Jefferson City, Mo. -- The opening day of Missouri's spring wild turkey season tells the story. It was off 98 birds, a trend that carried through the whole first week.
The first-week total of 25,294 birds is down almost 1,000 from the previous spring season opening week. The season opened April 19 and will run through May 9.
Last year's spring turkey season also was the first in which hunters who failed to take a turkey the first week of the season could still hope to fill their season limit. The limit for the entire season remained two birds, and only one could be taken the first week.
Hunters who bagged a bird the first week had the last two weeks of the season to take another. Those who didn't bag a bird the first seven days could still take two birds, as long as they did not kill more than one in a given day.
"We have fewer two-year-old birds out there this year due to a mediocre hatch in 1997," says Larry Vangilder, a wildlife research biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. "Two-year-old adult birds usually make up the majority of the take. Hunters often bag two or three times as many adult birds as juvenile birds."
The first week of the 1998 spring turkey season produced 54.36 percent of the harvest for the entire season. If the same percentage holds true this year, the 1999 spring turkey harvest would be approximately 46,500.
Vangilder noted that continued cool, rainy weather could put a damper on this year's harvest. However, he said he would be surprised if the season total does not top 40,000.
In 1998, the season total was 48,323. That broke the record set in 1994 by more than 10,000 birds. Vangilder attributed the record harvest to good weather and the third week of hunting.
The Conservation Department recorded seven non-fatal hunting accidents during the first week of the season. In six of the accidents shooters mistook other hunters for turkeys; such accidents often happen when people shoot at movement without fully identifying the target. The seventh accident was self-inflicted.