On April 15th the annual spring wild turkey season opened in region 4 and hunters will take to the woods in search of the elusive wild Tom turkey. All winter long you may have seen flocks alongside roads and out in the middle of wide open fields. Come spring time getting a wild turkey must be pretty easy – right? Not so. Spring is their strut (breeding season) and the time when the large winter flocks break up and disperse across the landscape. Wild turkeys are a challenge to hunt because they are hard to find and difficult to get close too. They are not super smart – it’s just that they are scared of everything. However, pursuing a wild turkey is one of the most fun hunting opportunities available in the Kootenays.
The wild turkey is native to North and Central America and its ancestors date back some 23 million years. The wild turkey is comprised of two species – the common wild turkey of North America, which the domestic turkey is a descendant from, and the Oscellated wild turkey of Central America. The Merriam’s wild turkey is one of the five recognized subspecies and it has established a self-sustaining population in the East Kootenay region over the last 30+ years. They arrived here via natural dispersal from re-introduction sites in Idaho and Montana as well as by Fish & Wildlife transplants that re-located around 100 birds from the Creston Valley in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
The East Kootenay region is the northern most extent of the wild turkey’s range in North America. Living on the fringe of their climatic adaptability means that populations fluctuate more than in lower latitudes. Fluctuations in local turkey populations are likely do more to climatic variables than to predation like some suggest.
Wild turkeys have become a popular game bird for resident and non-resident hunters in the East Kootenay and they provide an exciting new photography and wildlife viewing opportunities in the region. Wild turkey hunting contributes about $200 million to the US economy each year. Although wild turkey hunting in BC is nowhere near that magnitude it is no less important to the local economy or outdoor way of life in the East Kootenay region.
The Merriam’s wild turkey is classified as an introduced wildlife species in BC; however, it is not true that the government wants to eradicate wild turkeys just because of their non-native classification. Hunting seasons for wild turkey in BC are based on conservation principles that ensure the majority of breeding is completed before the Tom (male) only spring hunting season starts.
Wild turkeys eat a wide variety of nuts, seeds, fruits, and flowers, green leaves, grasshoppers, beetles, other insects and spiders. Some flocks are considered to be “farmstead” flocks – sustained by the habitat and food sources available on private farmland. Since the East Kootenay region has a history of wildlife-agriculture conflicts, the East Kootenay Wild Turkey Association (EKWTA), in partnership with the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), completed a study in 2011 that looked at the effect of wild turkey on the region’s commercial agriculture producers. The study’s key findings include:
1. Wild turkeys are not causing significant wide-spread losses to commercial agriculture producers in the East Kootenay.
2. Nearly half of the producers indicate wild turkeys provide some type of beneficial service.
3. Wild turkeys do not pose a risk of disease transfer to domestic livestock.
4. There is a general interest and tolerance among agriculture producers regarding wild turkeys as long as damages do not exceed current levels.
5. 75% of producers reported that allowing hunting on their private land is the main action taken to reduce negative effects caused by wild turkeys.
Some agriculture producers said that hunters trespassing on their land are more annoying than the turkeys! Some farm owners enjoy their wild turkeys and wish not to have them hunted and some allow access to hunters to help control numbers. Online tools like IMapBC allow hunters to identify private land boundaries around their favorite hunting spots.
But why go through all that effort to get a wild turkey when they taste terrible? Unlike their domestic counter parts, wild turkey is totally organic and as free ranging as you can get! Wild turkey breast meat is as tasty and as tender as domestic turkey meat; however, because they work hard for a living, their drumsticks and dark meat are tougher – if cooked improperly. The trick is to use a slow cooker for the dark meat.
• Turkey meat contains trace minerals that can help prevent cancer.
• Turkey meat contains amino acid tryptophan which is essential for T cells, a type of immune system cell that kills cancer cells.
• Besides, not having growth hormones, antibiotics or other chemicals, wild turkey meat is higher in percent protein, has a lower fat content and less cholesterol and is higher in calories than domestic turkey meat.
Enjoy the spring turkey season and take a kid turkey hunting. Join the East Kootenay Wild Turkey Federation on Facebook and tell us what you are seeing and hearing in the woods this spring.
For more information contact:
Mark Hall, EKWTA Field Program Coordinator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org for information and facts about wild turkeys in BC.
The EKWTA is based in Cranbrook, BC. It is a non-profit society representing 200+ local members whose interests include wild turkey conservation, general wildlife habitat management and the preservation of our hunting heritage. The EKWTA is currently the only regional chapter of the NWTF in the province. The EKWTA hosts the annual Hunting Heritage Super Fund each June and hosts a youth outdoor fun day, called “JAKES Day”. Since 1985, approximately $31,000 of the NWTF’s BC wild turkey super fund has been invested back into wildlife conservation in this province.