I we expected to see wild turkeys as we drove through Missouri during spring break. Southern Iowa and northern Missouri remind me of some rugged parts of Pierce County where I grew up in the 1950s. surprised and disappointed because I remember the connection between Wisconsin and Missouri wild turkeys.
Wild turkeys were native to Wisconsin until around 1881, when they became extinct from the badger state. In 1976, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources entered into an exchange with the State of Missouri to bring back wild turkeys. We gave them 3 ruffed grouse for a Missouri wild turkey. The first wild turkeys were released in Vernon County and later in other areas, WI-DNR staff thought these would be good places to successfully release the birds.
The state was looking for areas with good acorn crops and southern hillside exposures to ensure less snow with a good food source to help large birds survive. Nugget Lake County Park was Pierce County’s original depot site. Upon release, taking flight, they reminded me of a ruffed grouse in flight. Obviously much larger, they had the same general body shape with a fan-shaped tail, and were more fond of soaring than flapping their wings. With occasional wing beats, the large birds maintained sufficient altitude just like a ruffed grouse and settled with a clean cut left or right before settling like a ruffed grouse. The DNR concentrated wild turkey releases in the southern half of the state, thinking the wild birds could not survive in northern Wisconsin with the harsh winters, so they chose not to release turkeys there. . No one told the wild turkeys that, and within a few years the offspring of the Missouri wild birds had migrated all the way north to Lake Superior on their own. Today, Wisconsin is the 2nd best state for wild turkey hunting 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.
When I last scouted my home in Unit 4 where I hunt, the wild turkey herds were still grouped by sex. 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 gulpers to breed, then seek nesting locations and leave the gulpers alone. This is my favorite time to hunt. Lonely Tom’s are easier to call later in the season and harder to call when they are with females early in the season. Either way, we can thank Missouri for the wild turkeys we have.
Jim Bennett is an outdoor enthusiast who lives and works in the St. Croix Valley and can be contacted at [email protected] for comments