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Doubled up on tom turkey

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CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS — Melissa Ream was in the right place at the right time to take two tom turkeys during the third session of Iowa’s shotgun season for spring wild turkeys. She was overseeing her decoys along an old fencerow, watching a foursome of jakes (immature tom turkeys) near her setup. Suddenly the jakes ran away and in came two mature tom turkeys. Since she had two valid tags in her pocket. She shot the first tom, and the second seemed puzzled by all the commotion when he also fell to a well placed shot. The mysteries, excitement and incredible fascination with nature all came together for this lady hunter. Iowa’s turkey season ends May 12.

Wild turkeys can cast a spell upon dedicated spring gobbler hunters. The hunt can be easy, look easy, especially if all the conditions of time and place melt together flawlessly. Boom, the hunter shoots his or her turkey.

Now the time comes to snap a few images for the record and head home, or just the opposite circumstances may prevail if the big game birds just do not want to cooperate by not showing up, staying too far away, seeming to not be interested in your calls or decoys.

The reasons are totally beyond the hunter’s ability to understand why one hunt seems easy and the next is a bust. The outdoor experience is still worth every minute.

As of midweek, Iowa turkey hunters had registered a bit more than 14,500 bearded turkeys. This is a typical take for Iowa hunters. A review of the data from each county reveals which counties were in the top ten. It is no secret that the counties with good forested habitats along places with lots of river edges do the best.

Clayton County was number one with 599. Second was Allamakee with 526. Jackson County placed third with 453. Nine counties scattered all across the state had hunters taking between 300 and 399; 12 counties registered between 200 and 299; 31 counties saw numbers of 100 to 199, and 44 counties had hunter success of 1 to 99.

Low on the take rolls were Osceola County with just two, Calhoun with 9, Grundy with 10, Ida with 19 and Hancock with 20. Marshall County hunters reported 82. Every turkey has now been processed to the dinner plates for families or cut specifically for freezing for future meals.

Keeping tabs on wild turkeys is just one of the jobs of upland game bird biologists. Each state has a slightly different set of circumstances of landforms, land uses, habitats, and weather issues.

The National Wild Turkey Federation is a private wildlife organization that serves to gather data and cooperate in land habitat projects, both private and public, to manage habitats for these big birds. The NWTF was founded in 1973 when nationwide the estimated wild turkey population was 1.3 million. After decades of work, numbers in 2024 are in excess of 7 million!

The NWTF stands behind science-based conservation and hunters’ rights. One part of the work of NWTF is enhancement of lands, recruiting new hunters, and opening access to new areas to hunt.

Many decades ago, netted wild turkeys were moved from some areas of Iowa to new stocking sites. The netting process entailed using cannon nets set along a corn baited plot.

When turkeys came in to feed, the hidden operator inside his or her box blind, would patiently wait until most of the flock was eating contently and within the net zone. The remote rocket charges were ignited by touching a battery terminal with prepared wiring.

Boom! The rockets launched into the air at a slight angle and in so doing drug the careful folded net along with them. The net would soon fall over the turkeys which prevented escape.

At the loud explosive sound, nearby waiting crews would drive to the site and quickly unload staff and turkey holding boxes. Each bird was subdued and carefully untangled from the net, placed singly into a transport box, and made ready for a release into a new habitat.

Those new habitats, at least for the initial stocking of wild turkeys, were at Grammer Grove, the Twedt timber, and a few years later in the Luray area. Each population has grown and expanded since those decades long ago.

Now wild populations of turkeys have filled just about every niche possible all on their own. It is a conservation success story. Across all of Iowa, the process was repeated so that today good populations of wild turkeys make Iowa a great place for resident hunters each spring.

If you are a careful observer during drives one may take along the backroads of the county, you may be rewarded with sighting a feeding flock of hens, accompanied by a tom turkey or two strutting his fluffed up wing and tail feathers to look impressive to his ladies.

Hen turkeys are sitting on nests at this time, doing only a few careful absences to feed. Otherwise they are sitting on eggs to keep them warm. Look toward forest edges, or even the middle of open grounds, to spy upon the biggest game bird of Iowa, the wild turkey.

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Observations from my turkey blind, a big tent-like hiding spot, allowed me to see lots of things happening in the natural world. The interaction of critters coming and going who had no clue they were being observed by a human took place.

