Technical Report

MO-NWTF Technical Report

September 10, 2017 Report - Jason Isabelle

2017 Missouri Wild Turkey Brood Survey Results
Jason L. Isabelle – Resource Scientist
Missouri Department of Conservation
27 September 2017
The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has conducted a wild turkey brood survey annually since 1959. During the survey, MDC staff and citizen volunteers record turkey observations during June, July, and August to determine the success of the hatch. Data are collected at the county level and reported statewide and by Turkey Productivity Region, which are counties grouped by similar land cover composition (Figure 1). Each year, thousands of citizens participate in the survey and we are grateful for their contribution. The turkey brood survey provides important information for the Conservation Department’s Wild Turkey Management Program, and the large number of turkey observations obtained during the survey would not be possible without the dedication of our citizen volunteers.
In 2017, nearly 61,000 turkeys were observed during the brood survey. This year’s statewide poult-to-hen ratio (PHR) was 0.8, which was the same as the 2016 ratio and 43% less than the previous five-year average (Figure 1, Table 1). This year’s PHR was 39% less than the 10-year average and 50% less than the 20-year average (Table 1). Poult-to-hen ratios this year ranged from 0.6 in the Ozarks West and West Prairie to 1.3 in the Northwest (Figure 1, Table 1). Compared to the five-year averages, PHRs were lower in all regions, ranging from 11% below the average in the Northwest to 57% below the average in the Ozarks West (Figure 1, Table 1).
During this year’s survey, 27% of hens were observed with a brood, which was down from 29% in 2016, and 33% less than the five-year average. Regionally, the percentage of hens observed with a brood ranged from 20% in the Ozarks West to 40% in the Mississippi Lowlands (Table 2). For hens that were observed with a brood, the statewide average brood size was 3.5,
which is the same as in 2016 and 13% less than the five-year average. The average brood size
ranged from 3.2 in the Lindley Breaks to 4.1 in the Mississippi Lowlands (Table 2).
Poor production throughout the state will make fall turkey hunting in Missouri
challenging this season. Juvenile turkeys are typically the most vulnerable and easiest to lure in with turkey calls during the fall season. Therefore, having fewer young birds on the landscape will likely result in hunters having to put forth more effort to be successful. This will be especially true in areas that experience good acorn production. Where acorns are abundant, turkeys spend more time in forested areas and do not have to range far to locate food, both of which typically result in reduced turkey harvest.
Throughout most of Missouri, turkey numbers have been stable during the last five years
and remain below the peak numbers that occurred during the late 1990s and early 2000s when the statewide PHR was at least 2.0 for five consecutive years (Figure 2). From 2007–2010, Missouri’s turkey population experienced four consecutive years of poor production, which resulted in declines in turkey numbers throughout the state. Turkey production was considerably improved during 2011, 2012, and 2014, which helped to stabilize or increase regional turkey numbers. Although statewide production was fair in 2015, last year’s hatch was especially poor, resulting in a 2016 fall turkey harvest that was well-below average. With another poor hatch in 2017, this year’s fall harvest is expected to be below-average as well.

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September 10, 2017 Technical Report - Jason Isabelle

GEORGE CLARK MISSOURI STATE CHAPTER OF THE NATIONAL WILD TURKEY FEDERATION
Board of Directors Meeting – September 10, 2017 – Technical Report
Jason L. Isabelle
Resource Scientist
Missouri Department of Conservation
NORTHEAST MISSOURI WILD TURKEY RESEARCH PROJECT UPDATE
Researchers radio-tracked 51 female wild turkeys in northern Missouri throughout this year’s nesting season. This year’s median date of initial nest incubation initiation was May 9, which is the same date as last year. Median dates during 2014 and 2015 were May 16 and May 7, respectively. Most (77%) adult hens attempted to nest this year; 50% of juvenile hens nested. During previous years of the study, adult nesting rates have varied from 69-88% and juvenile nesting rates from 40-60%. Nesting rates of juvenile hens are often lower than those of adults, so this disparity was not unexpected prior to starting the project.
Of the initial nesting attempts this year, 37% were successful. This nest success rate was higher than any of the previous years, which have varied from 16-22%. Of the hens that nested successfully, the average initial nest clutch size was about 12 eggs, which is similar to previous years of the study. Of the hens that failed their first nesting attempt, 42% attempted a second nest. In previous years, the renesting rate has varied from 35-54%. Because hens expend a great deal of energy during nesting attempts, renesting rates are lower than initial nesting rates.
Of all the hens that researchers monitored during this year’s nesting season, 33% were successful, which is higher than previous years of study. Despite reasonably high hen success, poult survival was only 6% this year; the lowest observed in the study thus far. Poult survival rates during previous years have varied from 25-47%. Due to poor poult survival, overall productivity for the radio-tagged hens was exceptionally low this year.

