feel it will cost them money, but hunters can do some things by organizing, and that is being done right now. If thousands join to urge later spring seasons, and fewer days in the spring hunting season as well, how can they be ignored. That organizing idea is where you have to start. For a time a limit of one gobbler in all states makes senses, and fall seasons and special youth seasons should both be ended. Of the responses I received, about 85 percent were opposed to youth seasons. Those who want it, want it because it comes before any hunters are in the woods, there are no agents watching and it is a great time to hunt toms because there is not much mating going on, few hens competing with a hunter… gobblers quick to respond.
It is also a great time to build a comfortable and well-concealed hunting blind a month ahead, where you can set out a decoy or two and spread plenty of corn for two months in advance. Most any hunter can get a third gobbler that way if he can get a youngster to go along.
I love the argument; “The youth season is a great time for fathers and grandfathers to be outdoors with their youngsters.” If that were valid, they wouldn’t mind having a youth weekend AFTER the regular spring season! But see how many ‘youth-hunt’ supporters would agree to that! Not any! There goes the argument of “fathers having time with their kids”!
Most of us who grew up hunting laugh at that notion. I spent hours and hours throughout the year hunting and fishing with my kids. I think a special weekend for that is completely ridiculous. I can’t remember when I started spending time doing all those things with my dad and granddad. We sure as heck didn’t need a ‘youth week-end’. It is needed now only because it is a great way for illegal hunting to be carried on. Most agents ignore it.
It doesn’t have to be stopped, just set it up for the first weekend after the main season! It will happen only when wild gobblers get so scarce in some areas that you spend a morning hearing none anywhere, and that is already happening. But if there is a gobbler anywhere, he will show up the first weekend of April where he has been coming to feed since January.
As for the predators, I will soon tell you landowners about a way to reduce their numbers on your land easily, affordably and without consuming a great deal of time. It is through the setting of deadfalls, how to make and use them to eliminate raccoons, possums, skunks, armadillos and feral cats. With no steel traps, I have seen a thinning of egg-eaters on my property. Oh yes, it is illegal, but how the heck are you going to get caught doing it unless you give an agent permission to drive his new state pickup through your land? Look for that article soon, and more on the wild turkey problems we have now.
Email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com. Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, mo 65613.