One morning in particular, the fog was thick — just enough light made the walk in easy. Heavy dew filled the grass blades with thousands of drops of clinging water.

Knowing that morning dew makes the grass very wet, knee high rubber boots are a must footwear item, and so was the winter coat to ward off chilly air. Hunters learn to dress for the environment they will be encountering.

The sun was still well below the horizon which allowed me to silently and stealthily walk through the forest at 5 a.m. Every sound was muted except for a few tweets from small birds beginning their daily wake-up routine, and of course, there was the occasional gobble of tom turkeys

in the distance as they were still high in the trees of their night-time perch.

I finally arrived at my blind, set up my hen and tom turkey decoys and settled onto my camp chair inside my blind. I opened the camo-covered open air windows, arranged my bow and arrows, secured binoculars for easy access and quick views, and just sat quietly to let nature do her thing.

The “things” that happened, in no particular order, were fun and entertaining. Gobbles from nearby forested lands gave hope that those big bearded toms might come to investigate my calls or decoys. Barred owls hooted back and forth making echoes of taunting sounds from the treetops.

Later that morning, a cottontail rabbit went running full tilt past my decoys. Its white cotton tail caught my eye as a blurred spot traversing the wet grasses. I wondered why the rabbit was in such a hurry.

It did not take long to learn the answer to my own question. I was caught unaware of an approaching coyote until suddenly, the wild canine was standing right next to my tom turkey decoy, its nose whiskers wiggling as it curiously inspected the bird.

The coyote knew something was not right about this situation. It quickly decided to run off a few yards and look back. I literally did not have time to nock an arrow, draw the bow, aim and take the coyote out.

This episode happened too fast, but it sure was exciting to see. The coyote was likely following the scent trail of the cottontail rabbit, who had passed by only a moment before.

And of course in Iowa there will be deer. I observed about 9 different deer, mostly does and probably the fawns from last year. With binoculars, I inspected the red haired herbivores and noted the budding antlers on several of the animals.

I could tell that for a few those antler buds would turn into a first set of small headgear by fall time, and then there was an obviously large bodied deer that, at first glance with my eye, I assumed to be a doe. Binoculars revealed this deer was a buck with antler buds that were huge even if only about two inches tall.

The velvet issue around the new antler development was quite evident. The mass at its base told me this buck has a few years experience under his belt. Antlers will grow longer and larger during the summer and be fully grown for 2024 by the end of August.

Lastly, two comical happenings occurred in or near my blind. A squirrel must have attempted to jump onto my blind roof. Since it did not respond like a tree or bush, its feet scratched for traction as it left in a big hurry!

When peeking out the blind’s window, I saw the shadow of the trees behind me cast out onto my open area of view. On the shadow of the tree, I saw the shadow of the squirrel climbing that tree. Interesting.

My next encounter was of the small rodent type. A field mouse got inside my tent blind and was running around like a small golf ball with legs.

It was fast and frustrated at not finding an exit. Finally, it saw a bit of light under the tent edge for which its escape was made. There is never a dull moment inside a hunting blind. One must remain alert at all times. And yes, there will be many next times this spring season with my long lens camera, to observe nature, to watch, to listen, and to admire.

——–

Recent rains have had their effects felt in higher flow rates of water in the Iowa River. As of mid week, the flow rate had increased to 3,400 cubic feet per second and a stage of 14.38 and still rising slowly.

Just one week prior, the river stage was 12 feet and a cubic foot per second flow of 1,200. The river remains well contained within its banks but it is flushing itself anew after several years of very low flow rates.

Marshall County has had spotty rains during May of about two inches. For the year, our rainfall total is 8.45″.

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Hunter safety class is coming up soon. The dates are May 16 from 6 to 9 p.m. and the following Saturday all day from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Lunch will be provided free. The location is the Izaak Walton League grounds south of Marshalltown.

This class is primarily for young folks ages 12 or older. However, it is always nice to see accompanying adults attend and take the course with their son or daughter. Register online at www.hunter-ed.com/iowa.

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My quote to ponder for this week is: “Earth has no sorrow that Earth cannot heal.” — John Muir, naturalist/explorer/philosopher.

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Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at:

P.O. Box 96

Albion, IA 50005


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