By Larry Dablemont
A few years back there were predictions that the bobwhite quail would become extinct. They have not and likely will not because of the diversity in habitat and food that can keep them going in small numbers.
Whippoorwills, chuck-wills-widows and nighthawks do not have that going for them. They all live and nest and feed almost exactly the same and there is no diversity to either…with eggs laid in the open in woodland leaf-litter, feeding at night in flight on nothing but insects. If there is any bird so specialized, so restricted in habit and habitat, I do not know what it would be.
That’s why I believe that over most of their range in t the Midwest, they will become extinct in the next 20 years. The woodcock may follow in time. Right now, in the forested areas along rivers where I camp, you no longer hear the chuck-wills widow and the whippoorwill. I believe there are only about 10 percent of the populations that were there 20 years ago.
I do not believe extinction is a future problem for wild turkey in the Midwest. What is ahead is years and years of what we have now…increasingly low numbers, even fewer in years to come than the alarmingly low populations we have now. And while our state conservation department refuses to look at seasons and bag limits because they fear they will sell less permits, if they don’t do something soon, their permit sales will drop anyway. I haven’t purchased any turkey tags for years, and many other turkey hunters I know have stopped hunting also. If you are someone who can hunt only on weekends, and you can’t hear a few gobblers at dawn, you might prefer spending those hours fishing.
In my outdoor magazine, there are stories about the wild turkey you need to read. We talk extensively about the wild turkey situation with experienced hunters and competent biologists.
One such old-time biologist is Mike Widner who was the wild turkey biologist in Arkansas for almost two decades. He and I talked about 10 or 12 reasons the wild turkey is declining. Some of those reasons haven’t even been discussed before but they all have never been more important than now. Besides the obvious huge increase in egg eaters, you have to realize that poults and adult turkeys today face predator numbers in the Midwest far greater than existed over five or six past decades.
Widner grew up on a farm in North Arkansas and chased wild turkeys all his life. He bagged his first wild gobbler when he was 19 years old. Then for much of his life he chased them year round using radio transmitters, learning as much as he could by trapping and installing tiny transmitters around their wings which always told him exactly where each one could be found.
“In the nineties,” he told me. “We put transmitters on about twenty five hens in the Ouachita Mountains and followed them for months.” By doing so, Mike found out how many hens were killed over the winter by predators, and what those predators were. “One spring we had only four hens nest and lay eggs,” he said, “and then one spring there were 18 which nested, with eggs.”
Widner says those spring seasons did not vary a lot, with temperatures and rainfall much alike in the winter and spring. But he feels the difference each year had to do with the health of the hens involved. There is so very much more to what Widner has to say about the wild turkey, in both the summer and fall issues of the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, and what he says makes more sense than anything I have heard. In our summer magazine there are pages and pages about wild turkey problems you cannot read anywhere else.
Because of today’s situations with space and politics, few newspapers can publish those accounts, though they have been proven to be 100 percent accurate and true. We are publishing about 40 letters from turkey hunters which give their thoughts as to the problem. Some sound way out in left field, but who knows, they may have something.
I have facts from more experts than Mike Widner in those pages, using the wisdom of old time hunters who have hunted the wild turkey since the ‘60s. I have also relied on information from wildlife biologist and outdoor writer Jim Spencer, who has written three books about wild turkeys in the Midwest, and hunted them in a dozen states for 50 years. We were unable to get any information from Missouri’s new turkey biologist, who only came to the state a couple of years ago and as held the position for less than that. She wouldn’t tell me anything except to say that any information she gave, “might be used to discredit me.”
The problems with wild turkey are not solvable because the reason for their decline is not easy to decipher. There are many reasons for it, too many to get a handle on. A large number of hunters are going to have to sign off on tolerating big changes to the seasons and limits. In the spring, I will shoot wild gobblers with my camera as I have done recently, never ever again with a gun. As old time Canada hunting and fishing guide Gordon Comeagain once said about pot-shooting ducks...“I get more that way.” Now in spring, winter and fall, with my camera, I get more gobblers to remember and what is important, I left them all alive to mate. I have enough photos of me with dead turkeys slung over my shoulder, and I have neighbors who will sell me a tame turkey to eat for very little money.
My outdoor magazine is about to enter its 20th year of publication, always 76 color pages about hunting, fishing and nature, and covering conservation issues of our time. You can get both by calling my secretary, office number is 417-777-5227. Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613 or by emailing lightninridge47@ gmail.com.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Larry Dablemont is an outdoor writer from Bolivar, Mo.