Watching Them Disappear

By Larry Dablemont, Contributing Columnist
Posted 4/13/22

I never thought I would see wild turkey flocks in the Ozarks drop to the level I have witnessed this past winter. It is a serious situation and state conservation departments from Oklahoma to Alabama …

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Watching Them Disappear

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I never thought I would see wild turkey flocks in the Ozarks drop to the level I have witnessed this past winter. It is a serious situation and state conservation departments from Oklahoma to Alabama and Georgia are placing restrictions on wild turkey hunting, changing things for the first time in decades, because they are concerned about what is happening to the wild turkey. Arkansas has done nothing and neither has Missouri. I don’t know whether Missouri’s Game Department is just too inept to know what to do or whether or not it is just a matter of trying to keep from losing money through lost revenue in turkey tag sales. I suspect the both. 

Recently their “turkey biologist,” who is a young woman who likely knows nothing about wild turkey’s at all, sat in her cubicle in Jefferson City and proclaimed that last spring’s poult production was better than average. She has no idea, just saying what she has been told to say. I know… I saw last springs poult production by looking at flocks all over the Ozarks, from October through January as I have done for more years than their ‘turkey biologist’ has been alive.

Almost all wild turkeys in a one or two mile-radius, group together in the dead of winter. This year where I counted more than eighty turkeys twenty years ago there were thirty this year. Last year there were about 35. Where I fed seven big gobblers 20 years ago there were two only three a few years back. This winter… NONE.

The turkey biologist is perfect for the diversity push in the MDC. Her name is Reina Tyl, less than 30 years old, college background at Michigan and West Virginia. I’d bet my last dollar she has never hunted turkeys by herself and will go this spring for the first time only if someone takes her. 

I called her last fall for an interview and she said, “I don’t want to give you that information because I am afraid it will discredit me.” My reply was… “Anyone who knows what they are doing will answer questions without worrying about being discredited.” And that was the end of the interview!

Nothing that the other states are doing is going to be considered by the MDC. Money is the reason. Right now they are selling more turkey tags than ever. Outdoor writer Jim Spencer, one of the foremost authorities on wild turkey, hunting them in a dozen states over a period of 55 years, (author of four books on wild turkeys), told me this… “You can cite six or seven reasons that wild gobblers are declining, but you have to always come back to the fact that there are just too many hunters killing gobblers now… way too many that have learned to do it all over the south. Spencer, (who has a wildlife management degree and has worked as a biologist), and his wife Jill Easton also an avid turkey hunter and outdoor writer, are trying to establish an organization made up of experienced hunters to try to find ways to stop the decline.

Missouri needs to bring Spencer and Easton and a dozen other experienced turkey hunters to Jefferson City and just listen to them. Boy what Reina Tyl could learn from them. They won’t of course; they never have done anything like that. It would be embarrassing to their young suburban background biologists.

I will give you several changes in the season that game and fish commissions could do that would turn things around. And I know what I am talking about. I have a biologist’s degree in wildlife management from University of Missouri, and up until five years ago I had killed almost 200 LEGAL gobblers from four states. When I began to see what was happening, I decided I would never shoot another one.

I guided turkey hunters until from the early 80’s to the late 90’s in both Missouri and Arkansas, and watched more than 50 clients bag a gobbler. This spring I could make hundreds of dollars guiding hunters, but I do not. I still call up wild turkeys and shoot them… with a camera. And I spend more time in the woods and on the rivers each year than MDC’s biologists ever will. I am not bragging, but no one can say that I haven’t been there and done that. Next week, I’ll give some rock solid solutions to bring back the declining wild gobbler — solutions some states are trying right now. I think that Arkansas will soon join them with some kind of changes. I doubt if Missouri ever will. They aren’t going to sacrifice that revenue.

We are making good progress in plans for a Big Piney museum in Houston, Mo. The country’s foremost sculptor and the owner of four different museums, Fred Hoppe, has been a big help to me. We filled the room a month ago with people interested in helping, but he couldn’t be there. He will however, be with me on Friday evening, April 22, at the Savor Restaurant across from the Texas County hospital to talk about progress we have made, future plans and his own experiences. You will enjoy meeting him.

We will be there at 7:30 that evening and I hope you will join us. Look up Fred Hoppe on the Internet. What a great thing to have a man like this helping with the museum. He and I will be floating and camping on the Piney from Tuesday until Friday that week and I think the only thing that will change our plans is a flooded river.

Email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com or write to me at Box22, Bolivar, MO. 65613

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