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America's Wild Turkeys: The Kind of Conservation Story Worth Telling

America's wild turkeys teach a lesson about smart conservation.

Due it's many alluring features, like beautiful feathers and large size, the turkey has been a long-desired game bird for American hunters. It's for that reason and its deep-rooted association with American culture that contributed to what the Fish & Wildlife Service calls " of the most successful wildlife management recovery efforts ever conducted in the United States."

The story that led to the conservation and management of wild turkeys is similar to that of many game animals. The Europeans arrived in North America, over hunted them for food and sport, and destroyed their natural habitat. As the pioneer settlers spread across the states, they wiped out turkeys as they harvested lumber and cleared space for their farms and homesteads.

Conservation Efforts

In 1776, Benjamin Franklin solicited to have the wild turkey named as the official national bird. Though the turkey was not truly a competitor against the bald eagle, it was recognized as being a noble and respectable bird by our founding fathers. By the early 1900s, it seemed that it was on the brink of extinction again. In the 1930s, the number of turkeys across the nation dropped to 30,000 birds, in comparison to today's 7 million wild turkeys that currently cover the U.S. They could only be found in remote areas in Appalachia and the underpopulated areas in the swamps of the south.

Wild South Texas Rio Grande turkeys eating corn ** Note: Shallow depth of field

In the 1940s, recognition of the issue resulted in the noble turkey being farmed and released into the wild as an attempt to repopulate different areas. The adaptable bird was too easily domesticated and was not successfully reintegrated into the wild. They were stricken with disease and made an easy prey to predators. As a result, wild turkey hens were caught, impregnated and sent out as a family with a mother who knew how to survive in the wild. This proved to be successful. Conservationists, such as Theodore Roosevelt, George Bird Grinnell and the National Wild Turkey Federation, took action to see that the American icon again thrived in the fields and forests of the states.

Due to the turkey's high level of adaptability and the efforts of conservationists, the population has rebounded to the numbers we now see. In an effort to manage today's numbers, the Fish & Wildlife Service closely monitors populations across the country. Turkey hunting is a thrilling sport, and equally rewarding, when adequately prepared.

Flock of wild turkeys on a hillside in the fall

How to Get Started

Talk to someone who has done the hunt before. You can also get information from your local Fish and Game office. Every state has different rules and regulations for such things as dates, licensing, permits and fees.

Turkey season is open in the early spring and the late fall. You will want to dress comfortably and choose the best gear to keep you warm. Make finding your season's prime turkey hunt a bit easier by using Cabela's Gobble map. You can search the population numbers of your surrounding area or make a plan with your favorite hunting buddy to explore new territory.


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America's Wild Turkeys: The Kind of Conservation Story Worth Telling