Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Disappearing Wild Gobbler

         Wild turkey season opened a few days ago and I shot 6 gobblers with a camera.... three were jakes I think. I would urge hunters not to kill wild turkeys this fall, especially gobblers. Wild toms are down in much of the Ozarks, perhaps 50 to 60 percent in the past seven years. Most real outdoorsmen know that. There were 53 thousand toms killed in 2014... declining each year to a low of 38 thousand in 2018.Last spring in Missouri the turkey harvest was the lowest it has been in perhaps 20 years. When you consider that there were more hunters last year than ever before, does that tell you something? Some big changes in the spring season should be made, and fall season ended for a while. Biologists are not really as aware of the problem as they need to be.  They keep talking about the poor hatches due to wet weather.  But a ten-year decline like we have had in wild turkey numbers is not due to poor hatches. They are overlooking problems bigger than wet seasons.... again, they can't find answers on the Internet and in books, but if you actually live in the woods and see what is happening, you know the problem is monumental... far beyond the annual nesting successes or failures. Poultry disease has killed hundreds of thousands of chickens and turkeys in scattered giant poultry operations in the past few years, and egg-eating predator numbers have soared.

           I personally think that in the Ozarks we need to start a massive drive to eliminate armadillos, skunks, possums, raccoons, feral cats and black snakes.  Again, the average person may not realize how hugely overpopulated these species are.  If you live in the country you know, but young biologists who grew up in city suburbs have no idea of what these species are doing to woodcock, quail and turkey nests.  In woodlands where whippoorwills lay eggs amongst the leaves on the ground, that bird and closely related night hawks and chuck-wills widows are going to soon be nearing extinction in large areas of the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas.

         Last month I attended a wildlife expo in Arkansas where the Game and Fish Commission had a display.  I photographed a big board where they had several options to consider in bringing back bobwhite quail to your land. It doesn’t even mention the control of predation and egg-eating varmints, as if the mention of it will cause an outcry from those who believe all things should go uncontrolled so they can peacefully live unmolested.  I know there are some who have to have proof, so go out into the back forty somewhere and make yourself a little nest and place 6 or 8 chicken eggs in it.  Then set up a game camera and watch what happens.

          I know that few people who live in the country have trapping knowledge, and traps are expensive.  But my family lived on the furs taken by my dad and uncle when they were just small boys too young to use traps.  My grandfather taught them to set deadfalls which eliminated possums, skunks, and wild housecats, and the furs of each brought about 25 to 75 cents, which was a lot of money back then.  If there had been armadillos then, deadfalls would have eliminated more than we have killed on highways today.   Deadfalls are outlawed today just because they can kill small dogs and housecats.  But if you set them in backwoods areas away from developed areas, they are no danger to pets.  The conservation agents of today will never find deadfalls if you do not set them where they can drive a pickup.  They work, and today I feed some pretty good numbers of quail in the winter, increasing little by little.  Up here on Lightnin’ Ridge, blacksnakes, armadillos and small predators that eat eggs are not doing as well.

         But we have a problem now with a long-term reduction of turkey numbers, and a total disappearance of woods-nesting birds like whippoorwills and woodcock.  It is a major problem in a country where small birds are dwindling rapidly, and I do not know if anything can change the trend.  But the MDC better revise turkey seasons down to 10 days in the spring, allow only one gobbler instead of two and eliminate the youth season entirely, where many of the hunters who kill a gobbler or two in the regular season, use kids to get a third one.  My advice to the MDC is to assemble a group of older, experienced turkey hunters from rural areas, perhaps two dozen or more, and ask them what they think the problem is with wild turkeys, and what they think can be done about it.  They won’t do that, but this winter, I might. If you would like to be part of such a meeting let me know. I think that is how you find answers, and if you value the wild turkey to hunt or photograph or just enjoy, some answers need to be found sooner than later.

            While you are here and if you have not already done so, scroll down and read the letter about the telecheck system which is now being used to target deer hunters who take trophy deer heads. From time to time I discuss topics which the MDC doesn’t want known and many newspapers therefore can’t print.
           You can E-mail me at or write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613.

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