Jim Bennett

expected to see wild turkeys as we drove across Missouri over spring break. Southern Iowa and Northern Missouri remind me of some rugged areas in Pierce County where I grew up as a kid back in the 1950’s. As we hit the Ozark Mountains my zero turkey sightings continued which surprised me and disappointed me because I remember the connection Wisconsin has with wild Missouri Turkeys.

Wild turkeys were native to Wisconsin until around 1881 when they disappeared from the Badger State.  In 1976 Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources made a trade with the state of Missouri to bring wild turkey back. We gave them 3 ruffed grouse for one wild Missouri turkey. The first wild turkeys were released in Vernon County and later in other areas WI-DNR staff thought would be good locations to successfully release the birds.

 The state was looking for areas with good acorns crops and southerly hillside exposures to ensure less snow with a good food source to aid in the survival of the big birds. Nugget Lake County Park was the original drop site in Pierce County. Upon release, taking wing they reminded me of a ruffed grouse in flight. Obviously much larger they had the same general body shape with a fanned tail and liked to glide more than beat wings. With occasional wing beats the big birds maintained enough altitude, just like a ruffed grouse and settled down with a sharp cut left or right before settling in just like a ruffed grouse. The DNR focused the wild turkey releases in the southern half of the state thinking the wild birds couldn’t survive in Northern Wisconsin with the harsh winters so they chose not to release turkey there. No one told that to the wild turkeys and in a matter of years the offspring of the wild Missouri birds had migrated on their own all the way north to Lake Superior. Today Wisconsin ranks as the 2nd best state to hunt wild turkey while Missouri is 7th. Rounding out the top 10 - Nebraska 1, Kansas 3, Florida 4, Alabama 5, Texas 6, Pennsylvania 8, South Dakota 9 and Kentucky 10. 

The last time I scouted back home in Unit 4 where I hunt the wild turkey flocks were still grouped together by sexes. The gobblers are setting up their pecking order for breeding rights and will soon be on the move to find willing hens. From there the hens will go to the gobble for breeding and then seek out nest locations and leave gobblers on their own. That is my preferred time to hunt. Lonely Tom’s are easier to call in later in the season and more difficult to call in when they are with hens in the early season. Either way we can thank Missouri for the wild turkey we have.

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

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