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Turkey preservation, proliferation, and the thrill of the hunt

Dan Zimmerman recalls seeing a long line of black turkeys winding its way across a golden wheat field, his dogs going crazy.

It wasn’t long before Zimmerman was hooked on turkey hunting.

“Turkey hunting is an addiction,” Zimmerman said during a presentation at the March 13 Chautauqua program in Crosslake.

He’s the president of the Central Minnesota Gobblers chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), a group that works to preserve wild turkeys, their habitats and the hunt.

Zimmerman explained how the NWTF has expanded the range of the wild turkey using the trap and transfer method. Turkeys are trapped using a net shot out of a cannon. Each turkey is put into its own box, and the turkeys are transferred to areas that the NWTF deems as appropriate for the animal.

While the NWTF used this method for many years, it isn’t currently in use. There were five releases in Crow Wing County, Zimmerman said: two south of Brainerd, on west of Nisswa, one north of the Maple Hill Church, and one north of Crosby along the Mississippi River, near the Bridge Tavern.

From those releases, the turkeys have proliferated on their own and traveled to new territories, oftentimes along power line corridors, Zimmerman said.

In total 100 were released, but Crow Wing County now has a turkey population estimated at 1,200.

Zimmerman took part in the first-ever turkey hunt for this area in 2002.

He explained why he loves turkey hunting. Sitting in the woods, he said, everything’s quiet. He’s used the calls, and he’s about to leave when a tom turkey erupts in sound.

“Your body fills with adrenaline. You don’t see him, and then he walks up on your decoy,” Zimmerman said.

He said that though some people say turkeys are dumb, they’re not dumb at all. Between their eyesight and hearing, the birds have 100 times the ability to see what humans can see. They have a 270-degree field of vision.

Zimmerman added that turkeys can pinpoint predators, like hunters, up to a half mile away.

“Just the movement of my eyes was enough to alert them to danger,” Zimmerman said. He said for this reason, hunting with a blind is the way to go.

Turkey hunting is not a swing-and-shoot hunt the way it is with other bird hunting. Zimmerman said the barrel of the gun rests on a shooting stick.

The birds are also aggressive. Once one is down, the bird’s subordinates will often pound on the dead bird and spar him.

Zimmerman also spoke about the hunting technique of “putting them to bed.” Turkeys will respond to an owl call at dusk. He said the trick is to make an owl call at dusk, and listen for the responding gobble. The turkey will be in the same place the next morning.

He explained some of the main features of the wild turkey. The red, white and blue coloring that’s seen on the turkeys is a result of a hormonal imbalance. The caruncles are the fleshy wrinkles below the beak, and the appendage under the beak is known as the snood or dewlap.

Zimmerman believes that because turkeys must go to water every day, they sometimes use the dewlap for just what its name implies — to lap up dew. They put their faces in the dewy grass, and then drink the dew as it runs down their faces and into their beaks.

Turkeys are creatures of habit, he said. They’ll eat and drink at the same places and at the same time of day.

When he calls turkeys, Zimmerman prefers to use a mouth call, and said the call can be described as “tea-key, tea-key, tea-key-a-ree.”

While he has hunted turkeys in the past, he doesn’t as much any more.

“For me now, it’s about education, talking to people and getting kids involved,” Zimmerman said.

He continues that work through his involvement in the NWTF and love for wild turkeys.