Hunters may have problems finding enough waterfowl to pursue this season despite the fact that hatchling production was up during the summer, according to Jim Low of the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). Still Low says both quail and turkey numbers also increased significantly and hunters should have an easy time bagging their limit of those birds.
In press releases sent out over the past two weeks, Low said unless there is significantly more rain in the next few weeks, many of the state's wetlands will be too dry to support large numbers of migrating waterfowl.
"With North American duck numbers at record high levels, you might think waterfowl hunters' prospects had never been brighter," Low wrote in the press release. "But memorable seasons require a confluence of duck populations, food, cover and water. (And) Doreen Mengel, a scientist with the MDC, says the 2012 duck season is still a long way from realizing its potential."
Low went on to say that habitat surveys conducted in early October showed significant improvements in natural food and cover, but only seven of the state's conservation areas reported good growth of seed producing plants and in many areas water levels are still low to support large flocks of water birds.
However, Low said, if the state receives enough heavy rainfall in the next few weeks those conditions could change.
On the other hand, Low said, the extremely dry summer was a "boon" for quail populations.
"The historic drought of 2012 was tough on wildlife species that require abundant water, however, it was a welcome relief for quail and other ground-nesting animals after four wet summers," Low wrote in a press release.
Low said quail populations "took a serious beating" during the cool, wet summers of 2008, 2009 and 2011, however last summer's lack of rainfall and hot temperatures worked to allow quail to hatch and raise more chicks than in past years.
Low said the dry weather also allowed for large areas of bare soil an important ingredient in quail habitat, but did not seriously reduce the number of insects on which the chicks feed.
Even better, Low said, the largest increases in quail populations occurred on the western Ozark border country and on the Ozark Plateau itself.
Low said a survey of this year's wild-turkey hens and recently hatched poults showed strong reproduction trends bolstering gains already made in the population in 2011.
According to a press release sent out by Low two weeks ago, a survey taken earlier this fall, showed a 1.7 poult to hen ratio exceeding the five-year average in all nine state turkey-production regions.
"The 2011 and 2012 brood survey numbers are dramatic improvements from 2007 through 2010, when the ratio ranged from 1.0 to 1.2 poults per hen," Low wrote. " (But) warmer weather and drier conditions during the (2012) nesting and brood-rearing seasons enabled Missouri's wild-turkey flock to make significant gains."
Low went on to say, the eastern Ozarks had the highest production numbers, with 2.5 poults per hen and the Mississippi Lowlands in southeastern Missouri wasn't far behind with 2.2 poults per hen. Poult-to-hen ratios ranged from 1.5 to 1.7 throughout the rest of the state. A map showing regional brood-survey results is available at mdc.mo.gov/node/16163.
Low said hunters should expect to hear more "gobbling" from the wild birds next spring as this year's crop of poults reach maturity. And, Low went onto say, biologists with the MDC expect the population increase to extend into the 2013 nesting season.
Approximately 15,000 hunters buy firearms turkey hunting permits each fall, compared with spring permit sales of more than 100,000. The few hunters who do pursue turkeys in the fall often have the woods to themselves.
Hunters harvested 7,077 turkeys during Missouri's 2011 fall firearms turkey season. Low said the number of licenses being issued for this year's fall hunt is about average across the state. The success of each year's hatch drives wild turkey population numbers. In a good year of production, hundreds of thousands of turkeys are added to the state's population, Low said.