If you live a rural life, you spend enough time outdoors to know how many turkeys there are in your area. It is pretty simple to figure, because wild turkey group together in January to feed and roost – hens, poults and mature gobblers.
They all come together and are easy to observe because as the acorns get scarce they feed in open ground. I have seen in various river bottoms in the Ozarks, as many as 70 or 80 turkeys congregated together and from that, with binoculars, you can sort of calculate the number of old gobblers, jakes, hens and year old hens in a huge flock.
It varies, but usually in a flock of 70 or 80 winter turkeys you will see from eight to 12 long-bearded gobblers and about 20 jakes. There will be about 15 or 20 mature hens and the rest are young hens. That’s kind of a norm. If you see that number in a flock, you can figure that you ought to have a good breeding season and a good summer hatch.
You get worried if there are only a half dozen gobblers in a group that size. But what worries me most is seeing only 30 turkeys where there were 70 or 80 in a winter flock two or three years ago, and I have seen a lot of that this winter. It is even more worrisome when 50 percent or more of one small winter flock is adult turkeys.
What I gather from what I have seen this winter is that in many areas of the Ozarks flocks are not of a normal make-up… too few, and more adults than young. But even with that ratio, if we have a good hatch this spring in those areas, there will be little problem with turkey numbers over-all. What is really a problem is if there is a poor hatch like that two or three years in a row.
With all birds that nest on the ground, there is a problem each spring when there is too much rain, but in the area of southern Missouri and north Arkansas, the high number of coons and skunks and possums can be a problem not only for wild turkeys but for quail, meadowlarks, woodcock, even whippoorwills. They find and eat eggs, lots of them.
And then there is the armadillo. Just a couple of days ago I walked through a wooded bottomland next to the river and counted four of them foraging around in the woods. If you want to see how great diversity is, look at what it has done to nature, with starlings and snake-head fish and armadillos, just to name a small few of what is invading the natural world around us, and so adversely affecting native creatures.
This winter, if you like to shoot and like to hunt, spend a few hours out in the woods around you hunting and shooting armadillos and you will help make the area you live in a better place for native wildlife. They are so stupid they aren’t very wild. Kill as many of them as you can and leave them lay. Never, ever handle an armadillo as they are carriers of leprosy and have infected a good number of people in southeastern states with that awful disease. It takes an army of hunters to affect their number, so join up. Never let one live when you see it.
As for the turkeys, what I have seen is a regional thing. There are friends of mine talking about seeing better numbers where they live. If any biologist tries to give numbers at any time of the year that cover half of a state, he is lacks knowledge of the species. One of my best friends was a turkey biologist for 30 years in another state, and the two of us had a good laugh when a Conservation Department media specialist got on a local television station out of Springfield in mid-summer and announced that their experts felt there had been a one percent increase in the wild turkey hatch that year across the Ozarks.
That would mean that in their infinite wisdom, biologists had determined that for every one hundred poults in the early summer the year before there were now one hundred and one. How silly it is to say something like that.
You never really know what wild turkey numbers are in your area until this time of year, when the weather gets rough and small flocks gather to gather and are very active in order to find the food they have to have to survive. Then use what I do, look at the group and try to figure those percentages. It will vary quite a bit from county to county, but from what I have seen in three or four counties, things are not as good as they should be.
On land I own and other areas I hunt, we really seem to have a problem with wild turkey numbers this winter. As much as I like spring rains, I dread a spring deluge at the wrong time, because that can almost completely destroy a big hatch of young turkeys. Obviously that was a problem last spring.
What is being said right now about the deer disease known as chronic wasting is absolutely ridiculous, because some game and fish departments are afraid they will lose so much money in deer tag revenue if they word things wrong. Many who eat deer meat are absolutely convinced that humans cannot get chronic wasting disease.
Technically, you cannot, because what is known as CWD in deer is called by a different name when it kills a human being. But I promise you, despite what you have heard, hunters and others have died because they ingested the prions which cause the same disease, by different names, in deer, elk, sheep, goats and cattle. In all these creatures, it is given a different name and in humans it is called Kruetzfeldt-Jakobs disease. How many have died from it is just a guess, because doctors I have talked with say that it is something not often tested for and many times, misdiagnosed as something else.
In my upcoming spring magazine I have tried to compile what medical people and scientists have been learning about this disease, and you can read all about it, in several pages of fact and theory coming from the study of this disease, from the best-qualified medical people, which is nothing like what the MDC is telling us.
Believe me, if you have eaten untested deer meat like that given out in any state’s ‘share the harvest’ program, you are taking a risk. How much of a risk no one can say. I urge you to read in the spring issue of The Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor magazine, some other views of those who have looked at this disease without bias.
I recently learned that in the northern tier of Arkansas counties bordering Missouri, examination of road-killed deer in 2017 showed more than 100 CWD infected deer. Isn’t it strange that the Missouri Conservation Department just finds a handful of deer in neighboring counties with that disease? Apparently the awful disease just stops at the Arkansas-Missouri line.
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