The “wild” turkey is really that

G. Sam Piatt

For those who are observers of the great flocks of wild turkey and not hunters, they must wonder if perhaps there should not be a question mark after wild.

A landowner recently told me that while he was doing some early spring mowing around his pond, he watched as a flock of the big birds came to the pond to drink, completely oblivious to his presence.

I saw it myself this past week when a dozen hens and three gobblers were feeding in a roadside field. I stopped the pickup and watched from 30 yards away as they showed no concern for me at all.

They had not yet settled into their breeding season. None of the male birds displayed their great spread of tail feathers meant to attract the females.

I had to stop as they crossed the country lane right in front of me and meandered into the woods on my right.

But wait, before you judge these birds to be no wilder than their domestic counterparts, try bringing one down during the hunting seasons, which will open in April in both Ohio and Kentucky.

After the first shots are fired at a flock, their survival instinct kicks in. I once made the hen clucks on my box caller for 40 minutes before the old gobbler, first spotted at 80 yards away, came cautiously close enough to present a shot at about 35 yards.

Slowly I eased my shotgun into position. He spotted that slightest movement and in an instant took wing.

“Blam!” I missed. “Blam!” I missed again as he flapped his wings and sailed down toward a wooded hollow. I never ruffled a feather.

I would later go by the advice my friend and turkey-hunting mentor Winford Porter gave me. When the bird is within range, you rise up quickly, as you would in flushing a grouse, and fire before he has a change to take wing and escape.

N0w he’s wild

When the season opens, a father and son, camouflaged from head to toe, make a few hen clucks on their caller and listen excitedly as a gobbler sounds off and hopefully moves in to check them out.

Now he’s not the “tame” bird you thought he was in March. With a keen eyesight, the wild turkey of the woods of southern Ohio and northeastern Kentucky is a feathered bundle of suspicion. He might move quickly in the opposite direction of the caller at the slightest movement that seems unnatural.

But he’s a little less cautious during mating season. He just may come right on in and jump one of the two hen decoys the hunter has put out. Then, at 30 yards or less, it’s time to put the bead on the barrel on the head/neck area and pull the trigger. A flop or two and you’ve got yourself a 20- to 24-pound trophy and some good eating when he comes out of the oven roasted to a golden brown.

The wild turkey has made a dramatic comeback across Kentucky during the past few decades.

There was an estimated 10 million of them across the North American continent during the 1800s.

Destruction of habitat and unregulated hunting reduced the population to about 30,000 by 1950.

In Kentucky, by 1946, the only known population of wild turkeys was in Western Kentucky, in the area that became known as Land Between the Lakes. Between then and 1963, 360 birds were live trapped in that area and released in eastern Kentucky.

It didn’t work. The native birds were poor reproducers.

Kentucky began buying live-trapped wild birds from other states – from Ohio in 1972 and from Missouri in 1973.

They took hold and Kentucky began obtaining more from other states. Results of the restoration program showed around 170,000 wild turkeys in Kentucky by 2002. Their population has continued to grow in the 17 years since then.

If there were no hunting seasons, huge flocks of the “wild” turkey might try coming down to eat grain with the chickens.

But that’s not going to happen. If you don’t believe the gobbler of the woods is wild, try matching your skills against his when the seasons open this coming month.

G. Sam Piatt

Reach G. Sam Piatt at [email protected] or 606-932-3619.

Reach G. Sam Piatt at [email protected] or 606-932-3619.