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Jefferson County Producing Quality Turkey Hunting, Dinners

2011 ends a five-year decline for Missouri in turkey kills, but a rough spring has the Missouri Department of Conservation predicting more low numbers in 2012.

You’ll excuse Chris Boyd if he doesn’t fully enjoy his Thanksgiving turkey this year.

Blame it on the rain, or actually, the hailstorm that ruined the Tuesday hunting day he scheduled during spring turkey season. Until this year, he annually bagged his November feast.

“I sat out in a field on the only day I got to hunt, and all I got was really bad hail damage all over my personal vehicle. It was miserable,” he said. “I’m a little disappointed. I think it’s kind of rewarding when you kill something on your own and cook it up. There’s nothing better than having to pay 12 bucks for a turkey tag and then cook it yourself. Knowing that you killed that turkey is pretty rewarding.”

While he now must ask for second and third helpings of one of those store-bought turkeys, there’s a good chances he’ll hear all the delicious details about someone else’s shoot-and-eat Thanksgiving prize.

Boyd is Jefferson County’s conservation agent for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) tasked with maintaining wildlife, fish and forest for 10 local conservation areas. He also handles the protection and enforcement side of hunting for a county that is a beacon for outdoor activity.

Boyd has no time to hunt prior to Thanksgiving. Every year, Jefferson County ranks in the top 10 for turkey kills in the state, a testament to the area’s terrain and ideal habitat for the bird. Alongside neighboring Franklin County, which ranks in the top three annually, the region offers model conditions for the spring and fall hunting seasons.

“Jefferson County has a lot of hillier terrain and forest area, which is an ideal area for turkey to hide—trees to fly up in—in the fall,” Boyd said. “But we also have open plains and corn fields, which are the best places for them to nest in the spring. A lot of counties have it one way or another, but we have a great area with both.”

Boyd also knows that a rough day in March doesn’t just affect his holiday dinner. Missouri has recovered slightly from a five-year decline in turkey kills, bottoming out in 2010 with just 5,928—the second lowest since the fall firearms season began in 1978. This year, the fall season reported an uptick with 7,077 kills, a long shot from the 13,233 claimed in 2005. Missouri turkey hunting peaked in 1987, with more than 28,000 kills.

Boyd and MDC biologists attribute the decline to a run of tough-luck spring seasons when rain and severe storms swept through and disrupted turkeys while they nested.

The 2010 spring was mild, causing this season’s increase, but as Boyd can attest, a rotten 2011 spring might cause a decline in turkey kills in 2012.

He’ll be one of the first to find out. A perk as a conservation agent is the ability to go out and listen to turkey calls all spring, which provides an insight on the best locations for his scheduled hunting day during the next season.

Until then, he’ll have to suffer through this year’s meal. He knows how many people have it better.

“Wild turkey is better for you than farm turkey,” Boyd said. "I actually think it tastes better. It’s a darker meat, but a leaner meat, and if you fry it up or bake it, it tastes just as good. I would say every hunter I know eats his turkey."

Turkey hunters don't hunt for a mounted trophy, Boyd said.

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