Bad news for turkeys

By Larry Dablemont, Contributing Columnist
Posted 4/17/24

An old man in the rural part of St. Clair County successfully worked to keep wild turkeys plentiful on his place. For 15 years he did a heck of a job! His name was Dan Besser. He bought some …

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Bad news for turkeys


An old man in the rural part of St. Clair County successfully worked to keep wild turkeys plentiful on his place. For 15 years he did a heck of a job! His name was Dan Besser. He bought some incubators and raided several wild turkey nests each spring, hatching the eggs and raising the turkey poults in a pen inside a barn.

Dan knew that if he left a couple of eggs inside the nest and took only four or five, the hen turkey would continue to lay eggs in the nest. It is a fact that wild turkey hens will lay lots more eggs if the nest is destroyed. An Arkansas biologist told me years ago he had known of hens laying one egg a day for most of a month and a half, when the nest was raided. Hens have been known to hatch eggs at all weeks of the summer, but it is also a fact that some poults that hatch in late summer are often too small to survive the winter. Likely, poults hatched in August have such a high mortality rate that few ever see the next spring.

Dan knew a lot about wild turkeys and he usually could find a couple of nests and therefore incubate 8 or 10 eggs or so. The survival rate was good, as he knew when to rotate the eggs and when to moisten them. Most hatched, and by the time the poults were feeding around his house and sheds on their own, Dan was trying to keep them in protective pens at night.

He’d release them at the appropriate age and they would stay close, roosting in his trees. By September they were wild birds. Most young birds he hatched lived into the following spring.

Dan allowed no fall hunting and marked them with a loose, colored collar around the neck so he could tell how many survived and recognize them. He said that usually the survival rate to adult birds was a little better than half. Some would say he should never take wild eggs but that can be a real boon to the wild turkeys. Laws making it illegal to do so are not all that wise, because Dan Besser had plenty of wild turkeys. Many farmers have learned to do that. Ten or twelve years ago I would stay in a small cabin of his, on Panther Creek and I eventually bought his place. We turned his 50 acres and cabins into a retreat for poorer churches that wanted to help underprivileged kids. In those times, I would get up before dawn, drink a cup of coffee on the porch looking over Panther Creek and hear 4 or 5 gobblers up and down the creek as they came off the roost. Today there are none there... None! Dan passed away and they began to decline.

There are no biologists today who would even try what he did. They should try something, but they do not. Now they have decided to allow all-day hunting. There is a reason the really competent professional turkey biologists I met as a boy would not consider all day hunting. Biologists of today are young, come from suburban backgrounds and are poorly educated.

They may be inept, as one I interviewed had no idea whether young poults were precocial or altricial, but if they were the best they could be, they would have to follow the puppeteers who tell them what to do, thinking first of how much revenue the wild turkey can produce.

The harvest figures that become lower, as hunting numbers soar, is something that in time will cause hunters to stop buying tags. I grew up in a time of great turkey hunters who knew the birds as if they themselves were biologists. There were the old-timers like Clyde Trout and Nolan Hutcheson and others whose names are forgotten. But those men were in on the first restocking and resurrection of wild turkeys in the Ozarks when they were next to extinct in the 40’s and 50’s.

I wrote about them in my book, “The Greatest Wild Gobblers, Lessons Learned from Old-Timers and Old Toms.” I hope you will read that book. I would recommend it to the Conservation Department’s turkey experts. You can find that book along with 10 others I have published, on the website,

Wouldn’t it be something if the MDC would accept my invitation to a debate, just me against all the experts they could muster, at some venue in the Ozarks where outdoorsmen could come and ask questions. I have asked them to accept that challenge for years, but they never answer. Maybe some newspaper will help organize that someday.

Check my other computer site from time to time, www.larrydablemontoutdoors You can email me at or write to me at P.O Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. Let me reiterate that I do not live in that town, but out in the woods miles away. You can come and visit me if the crick isn’t up, but the road up to here is a rash of rocks and potholes so don’t bring your really good vehicle. I recommend a good mule!