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Tailing a wild turkey in Dallas County

Wild Turkey's like these can be found at the National Wild Turkey Federation
Wild Turkey's like these can be found at the National Wild Turkey Federation

Whether you shoot bullets, arrows or pictures, a wild turkey hunt will teach you a few things.

First, silence truly is golden. Second, patience is a virtue. Third, those suckers can move.

When pushed, these wild birds do the turkey trot at 25 miles an hour. They fly at speeds up to 55 mph. Sure, that’s just short spurts. But once aloft, a wild turkey can soar for about a mile without ever flapping a wing. Our nation’s largest game bird has a wingspan of nearly six feet. A male weighs in at 17 to 21 pounds, a female comes in at eight to 11 pounds. Even with such girth, wild turkeys are an elusive target. When they’re feeding in the safety of a group, wild turkeys take turns scanning the horizon for predators. They have more than 20 unique vocalizations, color vision, and a 270-degree field of vision. They recognize different sound frequencies, and where a sound is coming from. As Darwin noted, the birds are gifted with acute powers of observation.

Talk of turkeys is natural in fall, with Thanksgiving and wild turkey hunting season. But spring is actually the more active hunting season for wild turkeys. Craig Lonneman of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources reports that each year, 40,000 to 45,000 Iowa hunters register for the spring hunt, harvesting about 22,000 wild turkeys.

“With shotguns, we encourage hunters to limit themselves to clean shots, 35 yards and closer,” Lonneman says. At about one-third the length of a football field, that’s up close and personal. Be very still as they approach, as wild turkeys remember the geographic content of – and will race you across – more than 1,000 acres.

In Dallas County, wild turkeys are often spotted at the edge of wooded areas. “We once thought they needed large tracts of timber to survive, but the Eastern Turkey has adjusted to Iowa’s small wooded patches and farms,” Lonneman says. There are special areas for people who shoot only photos, including the Crellin Wildlife Refuge, a land-locked no-hunting preserve just two miles west of Minburn. “Wild turkeys live around a wooded area, where they can roost in the trees and come into an open area, a lot of times at dawn and dusk, to forage for food,” says Justin Smith, Dallas County Conservation Board Deputy Director and Biologist.

As the crops come out, you may see wild turkeys around conservation areas such as the Kuehn Conservation Area, just six miles north of Earlham. Also check out Big Bend Wildlife Area, near Redfield. “Really, wild turkeys have populated Dallas County wherever there is a mature hardwood woodland with some open areas,” Smith says. “They like river corridors where there are trees to roost and open fields to forage.” Whether you’re shooting bullets or pictures, when you’re traveling turkey country during hunting season, wear a blaze-orange hat and vest to identify yourself in the woods. The Fall of 2013 wild turkey shotgun season is Oct. 14 to Dec. 6. For muzzleloaders, archers and mentored hunting with minors, see iowadnr.gov or call Lonneman at 515/238-5005.

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