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Zimmerman returns with more turkey talk

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As the only speaker asked to present at the Crosslake Chautauqua twice in the same season, Dan Zimmerman’s Oct. 9 encore presentation was just as fact-filled as his first program last spring.

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The focus of the October presentation was efforts to increase turkey numbers, habitat and hunter numbers.

“We felt that the Wild Turkey Federation needed to team up with the other outdoor social organizations to save the habitat and save the hunt,” Zimmerman said. “If we save the habitat by planting trees, having food plots, it’ll benefit not only the wild turkey, but the deer, the grouse, ducks and geese.”

Zimmerman, president of the Central Minnesota Gobbler’s chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, said this year’s 40th anniversary initiative is “Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt.”

“That will give future generations the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors whether you be a hunter, fisherman, hiker, biker, whatever,” Zimmerman said. “We’ve all got some sort of sense that we’re not the only ones on this planet, and if we don’t protect them, we can’t protect ourselves.”

This initiative includes efforts to plant trees that produce favorable food and shelter for birds, as well as feed plots. Zimmerman said this initiative is not only good for turkeys, but also other animals as well, since they live side by side with animals like deer.

“They do follow the deer around. They kind of cohabitate. As deer paw through the snow they’ll find acorns. They also eat mast crops like highbush cranberries because they hold their fruit all winter long,” Zimmerman said.

Turkeys have multiple sources of food at different times of the year. During the summer they will eat insects, grains, fruits and nuts. During the fall they focus mostly on carbohydrates. In the winter they do dig down through the snow for food on the ground, but acorns, mountain ash, highbush cranberries and other hanging foods are more important to them in the winter.

“Any mast crop is important to the turkey in the wintertime,” Zimmerman said.

Feed plots in the south are usually composed of something called chufa, though there are a variety of plants that benefit turkeys. Corn is good for turkeys, and high in carbohydrates, but it has its limitations.

“They all have it gone by the time they really need it in January,” Zimmerman said.

Habitat and shelter from weather are equally important. Zimmerman said turkeys prefer cottonwood trees for roosting, though they shelter among pines during the winter because they provide shelter from wind. Zimmerman also said the temperatures in swampy spruce groves can be warmer than other wooded areas.

“The difference between five degrees and 15 degrees might be the determining factor late in the season for their survival,” Zimmerman said.

In addition to creating feed plots and habitat, “Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt” also focuses on nurturing hunting amongst youth.

“Hunting numbers, as far as retention in the youth, has greatly declined. Some of the negative press we’ve had over the years has really made a big decline in that,” Zimmerman said.

To attract youths, the National Wild Turkey Federation does this through a BB gun shoot activity often seen at local events. Kids are encouraged to practice handling and shooting BB guns at inflatable targets.

“We need to expose 50,000 kids in the next five years ... throughout all of our chapters to the hunting experience,” Zimmerman said.

Much like Zimmerman’s last Chautauqua appearance, he ran out of time before completing his presentation.

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