Jim Bennett

I was logged on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website at 10:01 AM to purchase a leftover spring turkey tag that began at 10:00. I found myself in line electronically behind 2,286 other people in the virtual line. With over 4000 leftover tags I felt pretty good. My son Josh and I had hoped to get the fourth time period in early May but by the time we reached the front of the line they were sold out so we took the next season a week later.

I don’t mind the later season. That’s when the largest birds are harvested because the older wiser gobblers that survive are more vulnerable then. All spring the big gobblers have had their way with the hens following natures plan. Later in the spring hens go on nests and are no longer interested in Old Tom Turkey. Big Toms will now drop their guard and come running to anything that sounds like a hot hen. Some hunters opt for the early season to get the first crack at the birds but the weather in the early season can be fickle. Cold, rain and snow can shut the birds down and it’s a miserable time to be out.

It was 34 years ago the Wisconsin opened its turkey season with reintroduced wild turkey. The last wild turkey was shot in 1881.  I was on that first hunt in 1983in Vernon County’s wild Coulee Country. Seven years earlier Wisconsin locked up a deal with Missouri to receive 45 Show Me State wild turkeys for 135 wild Wisconsin ruffed grouse. I was in on several of the first releases in the chosen areas of Wisconsin where wildlife officials thought the wild birds would have their best chances to survive.

Those wild turkey were transported in large cardboard boxes, big enough to hold a kitchen stove with giant air holes up high. The boxes were opened and the birds were brought out, held for photographs and then released. Their wing spans were massive and the explosion of flight displaced enough air to startleonlookers. They covered ground quickly in flight, landed and disappeared. Their body shape, color, rounded tail reminded me of a giant ruffed grouse flying off into history. And that history proved to be a success story when I found myself back in that same county seven years later hunting for offspring of those same early released birds we hunt now.

Today over 130,000 hunters chase wild turkey in the spring woods. Wisconsin ranks fifth in the nation for total number of harvested birds as well as being a state that grows some of the largest wild turkeys. When first released into the Badger State wildlife officials thought they would only survive in the southern half of the state with our potential for harsh winters. That’s proven not to be the case as today you can spot wild turkey in every county in Wisconsin. Oh...I shot a gobbler on that first hunt in 1983 and most years since!

 

Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix River Valley and can be reached at jamesbennett24@gmail.com

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