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Wild Turkey

Wild Turkeys Restored Through Efforts Of Sportsmen

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Morning’s first light streaks through the night’s darkness, outlining the silhouettes of a flock of wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) that have roosted streamside in the branches of an old cottonwood tree. Within a few moments, this boisterous clan – consisting of big toms, mature hens and juvenile birds – will shatter dawn’s silence with their requisite amount of morning chatter and bustle: wings flapping violently as they swoop to the ground and bold, thunderous gobbles that echo through the bottom. Not so long ago, the sounds of the wild turkey were absent from these woods and throughout much of North America. But today, this scene will play out in 49 U.S. states as well as several Canadian provinces and Mexican states.

It’s unclear how many wild turkeys inhabited North America prior to the arrival of European settlers. It is known that they lived in what are now 39 continental states and the Canadian province of Ontario. As a fledgling nation began to take roots around them, wild turkeys became an important source of food for hungry settlers who hunted them year round before the advent of seasons and bag limits. The ever-expanding infrastructure of the new nation also required vast amounts of the wild turkeys’ home forests to be cleared to provide wood for shelters. As settlers moved westward and more and more forests were cleared, fewer wild turkeys were left behind. By 1813, Connecticut had lost all of its wild turkey population; by 1920, the wild turkey was missing from 18 of the 39 states and Ontario, which made up its ancestral range.

Today, with more than 7 million wild turkeys (consisting of five subspecies) present throughout 49 of the United States, parts of Canada and northern Mexico, the North American wild turkey has been restored throughout much of its ancestral range and other areas where they were not previously found. In the United States, every state except Alaska has a huntable population, serving as a constant reminder of what the efforts of conservation-minded sportsmen and women, armed with moneys collected from the sale of hunting licenses and gear can do to ensure a bright future for such a unique game bird.

Perhaps no other game bird has had more of an impact on the combined cultures of North America’s inhabitants that the wild turkey. As a species, it has directly influenced the lifestyles of Native Americans, early immigrants and their descendents. Whether it is the centerpiece to a festive holiday table, the object of a photographer’s art or the quarry that millions of hunters pursue every spring, the wild turkey means many things to many people. But more than anything, the wild turkey has proven to be an adaptable bird that, through careful conservation, now occupies more square miles of habitat than any other game bird in North America.

Every year, on the 4th Saturday of September, millions of Americans will celebrate the success of the wild turkey and many other species as part of National Hunting and Fishing Day activities that will be going on nationwide. National Hunting and Fishing Day began after a presidential proclamation in 1972 that sets aside the fourth Saturday of each September for the event. Since then, national, regional, state and local organizations have staged thousands of open house hunting- and fishing-related events everywhere from shooting ranges to suburban frog ponds, providing millions of Americans with a chance to experience, understand and appreciate traditional outdoor sports.

The careful wild turkey conservation efforts of the past have given millions of people the thrill of hearing the wild turkey gobble across the distance, to view it in its natural habitat and to restore its population to huntable populations. Conservation groups, sportsmen and women and wildlife watchers alike are all stakeholders in the future of the wild turkey, to ensure that the wild turkey roosts in our trees and forages in our field long enough for future generations to see.

National Hunting and Fishing Day, formalized by Congress in 1971, was created by the National Shooting Sports Foundation to celebrate the conservation successes of hunters and anglers. National Hunting and Fishing Day is observed on the fourth Saturday of every September.