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Marsh Musings

How Smart are wild turkeys?

POSTED April 13, 2018 2:37 p.m.
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My Canadian buddies are here to continue the wild turkey saga that began several years ago. It is one of my favorite times of the year.
Duane arrives from Saskatchewan a couple of weeks before the other guys. He has a new Labrador puppy named “Duke”. He has become infected with John Wayne lore and knows all the movies and the story line. He has also forced me to learn a lot about hockey and curling. His eyes get wild when he is forced to admit that we won the gold medal in curling. We have lots of arguments over the remote control early in the morning when planning our day.
We have several locations set up with pop up blinds to call turkeys into the twenty yard range of our traditional archery equipment consisting of long bows or recurves. It is necessary to rotate locations because turkeys seem to remember a spot where they were frightened. We shoot a broad-head that has a circular configuration and has the advantage of not hurting the bird if you make a bad shot and hit the body instead of the head or neck. It just bounces off and scares them. It is amazing to me that these guys who routinely kill moose, elk, and deer get so excited when confronted with a strutting gobbler. That is the magic of these terrific birds.
Kansas has lots of turkeys. We mostly have the Rio Grand species. There are Merriam and an Osceola breed in Florida that is absolutely beautiful.
We have buddies that run a circuit of several states to hunt turkeys. Their passion is almost comical—they spend a lot of time and money chasing turkeys.
I personally don’t think turkeys are very smart. They are quite simply afraid of everything that moves. They have exceptional eyesight and it is not possible to sneak up on a flock. The most common way to hunt them is to spend a fist full of money buying camouflage clothing with face masks and gloves and turkey decoys. You then sit by a tree and call with a slate, glass or diaphragm mouth call until one wanders into gun range. There is no relationship that I can detect between good and awful turkey callers. Duane has even attracted a few birds with his mouth call. He has also trained Duke to come to a turkey call. The jury is still out on that decision.
Getting up before dawn to go to the woods is a gift here in Kansas. You have to know where the birds are roosting to be able to set up within calling range. We locate birds by using an owl call. The toms have a knee-jerk gobble response to the hoot of an owl. We set up within a hundred yards or so before they fly off the roost. If you are lucky and call properly, a tom will get interested and wander into range. As often as not, they will head off in another direction. That is the enigma, challenge, and charm of turkey hunting. If you can dodge the ticks and not get distracted by searching for morel mushrooms which are lots better than turkey breast—it is just possible that you might put a long beard in the freezer!

Doctor Dan Witt is a retired physician and nature enthusiast.

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