Wild Turkey
Wild turkeys were once native to parts of Wisconsin, in an area roughly south of a line from Prairie du Chien to Green Bay. They were an important food source for settlers and Indians alike, and the Cheyenne Indians were called "the striped arrow people" because they feathered their arrows with barred wing feathers of wild turkeys. By about 1881, wild turkeys had all but disappeared from Wisconsin. Settlement and the expansion of agriculture and logging led to the clearing of the state's oak forests, and the introduction of domestic fowl spread disease thru wild turkey populations. Unregulated hunting also took its toll, and the last recorded wild turkey sighting in Wisconsin was near Darlington in Lafayette County in 1881.

With the recent recurrence of second growth oak in parts of the state, some areas have become suitable turkey habitat again. Today the DNR is stocking 100% wild-trapped turkeys from Missouri, and these transplanted wild birds are reproducing and have reestablished a self-sustaining wild turkey population in Wisconsin. The state's wild turkey population is currently about 20,000, primarily concentrated in the southwest area. As populations reach 10 turkeys per square mile, the various management units are capable of supporting hunting. Currently, the spring gobbler hunt is restricted to a small area and hunters are limited by special permits. The DNR hopes to further expand the state's wild turkey population by obtaining additional wild-trapped turkeys from Missouri and transplanting birds from established flocks here in the state. Transplanting will continue until populations are well established in all suitable habitat in the state.

The wild turkey is Wisconsin's largest game bird, and generally is a slender bird with long legs, neck and tail. The average length for males is 48 inches, with females averaging 36 inches. Male turkeys (gobblers or toms) average 18-25 pounds, while the females (hens) average 8-10 pounds.

The body feathers of the turkey are an iridescent bronze, but they appear green, blue, red and even purple in reflected sunlight. The wing and tail feathers are barred with light and dark bands. The gobbler fans out his tail feathers and "struts" for the hens during the mating season. Males appear darker than females because their body feathers are black tipped, while the body feathers on the hens are white or buff tipped. Hens and gobblers also differ in the number and size of head adornments. On the male, a fleshy growth, called the "wattles", hangs from underneath the chin, and growths called "caruncles" are located on the side and back of the neck. The "snood" or "dew bill" is a fleshy projection growing above and resting on the nose. Basically bare, the male turkey's head may be colored red, white or blue depending on pigments and circulating blood. During the mating season, while the gobbler is strutting, its head turns bright red, and if he's frightened the head turns pale blue. In hens, the head is usually a pale blue and has more feathers. The most talked about difference between male and female turkeys is the presence of the beard – a bristly mass of modified feathers found on the breast of the mature male. Immature males (jakes) do not normally have an obvious beard until around 2 years of age. Beards are sometimes found on females, however, and multiple beards are occasionally found on both sexes. Gobblers are also equipped with spurs on their legs, much like pheasants, while hens lack well-developed spurs and young turkeys have only small, button-like growths.

Turkeys are wary, shy birds with excellent eyesight. They are capable of flying over 55 miles per hour, but often times prefer to run from predators. The most well known sound of the wild turkey is the tom's rolling gobble. Both sexes make other sounds including yelps, purrs, clucks, and other noises with a variety of meanings. Turkeys are most vocal during the breeding season, similar to the human male at bar closing time, and also at times of distress or alarm. They are identifiable by their large 5-inch tracks, with the three front toes rather thick and the tip of the hind toe leaving an imprint off to one side.

Wild turkeys are opportunistic feeders, eating whatever foods are available. During the spring and summer, they feed on insects, berries, green leaves and grass seeds. Often, turkeys feed in fields of alfalfa, searching for insects that are abundant there. Favorite insects include grasshoppers, beetles and ants. Other preferred plant foods are dogwood fruits, wild grape, cherry, sedges, blue grasses, vibernums, blueberry, blackberry, buttercups and violets. During the fall and winter, turkeys feed more on acorns and fruits of trees like oak hop hornbeam, maple, ash, pine and beach, but they will also seek out corn, wheat, oats and other grains in agricultural fields. Hens eat snails and other sources of calcium and minerals to help in egg production, and all turkeys feed heavily in late winter to store up food reserves for the breeding season. Adult gobblers feed very little during the breeding season, relying on the two-pound breast sponge of fat they build up during fall and winter. Turkeys have two daily periods of heavy feeding, at mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Family groups often meet and feed in large flocks, clipping off or ripping vegetation with their beaks or scratching with their feet to uncover food hidden by leaves or snow. Turkeys are always very alert and continually move about while feeding, however, a flock may spend several hours on a few acres if preferred foods are plentiful. After feeding in the morning, turkeys often rest or engage in "dusting". While dusting, a turkey wallows in loose soil fluffing up its feathers to allow the soil to penetrate to the skin. Favorite dusting places include ant beds, sandy spots and decayed logs.

The wild turkey is primarily a woodland bird, preferring mature or nearly mature hardwood forests. They require large trees that are a dependable food source and provide safe roosting sites some distance from the ground. Favorable habitat for a large wild turkey population consists of a fairly large wooded area that is at least 30% – 50% forested. The forest should be primarily oak and other mast bearing trees. Alfalfa and grain fields should cover 10% - 25% of the area. Open, grassy areas provide a necessary supply of insects for the young as well as areas for winter feeding, loafing, nesting and strutting, and in addition, turkeys must have access to water.

The daily range of the wild turkey is about two miles. In good habitat, they may cover 400 - 1,000 acres daily, but home ranges of 8,000 acres or more can be found in poorer habitat. The size of the range depends on food supplies, cover and weather conditions.

Turkeys have many natural predators, most of which prey on eggs and young poults. These predators include skunks, opossums, raccoons, snakes, crows, coyotes, foxes and certain rodents. Bobcats, golden eagles, foxes, great horned owls and red-tailed hawks sometimes take adult turkeys.

Turkeys are tough magnum-sized game birds in the league of the Canada goose and full-grown tundra swan. If you don't take wings and feet out of commission on the first shot, there will be a very good chance that you will lose the bird. You must call the turkey in close, in most cases under 30 yards, to have a reasonable chance of success. The human voice was the first turkey caller, and there are hunters today who use nothing but their voices to call gobblers. Just about anything that cries, squeaks or squawks will call a turkey, but your odds will drastically improve if you master a box call, mouth diaphragm call, slate call, tube call, wingbone call or pushbutton call to name a few. The mouth diaphragm call is considered by many hunters to be the ultimate call, as it leaves the hands free to aim and shoot. Then there are the hunters who will not hunt with anything but a slate call, believing that the sound produced appears to be more seductive to the gobbler than any other call. The very best situation is to be proficient with a variety of calls and use several during the course of the days hunt. Wild turkeys have their own language, and as not one turkey has learned to speak English, we can only guess as to what each sound means. Despite the relatively large body the kill zone on the turkey is about the size of your clenched fist with an equal distance of forearm, so you need to select a good turkey load that delivers the maximum amount of pellets possible to this small area. A 12 gauge shotgun with 30-inch barrel and 3-inch chambers and a turkey choke and #4, #5 or #6 shot should do nicely, with the final decision based on which size, load or brand produces the tightest pattern with your shotgun.