Missouri turkey hunters have reason to be optimistic about the 2014 spring turkey season, according to the state’s turkey expert.
Missouri’s spring turkey season runs from April 21 through May 11. The youth season takes place April 12 and 13. This year’s hunting regulations are nearly the same as last year.
One difference is in tagging requirements. Hunters no longer need to attach their voided permits to harvested turkeys, as long as they remain with the turkey. If you are away from your turkey, you must attach your voided permit to the bird’s leg.
Labeling requirements also have changed. In previous years, turkeys had to be labeled with the taker’s name, address, and Telecheck confirmation number before someone other than the taker could transport or possess the turkey. Beginning this year, date of harvest also must be included in the labeling information.
Before someone other than the taker can transport a turkey that has been reported through the Telecheck system, it must be labeled with the date taken, the taker’s name, address, and Telecheck confirmation number.
Also new this year is the addition of crossbows and atlatls to take turkeys during the spring season. Managed turkey hunts will be held on several additional conservation areas this spring. Details about these and other turkey hunting regulations are available in the 2014 Spring Turkey Hunting Regulation and Information booklet, which is available from hunting permit vendors and Conservation Department offices statewide. The booklet also is available at mdc.mo.gov/node/4066.
Resource Scientist Jason Isabelle is in charge of the Missouri Department of Conservation’s wild turkey-management program. When asked about prospects for this year’s spring turkey season, he pointed to turkey reproduction statistics from the past three years. Observers throughout much of the state reported strong production in 2011 and 2012.
Hunters prize 3-year-old gobblers because their greater experience makes them challenging to hunt. They have longer spurs and weigh more on average than younger birds, giving them a higher status among hunters.
On the other hand, 2-year-old gobblers are more likely than younger or older birds to gobble lustily and often.
“Hunters throughout much of the state should be in for a good spring turkey season,” says Isabelle.
Isabelle noted that wild-turkey production dipped last year, so one-year-old gobblers – commonly called jakes – will be less abundant this spring.
Predicting any given year’s turkey harvest is difficult, because weather exerts a strong influence on turkey behavior and hunter effort. With more-or-less-average weather, Isabelle says he expects this year’s state-wide spring turkey harvest to be close to last year’s combined total of about 46,000 for the youth and regular seasons.
Isabelle says he doesn’t expect this year’s severe winter weather to affect turkey hunting.
Missouri’s spring turkey season always opens on the third Monday of April. Isabelle says this timing is designed to put hunters in the woods when gobbling activity is near its peak, while being cautious not to interfere with turkey reproduction. It is based on studies showing that peak gobbling typically occurs in mid-April, though weather can shift it a week or two earlier or later.
According to Isabelle, the main difference hunters can expect with this year’s late season opener is more advanced green-up of vegetation.
Isabelle rates pre-season scouting as one of the most important factors in determining hunter success. This includes going out before the season to study turkeys’ behavior patterns.
“Get out early in the morning and listen for birds at your hunting location,” he says.
For those hunting areas dominated by open land, he recommends sitting on high spots scanning the surrounding area with binoculars.
Once the season starts, Isabelle urges hunters to avoid the main cause of firearms-related turkey-hunting incidents – mistaking or being mistaken by another hunter for game. He notes that the vast majority of spring turkey hunting incidents involve hunters who fail to positively identify their targets.
“Turkey hunting is an exciting activity,” says Isabelle, “but hunters should never let that excitement cloud their judgment. Before pulling the trigger, hunters must be absolutely certain that what they are shooting at is not only a turkey, but a legal turkey, which would be a male turkey or a turkey with a visible beard during the spring season.”
Isabelle also mentioned the importance of “defensive hunting.” This means taking measures to avoid being put in a potentially dangerous situation. One way to do this is to wear hunter-orange clothing when moving through woods or fields. This alerts other hunters to your presence. Another important safety precaution is to never attempt to sneak within shotgun range of a gobbler. Use your calls to bring the bird within range.
When hunting with one or more companions, it is critical that everyone in the hunting party know the others’ locations. The safest way to accomplish this is to stay together. If you do separate, agree on a plan for where everyone will hunt and stay in those areas until meeting at a designated spot.