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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014

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In Travel & Visitors Guide

The majestic North American wild turkey.

Go see gobblers in the wild


November is a turkey of a month.

No, we're not talking about the winter weather that often starts in November, or the fact the baseball season is over. We're talking about the bird that has served as the traditional staple of the Thanksgiving dinner.

Of course, most of us eat the fattened, domestic version of the turkey for the holiday. Those birds and their genetically-related wild relatives are birds of a different feather in many ways. You can easily find the version the Pilgrims hunted in pockets throughout the state.

In fact, the wild turkey is one of Wisconsin's wildlife management success stories. In the early 1900s, only an estimated 30,000 of these birds -- which Ben Franklin wanted considered as the official national bird -- were left in the country. Over-hunting and loss of habitat were primarily to blame.

In Wisconsin, the last official record of a wild turkey before restoration was near Darlington in LaFayette County in 1881. The bird was virtually wiped out in the state. But, game officials, in the nation and state, made efforts to protect and encourage the breeding of the surviving wild population.

As the wild turkey's numbers rebounded in the 1980s and 1990s, hunting was legalized in 49 U.S. states, excluding Alaska. Current estimates place the entire wild turkey population in the country at 7 million. Wisconsin is believed to have about 300,000 of the birds, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

Wisconsin was a leader in bringing back the turkey. A key role in the success of the wild turkey management program can be attributed to hunters through their purchase of the Wild Turkey Stamp.

This stamp provides vital financial support in providing for future opportunities for turkey management and hunting in Wisconsin. Since wild turkeys were first successfully reintroduced into Wisconsin in 1976, population levels continue to increase and expand statewide.

Successful restoration of the wild turkey resulted from tremendous hunter and landowner support, good survival, and high quality habitat. Turkey stamp funds have been providing opportunities for turkey management in Wisconsin since 1995. Sale of the turkey stamp currently brings in over $500,000 annually for developing, managing, conserving, restoring and maintaining the wild turkey population within the state.

Several regions in the state now have more than one hunting season, to keep the turkey population in control. But, you need not only be a hunter to seek and appreciate wild turkeys. In your search for them, you'll go into some of the most scenic areas of the state.

The native area of the state for the turkey ran south of a line from Prairie du Chien to roughly Green Bay. That region still is the hotbed for the bird, although you can see turkeys in most areas of the state. Twelve state parks have ample populations of birds.

The southwest part of the state has the largest population. State parks such as Governor Dodge in Grant County and Wildcat Mountain near Ontario provide easy access for visitors and plenty of turkeys.

Central Wisconsin also will give you chances to see turkeys. Areas around Wisconsin Rapids have good populations. You also can find what is categorized as "abundant" populations east of Lake Winnebago and up through the Green Bay areas and into Door County.

Populations fall off into the "common" category from "abundant" in southeast Wisconsin. But, the Kettle Moraine area, the Bong recreational area in Kenosha County and other parks and wildlife areas offer good opportunities for turkey watching.

As you go farther north, the population becomes "uncommon." That, in part, is because turkeys like to feed in open fields, especially alfalfa, when they can and primarily use woods only for shelter. Thickly wooded areas don't provide enough feed.

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Talkbacks

maddie65 | Nov. 5, 2007 at 8:37 a.m. (report)

You forgot mention the Wild Turkey Capital of Wisconsin-Boscobel. Just a bit of trivia.

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