Gobble! Gobble! Gobble!
Gobble! Gobble! Gobble!
The shrill sound of gobbling echoed through a deep tract of national forest in the Pineywoods of East Texas. As my friend and guide on this hunt Derek York worked his box call at least five gobblers sounded off in the distance.
“This is awesome!” he said.
The eastern wild turkey was essentially eliminated from East Texas by the 1980s.
A combination of poaching, habitat degradation and more poaching let these great forests barren of its most vocal and regal game bird. Restoration efforts that began in the 1980s helped boost numbers but they never quite got to where they need to be.
A recent new theory of taking excess birds from other states and releasing them into highly managed corridors larger numbers than before is seeing some success. Limited hunting access is available in spring and I was getting to see the results of the hard work by members of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and others.
We never bagged a bird that day but I did see a hen running full blast across a hill. A few seconds later a coyote came down the same path and was undoubtedly hunting for an early Thanksgiving dinner.
Derek hit his call and the young predator came down the hill toward us but it did what all coyotes do. It moved into a downwind position, smelled us and retreated quickly. On the hike out I noticed a sign that noted there was a red-cockaded woodpecker colony on site.
This endangered species needs the type of open, savannah-like forest that wild turkeys do. What is good for the turkey is good for red-cockaded woodpeckers. It has been my contention that if we get turkey habitat and conservation efforts right the entire forest will benefit.
The public has had a hard time getting behind a tiny woodpecker species few have seen. But there are many turkey hunters who spent millions of dollars and exert huge effort conserving their chosen quarry. I believe the public will latch on to the turkey conservation message if it is presented properly.
No creature in North America is linked more to healthy forests than the wild turkey.
And no creature has the potential to captivate people in all corners of the nation than these great birds. Whether they are the striking Rio Grandes in the Texas Hill Country, Eastern turkeys in the big woods of the Northeast, Osceloas in Florida’s swamps, Merriam’s in mountain forests of the West or Gould’s in the high deserts, turkeys desperately need healthy habitat.
All animals do of course but some have done a much better of adapting to man’s meddling of foreset management, invasive exotics and urban sprawl. And while there are urban centers where turkeys have adjusted, for the most part unlike whitetail deer and coyotes, turkeys need primo habitat to thrive.
If we can make the woods better for turkeys, it will be better for deer and the threatened Louisiana pine snake and the gopher tortoise and a host of other wildlife desperately needing healthy ecosystems.
In March 2019 I began a quest to capture quality photographs of Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Eastern and Oceola-all within this calendar year.
I call this Turkey Revolution!
Hunters call this quest the Grand Slam and while I took a few hunts this year including bagging my first eastern in New York, this quest is to document with a camera these great birds and to log the experiences.
I wrapped up phase 1 of this adventure in Colorado photographing Merriam’s turkeys. There will be more on this trip in future editions due to an interesting discovery but I will just say it was epic. I got photos of numerous birds including a very special one that will be detailed in future releases.
For now enjoy this photo of a beautiful Merriam’s I found on my summer trip and a shot of a distant flock I photographed on a return trip in October on a snow-covered mountain.
The next phase is searching out Gould’s turkey and more Merriam’s in the mountains in 2020. There are some things about mountain-dwelling turkeys I believe need to be revealed and I am focused on making that happen in the coming months.
Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy all of your pursuits of turkeys in the field and at the dinner table.