The team of research technicians that will be banding wild turkeys this winter has been hired, with plans of starting wild turkey banding in early December. Most of the equipment for this winter has been purchased and scouting for flocks will occur in the coming months. Researchers will continue radio-tracking throughout the fall and estimating harvest rates during the fall firearms and fall archery seasons. This winter marks the last banding season of the five-year project.
FALL FIREARMS AND ARCHERY TURKEY SEASONS
As most folks are probably well-aware, the archery deer and turkey season begins on September 15 and the fall firearms turkey season will start on October 1. An official fall turkey hunting forecast will be released near the end of this month following analysis of this year’s brood survey data. This release will provide region-specific production results, which should help hunters plan for the upcoming season.
PRELIMINARY RESULTS OF THE 2017 WILD TURKEY BROOD SURVEY
Although final results of this year’s wild turkey brood survey will not be available until later this month, preliminary data for June have been analyzed. June data indicate a poor hatch at the statewide scale and in each Turkey Productivity Region as well. Based on the preliminary data, there is very little regional variation in productivity this year. As previously noted, these results are preliminary data from June only. August brood cards are still arriving at the Conservation Research Center and data from these cards are being entered into the database and will be analyzed soon. A final brood survey report will be completed near the end of this month to offer hunters some prospects for the upcoming fall firearms season. We’re always looking for additional people to participate in the brood survey, so if you know of a friend or family member that would like to participate, please have them provide their name and mailing address to Rachel Boss (Rachel.Boss@mdc.mo.gov) with “Wild Turkey Brood Survey” as the subject.

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June 11, 2017 Report - Jason Isabelle

2017 SPRING TURKEY SEASON SUMMARY
During the youth spring turkey season, hunters harvested 4,060 turkeys. This harvest total was 2% less than the 2016 youth season harvest and 4% below the previous 5-year average. Hunters harvested 39,239 turkeys during the 21-day regular spring season bringing the total 2017 spring harvest to 43,343 (Figure 1). This year’s total spring harvest was 10% less than last year’s harvest and 8% below the previous 5-year average. Counties with the highest total spring harvest were Franklin, Texas, and Callaway, where 1,053, 907, and 789 turkeys were harvested, respectively (Figure 2).
Total permit sales for the 2017 spring turkey season (101,213; excluding no-cost landowner permits) were 6% less than in 2016 and 7% less than the previous five-year average (Figure 1). Spring turkey permit sales in 2017 included 93,063 (92%) resident permits and 8,150 (8%) nonresident permits. An additional 41,387 no-cost permits were distributed to landowners. The total number of spring turkey hunters in Missouri in 2017 was 137,050. The number of spring turkey hunters in 2017 was 5% less than in 2016 and 7% less than the previous five-year average. Note that the total number of hunters does not equal the permit sales total because some hunters purchase a permit in addition to receiving a no-cost landowner permit.

Figure 1. Number of wild turkeys harvested during the spring season (youth and regular seasons) in Missouri, and the number of turkey hunting permits sold for the spring season, 1960-2017. Permit sales do not include no-cost landowner permits.

Figure 2. Total spring wild turkey harvest in Missouri, 2017.

