Turkey time on Monday

WILD TURKEYS are secretive critters. At times it appears so easy to make a sneak on them from behind heavy cover and then attempt to call one in close. But nature seems to have other plans for 80 percent of the 50,000 hunters in the state. Averages from past years shows around 20 percent will actually take a tom turkey home for a future meal, or two, or three for the family. That leaves the majority of hunters eating ‘tag soup’ instead of big drumsticks.

This author has no problem with an unfilled tag. For me the enjoyment of the hunt is the big thrill as early morning sunrises wake up the forest. Overhead high in a big soft maple tree, roosting turkeys have not flown down from their overnight roost. Listening to them gobble from the tree tops is turkey talk at its finest. Once on the ground, things tend to get quieter, a lot quieter, but every so often a big bird will announce to his intended listeners, other hen turkeys, that he is in the area.

When the timing of a hunt comes together at the right location and with the right calling techniques, responsive tom turkeys may make an appearance. The memories of these hunts is what keeps turkey hunters coming back year after year. Hunter become true turkey fans.

“Turkey have home field advantage,” says Jim Coffey, forest wildlife technician for the Iowa DNR. “We are going to his turf and trying to get him to act in a way that goes against nature. It is a challenge.” There are a good number of two year old males from a good hatch in 2014. They may be younger than old experienced Toms and perhaps a bit more vulnerable to the hunter’s call and decoys.

The landscape and the forest changes considerably during the next month. Right now forest floor wildflowers are blooming, taking advantage of lots of sunlight while they can. As tree leaf out progresses, sunlight to the ground will diminish a great deal. The elms, maples, hackberry, oaks and walnuts need to gear up for another year of life with their leaf factories going into high speed operation. A multitude of green plants under the trees will take hold, grow tall, and hide turkeys as they prowl the area for insects and tender plant morsels. Therefore the distance a hunter can see in the forest will shrink considerably with foliage emergence.

Hen turkeys will seek out secluded nesting sites sometimes in the most unexpected places. For whatever reasons she chooses a nest location, being a ground nester means keeping it a secret from raccoons, skunks, coyotes or foxes. Avian predators also keep a lookout for opportunities and turkey hens are well aware of those dangers. Large winter-time flocks have broken up, scattering themselves across suitable habitat. Combine turkey dispersal with new green vegetation on the ground makes a turkey’s life a lot easier for them, and harder for the human hunter.

Hen wild turkeys are courted by strutting males. He attempts to impress the ladies with his drumming, posture and tail feathers spread into a huge fan display. Other tom turkeys compete for the rights of mating. Jakes, young from last year, are males who can only watch from the sidelines. Their turn will come next year or the year after. There is a first peak in breeding activity early in the spring. A second peak occurs a few weeks later when most of the other hens are already begun incubation. The result will be a wide variation in young poult sizes in late May and early June. Come fall, all the young will be nearly adult size and still learning how to survive under the guidance of experienced hens.

Did you know … 1, that wild turkeys have at least a 45 million year archaeological record? 2, While hunted nearly to extinction by the early 1900’s, coupled with extensive land use changes, now restoration work and improved habitat have saved the day for turkeys. 3, There are six sub-species of wild turkeys and all are native to North America. 4, Wild turkeys can run 25 mph and fly 55 mph.

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FISH and FISHING will get a big plus again this year as DNR fisheries staffers collect eggs from Walleye, Northerns and Muskies. At Spirit Lake, Storm Lake, Clear Lake and Lake Rathbun are the major waters were crews work all night to collect and all day to process fish eggs. By the time the operation winds down, a goal of 150 million fish eggs is expected. Enough northern pike eggs have already been processed that could result in 900,000 fry. Fry is the name biologists call newly hatched fish still attached to a small yolk sac.

Fish collection is accomplished with gill nets set for night time capture. That means there is an intense time frame for working crews on call 24/7 at this time of year. Night workers bring in the catch to the hatchery. Then the process of striping eggs and adding milt is completed. These adult fish get returned to their home waters the next morning.

Fishing is big business in Iowa for outdoor enthusiasts. Licenses purchased by both residents and non-residents will number more than 400,000 this year. License dollars go into the Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund where these monies can only be used for the protection and enhancement of fish and wildlife resources. Fishing is a tremendous opportunity for family and friends to spend time together or to renew old friendships. The cost of a fishing license is a real value considering that it allows the owner to partake in fishing recreation all year long. It is a pastime of great rewards. Try it, you’ll like it.

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You may have heard, or not, of this disease: FISHING POX. It is very contagious to lots of people of all ages. The symptoms include a continual complaint of the need for fresh air, sunshine and relaxation. The patient will sometimes show a blank expression or become deaf to the wife and kids. Another symptom is the need to avoid work of any kind. The subject can often be found checking the tackle box, fishing catalogs, and fishing boat brochures. People with this pox will hang out in sporting goods stores longer than usual. Secret night phone calls to fishing pals is another sign to watch for. Subject may mumble to themselves. Can be caught telling lies to everyone. There is no known cure … except this medication seems to help. Go outside to a nice pond, lake, stream or river. Take the fishing pole and tackle along. Bait a hook and throw it in the water. Most of the ‘pox’ problem will melt away while fishing.

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“You might as well fish a little while; you’ll be dead forever.”

– Paul Quinnett, author of “Fishing Lessons.”

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.