The Out­doors­man

The East­ern Wild Tur­key

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - In The Issue -

As Thanks­giv­ing nears, many of us are look­ing for­ward to a feast un­sur­passed. The sides will vary, but the main dish will re­main the same in many house­holds. That's right — most Thanks­giv­ing din­ners will re­volve around tur­key. Some will be baked, while oth­ers are deep fried. But re­gard­less of how you cut it, the re­sult will be the same — a tasty meat that has proved the main­stay of this par­tic­u­lar hol­i­day for many years.

In fact, I sus­pect this bulky, heavy-breasted bird has proved the en­tree of choice for 152 years, when Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln pro­claimed Thanks­giv­ing as a na­tional hol­i­day. In­ter­est­ingly, the hol­i­day orig­i­nally fell a week ear­lier. But Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt opted to resched­ule it one year af­ter it came to fruition.

So, ex­actly how did this bird gain na­tional recog­ni­tion? Un­for­tu­nately, I can't ac­cu­rately an­swer that ques­tion, as there are sev­eral spec­u­la­tions how it came to be. I can, how­ever, say that the tur­key was revered by at least one icon of Amer­i­can history.

Ben­jamin Franklin sug­gested the tur­key be our na­tional bird. In a let­ter he wrote to his daugh­ter, he said the tur­key is a “much more re­spectable bird” than a bald ea­gle, and “withal a true orig­i­nal na­tive of Amer­ica.” But de­spite his sen­ti­ments, the bald ea­gle was cho­sen.

What was it that Franklin found so in­trigu­ing about tur­keys? Those of us who have hunted this bird have likely ex­pe­ri­enced sce­nar­ios that have also left us be­liev­ing they are wor­thy of na­tional recog­ni­tion.

Any­body who has spent many days pur­su­ing springtime gob­blers has left the woods cer­tain that they are one of the smartest crea­tures roam­ing our for­est, and right­fully so. De­spite hours of prepa­ra­tion and scout­ing, it of­ten seems that our ef­forts went in vain.

The pre­sea­son scout­ing usu­ally goes some­thing like this: you crawl out of the sack long be­fore daylight. From atop a hill you qui­etly stare into the dark­ness, wait­ing for that mag­i­cal sound cut­ting through the morn­ing air.

Then it hap­pens. A shock gob­ble fol­lows the hoot of a nearby barred owl. And with ev­ery hoot, the gob­bler makes his pres­ence known. It's like clock­work. Ev­ery morn­ing, he's perched on the same hill­side, in the same clump of tow­er­ing pines. And he never fails to an­swer the bois­ter­ous call of the owl.

This is go­ing to be a cinch, right? Slip into the woods un­de­tected long be­fore daylight on the open­ing

morn­ing. Set up in close prox­im­ity to the bird. As soon as he pitches to the ground, a couple of se­duc­tive yelps should be all it takes. Hear­ing an un­fa­mil­iar hen, he'll come run­ning.

Not hardly. In fact, this tom seems to have more tricks up his sleeve than Carter has liver pills. It might be a sud­den will­ing­ness to re­main silent while on the roost. And even if vo­cal in the tree, he might just choose to grow tight-lipped im­me­di­ately upon hit­ting the ground.

And even if this wary bird does hit the ground talk­ing, that's no in­di­ca­tion he'll be eas­ily swayed. And even if he does choose to cau­tiously mo­sey in the hunter's di­rec­tion, many po­ten­tial ob­sta­cles lurk along the way.

Noth­ing more than a dim log­ging road or creek can some­times be the cul­prit. One would think that he would bar­rel across th­ese as if they were noth­ing. And they ob­vi­ously could, if they wanted to.

But no. It's not un­com­mon for them to gob­ble their heads off while traips­ing up and down the road or creek's edge, as if they knew of the po­ten­tial dan­ger lurk­ing on the op­pos­ing side.

And then there's this one par­tic­u­lar law of na­ture. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, gob­blers are ac­cus­tomed to call­ing their harem of hens to their lo­ca­tion. So to en­tice a tom into go­ing against the grain can some­times prove a chal­lenge within it­self.

Speak­ing of hens, that can make things even more com­pli­cated. If a group of hens pitch off the roost and quickly as­sem­ble with the male, one will be hard­pressed to con­vince him to leave them be­hind in search of a po­ten­tial mate.

But then there are those days that pretty much as­sure us that tur­keys are not as in­tel­li­gent as they are a cau­tious species. With pa­tience and per­sis­tence, the hunter will even­tu­ally come home with the bird that couldn't be coaxed within range.

De­spite some­times leav­ing their hu­man ad­ver­saries dis­grun­tled, the east­ern tur­key has al­ways beck­oned Arkansas' hun­ters by the droves. And I would sus­pect the woods will once again be filled with an­tic­i­pa­tion when the up­com­ing win­ter bids farewell and we are greeted with yet an­other spring.

The num­bers of suc­cess­ful hun­ters will likely be large. But for the re­main­der of us, let's just feel for­tu­nate we can pur­chase th­ese prover­bial in­tel­lects from the store.

Story and pho­tog­ra­phy by Cor­bet Deary

Wild tur­keys are con­sid­ered in­tel­li­gent by many. Their char­ac­ter­is­tics are ac­tu­ally a re­sult of their wary na­ture.

Tur­keys are con­sumed by many fam­i­lies for Thanks­giv­ing din­ner. How­ever, how this tra­di­tion got started is in­con­clu­sive.

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