Sensational strutter

HUNTING a wild turkey never comes easy. It takes a lot of work and time to try to be in the right place at the right time. And then one must add in copious amounts of patience. Learning how to wait and wait and wait some more, all the time remaining still and unobserved will test the hunter’s mental capabilities. In the past, I’ve had turkeys wander close by and present close bow shots. That happened twice for me while spring turkey hunting at the Arney Bend Wildlife Area more than a decade ago. In each of those two times, a tom came within 5 yards of the blind. My arrow struck true. I carried a 20 pound tom out of the forest each time.

More typical however is the year after year attempts when the turkeys do not come close enough. So I tally those spring hunt seasons as my excuse to get outside. I’ve never regretted it. Those time in the forest are magic, fun and a great time to quietly watch nature go about its business as the land wakes up after a long winter. The gobbles of an old tom, or two or three, deep in their forest roosts at early morning first light is just one sign of spring finally here to stay.

During 2013, Iowa tom turkey hunters called in harvest reports that totaled 10,546. Marshall County turkey hunters had 39 of those. So far in 2014, the numbers are on track for a similar scenario. As of last Wednesday, the total reported harvest was about 9,100. Marshall County hunters had 29 of those. By tomorrow night at 30 minutes after sunset, the season ends. Hunters have until midnight of the next day to call in or email the harvest report to the DNR wildlife bureau.

The wild turkey was at its lowest numbers during the 1930s due to deforestation and over consumption. But because of applied wildlife management schemes in cooperation with other states, and hunter cooperation with fish and game laws, and the assistance of the National Wild Turkey Federation, the big bird is back. States with good populations allowed for cannon netting for capture. Then the birds were and stocked into habitats where it once roamed. Today there are more than 7 million wild turkeys throughout North America.

Here are some little trivia factoids to ponder about wild turkeys:

There are about 5,500 feathers on a tom turkey. His tail fan, when unfolded, has 18 long broad overlapping feathers.

They can run as fast as 25 miles per hour due to long powerful legs. Top speed in flight is 55 mph.

The average life span is 3 to 5 years. The documented oldest wild turkey was 13.

The birds are omnivorous … eating lots of different types of foods: insects, nuts, berries, grasses and even small reptiles.

A big tom turkey can weigh 25 pounds.

All of the states have wild turkeys. Only Alaska and Hawaii do not have extensive turkey populations.

Wild turkey eyes are at least three times better than a human eyes. They can see almost completely around them for 270 degrees. Avian predators or ground predators cannot avoid turkey eyes. Turkeys have poor vision at night.

Turkey poults newly hatched from the egg are precocial, which means they are born with feathers and can fend for themselves quickly. They follow the hen and take clues about food and survival from her. At about 4 weeks of age, the young can fly into trees at night to help avoid ground based predators.

The average American eats 18 pounds of turkey meat every year. Thanksgiving turkey consumption is more than Christmas and Easter combined.

SPRING WILDLIFE BABIES are to be left alone. If people find them during the course of mushroom hunting or in casual excursions outdoors, observe from a distance with binoculars. Do not attempt or give in to “rescue mood” for wildlife babies. The parent birds or mammals are close by and perfectly capable of taking care of their offspring. Human hands off is what works best.

From May to mid-June, wildlife babies of all kinds will be making their appearance. And it seems inevitable that wildlife officials will start getting phone calls similar to this … “we were walking along a trail and came across an abandoned fawn (or fill in the blank for the animal of choice). We brought it home. Now what do we do with it?” Best answer: Take it back where you found it and leave it alone. It was never abandoned, you just thought it was. Better yet, why did you break the law by assuming you could help what didn’t need help? The reality is that these “found” wildlife are not abandoned. A smarter than we are animal parent is nearby and hidden from view. All one has to do is observe and leave be. The parents will come later to feed the young. Observing wildlife is a fun activity. But please note that interfering in spring time natural life cycles of wildlife does more harm than good.

MIGRATION activity is picking up at a fast pace. This past week avid birders have reported lots of new species. Among the tally are yellow-headed blackbirds, sandhill cranes, greater yellow legs, ducks of all kinds, bluebirds, rose breasted grosbeaks, orioles, Red headed woodpeckers, mockingbirds, tree sparrows, white-crowned sparrows and many others. The list gets long if one adds in the warblers that woodland areas will soon see. The forest at Grammer Grove is on county owned park area that is a great place to visit for spring migrating birds. Take the binoculars and have a go for it. Enjoy the day and listen to the wildlife in the forest canopy.

RAIN is welcome if it falls slowly. Heavy downpours are notorious for creating havoc on farm fields and the resultant flooding of small streams and ultimately rivers. During the month of May, we get an average of 5.1 inches of rain. The lowest May rainfall was in 1981 with just 0.8 inches. The highest May rains were in 2013, just last year, with 17.6 inches! Let’s hope for average this May. That sounds good to this scribe. How about you?

“Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess it becomes foolishness. We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not true.” Theodore Roosevelt, in his message to Congress on December 3, 1907.

Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.