My own turkey hunting experience has been marked by much more comedy than success, but it's given me more respect for the animal than I would have otherwise had. And it has helped me to better understand why millions of hunters long to spend their time hunkered stock-still against a tree trunk, making turkey noises and getting cramps where they didn't even know they had muscles.
Young Male: Jake
Wattle: A flap of skin on the neck. Same color characteristics as the Caruncle (see below).
Strut: When a tom turkey puffs up his breast feathers and spreads his tail feathers like a fan, to attract hens and intimidate other males.
Caruncle: Brightly colored fleshy growths on the head & neck, which turn bright red when the tom gets excited.
Snood: A flappy piece of skin that hangs over a turkey's beak. Same color characteristics as the Caruncle.
Spur: A bony spike on the rear of each leg, which can be quite sharp and is used for fighting.
Beard: Grows from the chest below the neck. Consists of black feathers that resemble long coarse hairs. This grows from the chest, and grows longer with age.
Wild turkeys have long legs and their feathers are quite dark. Some of the feathers actually have an iridescent appearance, and can be quite lovely. The male is more brightly colored than the female. The tail feathers are often spread like a fan when the male is strutting, and he will also puff up his chest feathers and drag the tips of his wings on the ground.
Eastern: These birds live throughout all of the eastern half of the USA.
Rio Grande: These are found in Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, and in some northwestern states.
Merriam's: Found in the Rocky Mountains and nearby prairies of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.
Gould's: Found in southern areas of New Mexico and Arizona, as well as central and north Mexico.
Osceola: This bird is only found in the peninsula portion of Florida.
Outstanding Traits: The wild turkey is remarkable in a number of ways, and most of these would never have been studied and understood as well as they are if it weren't for hunters. Folks interested in hunting these birds are largely responsible for the rapid climb of turkey populations over the past several decades, and organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation spend millions of dollars on conservation efforts and work closely with hunters to ensure a continued healthy population of wild turkeys.
Turkeys have acute eyesight and can spot movement quite readily. This, combined with their extreme wariness, has caused more than one hunter to hang his head and cry. They can (and do) run fast with their long legs, and will take wing and fly if they feel they can't outrun a foe, or just desire the security of perching in a tree for a while.
A turkey's sense of smell seems to be largely ignored by most descriptions, probably because it has been determined to be negligible and therefore not something that a turkey hunter must contend with. Avoiding their sharp eyes is the hunter's main challenge, and believe me, that's challenge enough.
Synopsis: The wild turkey is a much-hunted, much-respected member of the animal kingdom. It is probably second only to the whitetail deer in terms of its appeal to hunters desiring a challenge. This says a lot for the turkey, a twenty-pound package of wariness and angst that will likely keep hunters guessing for many years to come.
- Russ Chastain