Gobbler gear up time
GOBBLING TURKEYS may be one of the neatest sounds a hunter wants to hear Monday morning, April 12th, the beginning of season one for Iowa’s big wild and hard to get game bird. Last year Iowa hunters of wild turkeys killed 14,671 bearded birds. Marshall County hunters took about 115 turkeys with shotgun or bow. About one in five hunters takes a wild turkey home. Four out of five tried and had a great time, just no turkey harvest photos to share or extra wild meat for the family.
Archery turkey hunting is a challenge imposed upon themselves by their weapon of choice, a stick bow, recurve, or compound. No matter how one goes about turkey pursuits, it offers spring time forest and field opportunities to observe and hopefully connect with a big bird.
When it comes to pulling the trigger on a shotgun, release of an arrow from a bow, 99.99 percent of the birds shot will be tom turkeys. The rest will be hen turkeys with a beard, that long multi-strand hair-like appendage from their chest. Iowa law says the season is for bearded birds. Obviously the vast majority of tom turkeys have a long beard protruding from their dark chest feathers. However, juvenile male birds from last years hatch, also have shorter beards.
Iowa has the Eastern Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). It is common over a large portion of the eastward portions of the United States. However, in other segments of the country, other varieties of the wild turkey have slightly different feather patterns and adaptations to swamp lands, deserts, mountain states, or the jungles of Central America. The regional names for wild turkeys are Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Osceola or Gould’s. Central America names their turkey Ocellated. Some hunters have made it a mission to hunt all varieties by traveling to various states or other countries.
Turkey hunting, from an enclosed pop-up blind with see-through netting windows, is a perfect platform to use with new or young hunters. The movements one needs to prop up a shotgun remain undetected inside the blind. And if a big old tom turkey is within 30 or less yards from the decoy spread, it is likely to be greeted by a large quantity of shotgun pellets. Archers have a very small vital area for their arrow so closer is better. How close, well just 10 to 20 feet is ideal. Many times those close distance encounters happen while a decoy is being bludgeoned by an angry and aggressive tom turkey. That is an exciting show to watch. And it makes early morning hikes into the forest well worth the time.
Wild turkeys have been known from archeology dig sites because their bones were thrown into fire pits. Ages long gone people killed turkeys, ate them, and discarded bones were preserved in the charcoal of camp fires. Also, fossil evidence of wild turkeys goes way back, at least 45 million years. As we progressed through time, evidence from Aztec Indians indicated that this culture domesticated the southern Mexico wild turkey.
An adult wild turkey can weigh 16 to 22 pounds, perhaps more is food sources are abundant. Hen turkeys may be only 8 to 12 pounds. They are fast runners on the ground…up to 25 mph. In flight they make 55 mph. Hens will lay about one egg per day for up to two weeks. Then when the last egg is in the nest, serious incubation takes place to keep the eggs uniformly warm. Even though the first egg can be “older” by about 10 days time, the hatch will be synchronized after 28 days. All of the young poults will break out of their egg shell at about the same time. And the young birds hear the clucks and purrs of the hen even before they hatch. Once hatched, what they see is part of an imprinting process to learn all about life as a wild turkey. Baby turkeys are able to find seeds, berries, insects and bits of vegetation to eat. They will follow the hen during her feeding forays and seek her underwing protection from bad weather or for night time safety. In about 4 weeks time, the young can fly into roost trees for the night. Prior to that they are most vulnerable to ground predators and bad weather events.
MIGRATION by small birds continues. New species will be showing up in April. May is also a big month for neotropical birds. But as for now, keep watching for the return of American Woodcock, Herring Gulls, Swallows of all kinds, Brown Thrashers, Kinglets, Yellow-headed Blackbirdsm Pine Siskins and Field Sparrows. Every hike into a natural area such as Grammer Grove, the Forest Reserve, Timmons Grove, Green Castle, Arney Bend, the Marietta Sand Prairie or other wetland, forest or prairie grassland will offer opportunities to see birds.
And just because small species of birds are continuing their northward journey, bigger birds are also putting miles behind them. Earlier this week my ears heard the faint calls of white-fronted geese. Then my eyes finally found them in a huge skein of these waterbirds very high in the sky. The reason for their faint calls was the high altitude they were at, small dots against a blue sky backdrop. Migration is their response to increasing daylength. Lookout Canada, here we come.
FISHERIES STAFF at Lake Rathbun, or at Iowa’s Great Lakes, are setting gill nets for night fishing. They want to catch walleye as these fish prepare to spawn. Once the fish are captured, it starts an around the clock operation at hatcheries. Eggs removed from female walleyes are mixed with milt from male fishes. As quickly as possible the adult fish are returned to lake waters. The goal of fisheries staffers is to collect enough fish to hatch 140.9 million walleye fry. In time, those fry, or possibly larger two inch fingerlings, will be stocked all over Iowa in other lakes.
At the Spirit Lake hatchery on March 23rd, Fisheries staff set special nets for northern pike at outlet points where sloughs drain into Big Spirit Lake. In three days time, 207 northern pike were captured. That brood stock resulted in 1.7 million eggs which are now undergoing incubation in special jars that allow fresh oxygenated water to flow over the eggs.
The behind the scenes work by fisheries personnel is a special type of occupation. It requires special facilities, specialized equipment and specialized training to make the entire operation a success. It would be great to be able to visit a hatchery and see for yourself the work that is being accomplished. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has put a squash to visitors. Hatcheries are not open at this time to the public.
SCHOLASTIC CLAY TARGET PROGRAM shoots took place April 9 and 10th for Collegiate Skeet and Sporting Clays. The work continues on April 17th at Ackley, IA, northern Hardin County, at the Stockdale Gun Club. More than 150 athletes from 15 Iowa colleges and universities will participate in the 2021 Iowa Scholastic Clay Target Program. Many of the these college students have been shooting shotguns at clay targets since middle school or high school. They are now continuing in shooting sports events at college.
There are now 21 teams from Iowa community colleges and four-year universities. The Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) is the largest, fastest growing, and exciting youth clay target program in the US. “The SCTP is a youth development program, first and foremost, and it is accomplished through shooting sports and competitive shooting,” says Chris Van Gorp, shooting coordinator for the Iowa Dept of Natural Resources. Shooting sports are evidence that not all youth in middle school, high school or colleges, want to play ball sports. Alternatives exist to excel in shooting sports.