WILD TURKEYS are making it through another nesting season. Proof is in the form of young birds following the hen as she leads them along field edges looking for insects, worms, seeds or other food to eat. It appears now that wild turkeys have done their job of procreation quite well. Later this fall, hunters in the forests and fields will confirm this trend while deer hunting, hiking or during crop harvest.
When Iowa settlers first arrived in Iowa in the mid 1800s, they found the wild turkey to be abundant in forest regions. They also found them to be quite tasty. Back then, killing a wild turkey was a great supplement to the food larder of any homesteader. A wild turkey had a lot of meat on its bones, enough to feed a hungry family for a few days. Hunting back then was the equivalent of going shopping at a grocery store now. Hunting was how many people survived the rigors of homesteader life.
An early trader, Thomas Anderson, said turkeys were abundant in isolated woodlots in southern Iowa in the winter of 1801-02. Large flocks of turkeys in the hundreds were noted in the diary of William Savage near Muscatine in 1843. The same man wrote of his taking 57 turkeys in Van Buren County between 1856-63.
T-R PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBERG
Hen turkeys are out and about now with their hatchling young of the year. Several reports have been made of sightings of young turkeys with the hen leading them near field edges. Successful nests by turkeys now can only mean improved chances next spring for sufficient population levels. The life cycle of wild turkeys continues. Today’s image is of a curious hen inspecting a decoy hen.
The Turkey River of northeast Iowa got its name from the wild turkey. Not a bad way to attest to one wild game species that fit so prominently into Iowa's history. The large size and tempting target insured that this bird would be highly sought after. Starting in 1857, Iowa wild turkeys received statewide protection between Feb. 1 and July 15. There was a big problem however ... namely that game laws were poorly enforced.
Habitat changes to Iowa's landscape and the over harvest of turkeys was leading toward a declining trend line for the turkey. At the time of settlement, one estimate puts Iowa forests at 19 percent of the land cover. Lots of those timber areas were also very desirous by loggers for building materials, railroad ties, fence posts and fuel. Rapid settlement in the mid 1800s must have led to much cutting of timber, some of which was converted to farmland. Total all the effects of habitat losses and it was not hard to see how forests and turkeys need each other. By the late 1800s and very early 1900s, few wild turkeys could be found at all. Three turkeys in Lucas County in 1910 are apparently the last turkeys reported in Iowa.
Turkey trapping took place also. The trap used in Hamilton County in the 1850s consisted of a long trench dug in the soil, about 10 feet long, leading in a gradually sloping direction to the pit that was 18 inches deep. A lattice work of wooden sticks and thin boards was constructed over the pit area. The trap was baited with a trail of corn. A turkey finding the trail would peck at each seed and follow the trail of food into the deep end, all the while having its head down looking for the next kernel of corn. When the bird lifted its head, it would stick it through an opening in the latticework. The bird had difficulty getting out of the trap.
Turkeys that ate farmers' crops soon found them to considered pests. One story relates haw a woman in Jasper County hid in a corn shock, reached out to grab the turkey's legs, only to be cut by the spur of the tom turkey. Exciting times indeed. Turkeys caught by any means were for home consumption primarily. However a market value in 1837 tagged turkey prices at 25-50 cents per bird. Fifty cents per turkey was common as late as 1854 in the Muscatine area.
Two main conditions lead to the eventual success of turkeys reintroduced back to Iowa. Wild birds from Missouri were released in the Shimek State Forest of Lee County in 1965-66. They thrived. By 1973, the population had increased to about 500 birds. Another stocking of birds into Stephens State Forest of Lucas County took place in 1968. By 1974, that population core was also at 500 birds. From there, addition cannon net trapping at these sites lead to stocking the birds in other Iowa locations. For Marshall County, the birds stocked here came from the Amana area in the early 1980s. By 1995, Iowa's total wild turkey population was estimated at 100,000.
Spring wild turkey seasons allowed a bit of an off-take of tom turkeys to regulated hunting. Since then, the rest is history. It is a wildlife management success story. Maintaining a balance of the proper number of turkeys in each area of the state is now governed by harvest data trends, field survey data, fall bowhunter sighting reports and habitat diversity. The turkey in the wild should be here to stay for a long time. Good.
HUNTERS checking out a area in Texas' Polk County found something quite unusal ... 40,000 growing and cultivated marijuana plants! The sheriff was notified. He brought a work crew with him, a work crew of inmates wearing bold black and white striped clothing, to pull, dig, haul out and eventually destroy the illegal plants. Even in some northern California public land forests, drug growers have tapped into mountain streams to irrigate marijuana sites. The irrigation system was so good it took virtually all the water out of the stream before it could get downslope for other legit uses. Authorities see abuses of natural resources like this all too often. And it is all for the greed and money some people are willing to pay for a bad habit. This is a strange world we live in.
One item of note concerning the TEAL SEASON coming up next month, Sept. 6-21. Shooting hours for these ducks is sunrise to sunset. The reason is to aid in good light to identify the birds. Most waterfowl seasons later this year will have the traditional half-hour before sunrise to half-hour after sunset shooting hours. Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal are some of the first migrating waterfowl to leave northern areas. All it takes is cold weather to move them south. Unlike the mallard that will stay forever (almost) until the ice gets too thick under its feet, it will migrate south.
DUCKS UNLIMITED's local chapter will host a trap shoot on Aug. 24 at the gun range near the west edge of Marshalltown's airport. Details will follow later in this column. But in the meantime, get ready to practice for TEAL season by planning to attend this little fundraiser event for DU. Teams or individuals are welcome. Stay tuned.
"Every noble work is at first impossible."
- Thomas Carlyle, Scottish writer and historian.
Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with bachelor's degree in fish and wildlife biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at P.O. Box 96, Albion, Iowa 50005.