Conservation of Wild Turkeys In Missouri

Jake Strozewski, Cpl.
Missouri Department of Conservation
In the early 1950s, Missouri had fewer than 2,500 wild turkeys.  Today, Show-Me State hunters shoot close to 18 times that number of turkeys every year.  What brought about this turn-around?  One of the first things the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) did was close the hunting season on wild turkeys.  A century and a half of unrestrained exploitation had reduced a once-plentiful flock to small remnants tucked away in the Ozarks. 
Missourians had seen what unregulated hunting could do, and they rallied to support wild turkey restoration work. 
Between 1954 and 1979, the Conservation Department trapped more than 2,600 turkeys and released them at 142 locations in 87 counties.  In each new area, the agency enlisted citizen's help watching over the growing turkey flock.  The success of this partnership became evident as the state's annual turkey harvest grew rapidly from hundreds to tens of thousands.  In 1987 - just 33 years after the first release - the combined spring and fall firearms turkey kills topped 60,000.
Around the same time that Missouri entered its golden age of turkey hunting, Show-Me State turkey numbers were nearing their peak.  After 30-plus years of continuous expansion, turkeys had colonized all of their suitable habitat in the state.  Since the 1980s, our turkey numbers have been waxing and waning according to the natural limits of their habitat.  Some years we have more turkeys, because of favorable conditions during the nesting season.
Other years the weather isn't so good, and the population declines because of poor nesting success.
The last two spring turkey seasons have been tough in Benton and surrounding counties.  Turkey numbers are down and therefore turkey harvest has declined.  Wild turkeys will need several good nesting seasons to be able to get back to the same number of bird’s hunters saw ten years ago.  Currently, MDC has multiple turkey studies underway to better understand the problems associated with declining turkey numbers.  There are a few important things property owners can do to help increase turkey numbers.  First and foremost, avoid any unnecessary mowing in May, June, and July.  These are the months that turkeys are on the nest and trying to raise poults.  Mowing can destroy or disturb nests and mowing takes away overhead cover and food for turkeys.  Secondly, encourage and/or leave patches of weeds in fields and pastures.  Weeds provide cover for young turkeys and weeds also provide lots of insects for poults to eat.  Lastly, take up furbearer trapping or let someone trap your property.  The fur market has been very stagnant for the last 5-7 years making furbearer pelts worth very little money.  This stagnant market has caused common turkey nest predators like opossum, raccoon, and skunk to increase.  For questions about turkey management, please call your local MDC office.