Outdoor memories this weekend

T-R PHOTOs BY GARRY BRANDENBURG A hen turkey meanders through the remaining green grasses of a field edge. While she was caught pecking at any remaining bugs, or plant seeds, she took time out to inspect her wing feathers. Capturing wildlife images with a camera and long lens is just one way to add to ones list of outdoor memories. And should the right opportunity avail itself, a fall turkey hunting license can be purchased, and then if a bird is taken, it can be made ready in a nice warm oven for any upcoming Christmas family gathering.

WILD TURKEYS (Meleagris gallopavo) are abundant in Iowa. The numbers this author has seen personally while on deer stands, or via my trail camera, attest to the fact that these wild gallinaceous birds had a very successful nesting season during 2017. My sightings range from zero one day to as many as 29 another day. If I had to make an average number of turkeys seen per each trip I make to my deer stands, I’d peg that number at five to eight. There seems to be no pattern to their movements, a kind of hit or miss situation in that regard. Still, when these big birds meander through the forest, it gives me an opportunity to watch and listen. When a flock gets very close, I can hear their soft clicks, murmurs and subtle clucks. Turkeys seem to be always talking each other. I’m thankful for these unique natural moments as native wildlife goes about their business of survival.

Survival is the name of the business these largest of game birds must attend to. Bald eagles along the river are always present and always watching. A full-grown turkey has its own excellent eyesight to warn it of danger. In a flock of turkeys, it is safe to say that nothing, and I mean nothing, goes un-noticed either on the ground or in the air. Even my slow motion action of raising binoculars to my eyes is a movement that at least one turkey will see. And then it will send a warning cackle to alert the remaining flock of potential danger. I sometimes think wild turkeys can see my eyes blink … and avoid me because they sense something is not right. Wild turkeys have color vision. And this acuity is at least three times better than a human eye. The shape of the eye allows the bird to see in a 270 degree zone around and above it at all times. Night vision of turkeys is poor.

Coyotes are always on the lookout for things to eat. A wild turkey would be just fine … if it can be caught. Yes it is possible but it will not be easy for a four-legged “song-dog” to get a turkey. Daytime vision is the first defense a turkey will use. Its excellent hearing is another way to alert itself and others of the flock of a canine pursuer. At night, wild turkeys roost high in tree tops where coyotes have no chance.

Wild turkey ancestors have been on earth for at least 45 million years. So says the fossil record embedded in archeological stone layers. Turkeys have proven to be resilient even in the toughest of times. Fast forward to the early 1900s in North America when wild turkeys were very rare. They were brought to the edge of extinction via habitat degradation and un-controlled hunting in the early years of settlement. From an estimated 30,000 wild turkeys in North America the population has grown to over 7 million. And depending upon where one lives, you may have sub-species to entice your need for wild birds. The six sub-species go by the names Eastern (this is the sub-species we see locally), Rio Grande, Ocellated, Merriam’s, Osceola or Gould’s.

I have had memories made when my arrows have accurately arrived at a wild turkey. I’ve not taken that many but several turkey fans displays and the arrows used to get the job done do adorn a portion of my man cave wall. Hunting them with a bow and arrow is a challenge, first because one must get close or allow the turkeys to come within 20 yards or less, and secondly since the vital zone on a turkey’s body is about the size of a softball, the arrow shot must be carefully executed. My experience is that it is very easy to have a complete miss that is off by only inches. Seldom does a wild turkey stick around to allow me to make another arrow tracking in its direction. That is how at least one of my outdoor memories is made.

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After the Thanksgiving Day holiday turkey dinners are well noted with our families, some hunters will begin turning their attention to shotgun deer season number one for Iowa. That begins on Dec. 2 this year and goes through Wednesday the 6th. Season two begins on the 9th and closes on the 17th.

There are four basic rules to help make any hunt with a firearm safe. Treat every firearm as if it is loaded. Always maintain muzzle control and know where your firearm is pointed. Keep the safety on and ones finger out of the trigger guard until a shot presents itself. And lastly, be sure of your target, what is in front and behind it. These are not in any order, all are equally important. Hunting is safe when these rules are followed. Especially important is for all in a hunting party to have a plan and stick to that plan. In other words, be on the same page at all times with fellow hunting companions.

Hunters during deer season number one will number about 60,000. All gun deer hunters must wear solid blaze orange jacket, coat, or sweatshirt. More is better for safe deer hunts. But the best defense against an incident or accident with a firearm starts with the gray matter between the ears, our brain. Yes it is fallible, but there is no room for error when a deer hunt is underway. Be safe so that your hunt memories are good ones.

Iowa deer hunters have noted fewer whitetail deer than may have been seen in the year 2000, seventeen years ago. This is by design. Over a decade ago, state lawmakers instructed the Iowa DNR staff to reduce the deer population. It takes time to do this, years if fact, in specific stages by hunting license allotments and/or reductions of antlerless tags available for purchase. Adaptive regulations helps put the pressure on deer where it is most needed. Once a stasis or optimum level is attained in various counties, future deer licenses help keep deer numbers at a desired management level. For example, 27 counties in north central and northwest Iowa have no county antlerless tags and may only take antlered deer during the first gun season.

Over time, biologists can adjust allotted tags up or down to respond to population dynamics of the deer herd. During last years seasons a total of 101,397 deer were killed by hunters. And this number is down by more than 30 percent from the peak year of 2006. Iowa deer hunters are expected to take about the same total number of deer during 2017 as they did in 2016.

How many deer can Iowa’s landscape sustain? From a purely biological standpoint, at least twice the number of any pre-hunt season number. That number could be over 800,000. However, the catch is that this number is way too large for the land’s long term carrying capacity, both biologically for the habitat, and socially for what people will tolerate. So balancing how many deer are allowed to be taken by hunters, and how many deer are allowed to live into the new year is the never ending task of wildlife managers and biologists. Keeping the total surviving deer population in a more steady pattern avoids huge spikes and dips in population trend graphs. Biologists know that deer hunters in all seasons can be of great help to get the job done within scientific parameters.

Accurate reports from those that deer hunt in the form of mandatory reporting is required. It is easy to do, either on-line, or via cell phone, or at a license vendor location. A deer taken is called in for registration, a confirmation number is given, and that number is written on the tag placed on the deer. This is to be done before the deer is moved or within fifteen minutes, which ever is sooner. Game wardens want to see all deer tagged properly. Excuses are varied but seldom hold up under scrutiny. It is so easy to be legal, and so expensive to cheat.

Again this year, wild deer harvested will be sampled to check for CWD, Chronic Wasting Disease. Iowa has been fortunate in many respects considering that CWD has no cure. Some infected animals have been noted in far northeast Iowa and in several private pen raised herds. The “smoking gun” of CWD seems to have a common thread with deer raised behind the confines of high-fenced farms. This is an issue that will not go away. Diligence is required by everyone to do what can be done to prevent a widening of where CWD deer are found. Thousands of tissue samples have been taken, tested over the last few decades. Most are negative. But a few positive test results are alarming to biologists. Hunter assistance with CWD sampling is encouraged.

Iowa deer hunters will turn many of their field experiences into memories. There will be some large antlered bucks taken. Nice big doe deer are also a trophy. In any case, the how, when, where and who took at nice deer will adorn photo albums for years to come. And fresh tasty venison next to the wild turkey at the family dinner table are additional outdoor memories.


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 P.O. Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.