“Dad this fried chicken is great! I’m going to get some more,” exclaimed my 12-year-old daughter Faith. “That’s not chicken kiddo. That’s the eastern turkey I shot when I was in New York Wednesday,” I replied.
“Ooh gross!” she said while marching toward the kitchen to get more.
That’s classic Faith-a fine mix of enthusiasm and sarcasm and a desire to give Daddy a hard time.
And she’s right-the turkey was awesome-battered and fried and it felt proper to celebrate its harvest with a nice meal.
After all taking this bird was a dream come true.
I have always wanted to take the Grand Slam (Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Oceola and Eastern) and on May 1 I realized this dream by taking a 20-pound gobbler with a nine-inch beard called in by TF&G Hunting Editor Lou Marullo.
Marullo is an expert caller having taken dozens of birds over the years (he’s only an Oceola shy of a slam) and brought in this big bird that popped up 350 yards away in a field during a windy, rainy, cold morning. At one point the bird started walking across the field, instead of down toward us but a little calling on a Flextone box call by Marullo and the enticement of a MAD Shady Baby decoy allowed me to pull the trigger and deliver a load of No. 6 shot to take the majestic bird down.
Bagging the bird was awesome but the greater mission was to capture a good photo of an eastern gobbler to help complete my quest to capture photos of the “Grand Slam” (Rio Grande, eastern, Merriam’s and Oceola) in 2019.
The aim is to raise awareness to turkey conservation triumphs and concerns.
It is my belief after much study that if we get turkey conservation right-especially in relation to their habitat America’s forest will be dramatically healthier and all wildlife in their range will benefit.
They are the proverbial canary in the coal mine and in my opinion the cornerstone species for forest conservation in the United States.
That is why I was so excited to get this photo of the big gobbler I took when it appeared in the field. Yep, I got a photo of the bird before I shot it.
How cool is that?
According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) after reaching their peak around 2001 (250,000 birds), wild turkey populations declined gradually over the next decade. This was followed by a more severe decline since 2009 (population now around 180,000).
The decline in turkey numbers may be more pronounced in some areas. Reasons for this include cold wet spring weather, tough winters, and changes in habitat quantity and quality. In areas where open habitats such as agricultural fields, hayfields, old fields, thickets, and young forests have been lost due to development and vegetative succession, there are fewer turkeys. In areas with a larger proportion of “big woods” turkeys will persist, but at lower densities than areas with a mix of mature timber, early successional habitats, and agriculture.
According to DEC officials, predation may also be a factor due to the fact changes in habitat give predators like coyotes easier opportunities to get to the eastern turkey.
New York turkey hunting regulations are adjusted to reflect population trends and hunter harvest is figured into management strategies and is considered to have minimal impact on long-term turkey populations.
Turkeys were hunted at their population rise and peak in the late 90s to early 2000s and are hunted and managed now.
At the end of the day habitat is the ultimate key and during this Turkey Revolution project my eyes have been greatly opened to the scope of issues facing turkey habitat.
In New York forests are continually being removed for farming and housing developments. And while turkeys can live with small sets of woods and big cropland, they need a good mixture of crops, mature forests and intermediate woodlands.
Developments do them no good-whether they are in the farmlands of Upstate New York or the Texas Hill Country.
New York is a beautiful state with much to offer for the outdoors lovers and wildlife is abundant where it is managed well.
It was awesome spending time in the field with one of my best friends and taking a bird I have always dreamed of hunting-while raising awareness to conservation.
The quest continues…
Chester Moore, Jr.