NORTHEAST MISSOURI WILD TURKEY RESEARCH PROJECT UPDATE
In 2013, the MDC began a five-year wild turkey research project in north Missouri in partnership with the University of Missouri, University of Washington, and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). The study is being conducted in Putnam, Schuyler, Monroe, and Marion Counties. Funding for the project is provided by the MDC and grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Restoration Program and the George Clark Missouri State Chapter of the NWTF. The research project will provide information that will be used by the Conservation Department’s Wild Turkey Management Program to monitor the turkey population and assist with making decisions about hunting regulations. The Conservation Department uses a science-based approach to manage the state’s wild turkey population and this research project is just one of the many ways that the Conservation Department obtains the information used in its program.
The goal of the research project is to develop population models, which will provide annual estimates of turkey population size, survival rates, harvest rates (percentage of the population shot by hunters), recruitment (number of young produced that enter the population), and the growth rate of the turkey population. A computer software program will also be developed to facilitate use of the population models. Researchers will be capturing and radio-tracking turkeys throughout the four-county study area. During trapping efforts, all turkeys are released in the same fields where they are captured. The field-based portion of the research project will provide the Conservation Department with estimates of seasonal and annual survival for adult gobblers, jakes, and hens, as well as harvest rate estimates during the spring and fall hunting seasons.
Fitting wild turkeys with radio-transmitters will allow researchers to track the birds and determine survival throughout the year in addition to identifying the various sources of mortality. Of central importance will be determining what percentage of adult gobblers and jakes are harvested during the spring hunting season. To allow harvest rates to be estimated, a toll-free phone number has been inscribed on each turkey band. Should a hunter happen to shoot a banded turkey, in addition to reporting their bird through the Telecheck system, the Conservation Department asks that they call the toll-free number on the band. The information gained from band returns is critically important to the success of the project.
In addition to determining the percentage of adult gobblers and jakes that are harvested during the spring hunting season, researchers will determine what percentage of banded turkeys are harvested during the fall season. Researchers will also be monitoring hens closely during the nesting and brood-rearing seasons. The study will allow researchers to answer some basic questions about turkey reproduction, including: What proportion of hens attempt to nest each year? Does this differ between adult and juvenile hens? What percentage of hens nest successfully? Of those hens that nest successfully, how many poults that hatch survive? Although previous research projects have shed light on the answers to these questions, brood survey results indicate considerable declines in turkey production since the last turkey research project was conducted in Missouri and having updated information is important to the Conservation Department’s Wild Turkey Management Program.
Project Summary
Researchers have captured over 1,300 turkeys during the first four winter field seasons, including 381 males and 985 hens. All males were banded and radio-tagged; 136 hens were banded and radio-tagged, and 849 hens were marked only with bands.
Annual survival rates of radio-tagged hens have ranged from 50–63%. Winter was the season of highest survival during the first (93%) and third (98%) years of the project. During the second year of the project, highest seasonal survival was during spring (89%). Lowest seasonal survival period was summer during years one (84%) and two (78%). During year three, spring was the lowest seasonal survival period (81%).
Annual survival of adult gobblers (39–46%) was lower than that of hens and jakes (68–77%). For adult gobblers, seasonal survival has been greatest in fall (92%) during years one and two, and in winter (98%) during year three. Seasonal survival rates of adult gobblers have been lowest during spring (56–69%). Greatest seasonal survival of jakes has varied from summer (98%) in year one, summer and winter during year two (95%), and fall (100%) in year three. Lowest season survival of jakes has been during spring in years one and three (both 85%) and during fall (89%) in year two.

During the first three years of the project, predation has been the leading cause of death of hens and jakes. Based on evidence at kill sites, coyotes, bobcats, and great-horned owls were suspected of having predated radio-tagged turkeys. Hunter harvest has been the leading cause of death for adult gobblers. During the first four years of the project, the percentage of adult gobblers harvested during the spring season has ranged from 15–31%. Not surprisingly, the percentage of jakes harvested during the spring season has been considerably lower than that of adult gobblers (0–6%).
Researchers were radio-tracking 126 turkeys (38 adult gobblers, 55 jakes, and 33 hens) during the 2014 fall turkey season; an additional 68 hens had been banded the previous winter, but had not been fitted with radio-tags. During the 2014 fall season, three jakes (2% of the radio-tagged turkeys) were harvested. None of the marked hens were harvested. During the 2015 fall turkey season, 131 turkeys (39 adult gobblers, 60 jakes, and 32 hens) were being radio-tracked and an additional 219 hens had been banded the previous winter, but not radio-tagged. Similar to 2014, 2% of the radio-tagged turkeys were harvested during the 2015 fall season. This included one hen and two males (one adult gobbler and one jake). An additional banded hen (not radio-tagged) was also harvested. On opening day of the 2016 fall turkey season, researchers were radio-tracking 126 turkeys (46 adult gobblers, 47 jakes, and 33 hens); an additional 207 hens had been banded the previous winter. During the fall season, one radio-tagged hen was harvested, which was less than one percent of the radio-tagged turkeys. An additional banded hen (not radio-tagged) was also harvested.
Of the hens radio-tracked during the first three years of the project, the median dates of initial nest incubation initiation have ranged from May 7–16. Most radio-tagged adult hens (69–88%) have initiated incubation of at least one nest each year, whereas only 40–60% of juvenile hens initiated incubation on an annual basis. Of the adult hens that failed their initial nesting attempt, 30–60% initiated incubation of a second nest. One-third of juvenile hens have renested during the first three years of the study.
During years 1–3, the percentage of hens that have been successful at hatching poults (female success) has ranged from 17–27%. Female success has been greater for adult hens (29%, 24%, 19%) than for juvenile hens (20%, 10%, 0%). Average first nest clutch sizes have been 10, 11, and 11 eggs, respectively. Of the eggs laid in successful nests, 94%, 82%, and 97% have hatched. During the first three years of the project, 47%, 25%, and 15% of hatched poults have survived to be about a month old.