Youth Turkey Hunters in Missouri Break 7-Year Harvest Record

by Vern Evans

The young hunters of Missouri came out in droves over the weekend to set a seven-year turkey harvest record. All in, hunters aged 6 to 15 tagged 3,721 birds over the two-day spring youth season, marking the highest total recorded since 2017.

That number significantly overshadows the harvest total from the 2023 youth weekend of 2,550 gobblers. The difference of 1,171 birds accounts for a 46 percent year-over-year increase — the likes of which seem unlikely in today’s era of shrinking hunter numbers and declining turkey populations.

The top three counties for harvest were Gasconade with 92 birds, Osage with 90, and Franklin with 89. These counties border each other in a horizontal line in the eastern part of the state, immediately east of Jefferson City. MDC turkey biologist Nick Oakley pins the success at least partially on good conditions.

“Favorable morning weather appears to have more than made up for some windy afternoons this year,” Oakley says in an MDC press release. “Youth harvest increased by more than a thousand birds compared to the 2023 youth season and was the highest harvest total since 2017. Successively better hatches over the last several years have helped the turkey population stabilize and hunters are starting to see the results of that in the field.”

But on the Friday before the youth weekend, commissioners with the Missouri Department of Conservation passed a reduced fall bag limit statewide in response to concerns over fewer birds on the landscape. To offer more flexibility in the springtime, commissioners also passed a shooting hour extension for spring turkey hunters on private land. Hunters there can now harvest birds until sunset, rather than having to shut their hunt down at 1 p.m. Spring hunts are bearded-bird only, and the current bag limit of two birds remains in place. (Bearded hens are fair game during the spring season.) 

While the fall reduction might feel like it runs contrary to the success of Missouri’s 2024 youth weekend, it’s intended to help stabilize hen numbers, former MDC turkey biologist and current big game biologist Jason Isabelle told Outdoor Life on Tuesday. Since fall turkey hunts allow for either-sex harvest, some concern around hen harvest and ensuring nest productivity is valid.

Read Next: States Continue to Cut Turkey Hunting Opportunities Amid Population Declines

“We tend to hear more concern about fall season than the spring because it’s an either-sex season,” Isabell says. “So with lower turkey numbers and that hunter concern, we decided to become more conservative with our fall regulations.” 

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