Bald eagle or a turkey: Who would have thought?WORTHINGTON — As I have been driving around the upper Midwest over the past few weeks I have concluded there are just a lot more wild turkeys than there used to be.
By: Scott Rall, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — As I have been driving around the upper Midwest over the past few weeks I have concluded there are just a lot more wild turkeys than there used to be.
It seems that just about everywhere I go I see turkeys. When I traveled to the National Pheasant Fest in Madison, Wis. a few weeks back, I saw more than 100 birds over the course of three hours. These birds have been around for centuries, but as a result of the efforts of many state natural resource departments they have dramatically expanded their range and numbers. The resurgence of wild turkeys in Minnesota is one of the greatest success stories of game management.
The Rock River near Luverne almost always has a few birds on nature’s viewing stage. As these bird populations have increased, so have the hunting opportunities. Wild turkeys were very rare in Minnesota at the turn of the century. With a great amount of trial and error their numbers now exceed more than 30,000.
Hunting groups in coordination with resource agencies tried raising them on game farms and then releasing them into the wild. All this did was feed the smart predators who found these young and dumb birds easy pickings.
It was only after trapping adult wild birds from other areas and releasing them into new habitats that wild turkeys were successfully re-established across much of the state.
There are many distinct species of turkeys, and they can be pursued in many states. Turkeys weigh from 10-25 pounds, are about three feet long and have a wingspan of four feet. They mate in April and May and the hen lays approximately 10-12 eggs. The young are called polts and can fly in about three weeks. They stay with mom about four months.
They have a few natural predators. Foxes, coyotes and great horned owls can and do make turkey part of their diet. Human hunters are the ultimate turkey predator.
Young male turkeys are called jakes. Adult males are called toms. You can only hunt jakes or toms, and most hunters will only shoot an adult tom.
Turkeys group in flocks of six to 40 birds and roost in trees at night. They eat just about anything, including ferns, grains acorns, frogs and even snakes.
Areas that offer larger expanses of oak and similar trees seem to provide the best habitat for turkeys. Minnesota offers spring and fall hunting opportunities and licenses are closely managed to allow for the continued expansion of these very smart birds.
Hunters need to apply for a specific area well ahead of time and are drawn by lottery if the amount of applications exceeds the number of permits for a given area.
I have never hunted turkeys, and decided late in the game to give it a try this spring. I missed the deadline to apply for the lottery, and had to wait to see if there were and leftover tags in the area of the state that I had permission to hunt.
As it turned out there were 36 tags left over and they went on sale on Monday, March 16th at 5 p.m. I was sure to be standing at an ELS (Electronic Licensing System) terminal at the designated time. That is where my luck went south.
The employee that was helping me had never sold a bonus tag, as they are called, and when we put in the license information, I had to include the unit area and a letter to designate the particular season dates. Well I can tell you that if you enter F462 that is not at all the same as 462F. By the time it was figured out it was 5:20 p.m. and guess what?
All 36 leftover tags were gone.
Turkey hunters can be some of most focused hunters I know. They hunt different species in different states both spring and fall. You can hunt turkeys with either a rifle or shotgun depending on which state you’re in, or if you happen to be hunting on an Indian Reservation.
Most hunters hunt with a shotgun and success rates are really pretty good. I will just have to try again next year, and do so in a timely manner. Until then, I will just have to stick with my reliable standby, Hy-Vee for the turkey meals on my table until then.
Turkey season starts on April 15th and runs through mid-May. Good luck to those lucky enough to draw a tag.
One last piece of turkey trivia. In 1782, the turkey lost by one vote to the bald eagle to becoming the United States’ national bird. Who would have imagined that? Just what do you think they were thinking?