- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2005

LA PLATA, Md.

“He never gobbled until 7:30 — 1 hours after daylight arrived,” said camouflage-clothed Bob Troup when he emerged from a mixed-wood forest. Troup stopped at the rear of his vehicle and carefully placed a 20-pound wild tom turkey that sported a 10-inch “beard” across the tailgate.

“I tell you,” said the 50-year-old transplanted Pennsylvanian, “it’s easier to drag a deer out of the woods than to carry a heavy wild turkey, along with shotgun and pack across deadfalls and through the briars.”

Troup’s turkey, shot during the current Maryland spring gobbler hunting season that runs through May23, was a magnificently colored bird — broad feathers precisely patterned in brown and black, with iridescent copper hues dancing across its broad breast and back in the morning sun, plus a featherless head and wattle tinted a blueish red.

“I heard him way off this morning,” said Troup, “and so I did a little hen call. Eventually, a hen showed up about 60 or 70 yards from where I sat. She started feeding, but the tom was still out of sight, far away.

“I quit calling because with the hen turkey near me, I didn’t need to imitate her. If any calling was necessary, she would do it for me. Suddenly, he showed himself. He spotted the hen and immediately began to bluster, drop his wings and start strutting. He clearly wanted the hen to notice him.”

Troup allowed that waiting, with a 12-gauge shotgun at the ready, was an exercise in patience and stillness. Wild turkeys have eyesight that rivals that of a deer or a bird of prey. The slightest move with hand, head or a single finger — if the turkey is looking your way — and it’ll be gone, running as fast as its long and powerful legs will permit but not taking to its wings unless absolutely necessary.

Troup said the hen turkey did him a favor.

“She finally came past me, still feeding, about 20 yards away, and the tom followed her. I had only seen parts of him showing off and making a racket, but when I finally spotted the full bird he was about 40 yards off to the side of me. I aimed for his head and fired.”

Within the next few days, a roasted, delectable wild turkey would spread its aroma throughout the Troup home — that much was certain. In three years of trying, this was Troup’s fourth wild turkey.

While the successful shooting of a wild turkey during spring and fall hunting seasons is no big deal in the mountain forests of the eastern United States, it is a huge deal for Southern Maryland flatlanders who not long ago might have read a magazine story about a turkey hunt but could never partake of it in one of their home counties.

That has drastically changed. Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties now are home to impressive flocks of the huge wild birds. Thanks to the dedicated work by upland game specialists at the Department of Natural Resources who stocked small numbers of turkeys, monitored them carefully, then delighted in noticing young poults and soon realized that the turkeys were multiplying all across their new range.

And why not? There always was a heavenly supply of food for the birds. Southern Maryland woodlands provide beechnuts, acorns, year-round green bottom growth, insects, grubs and worms. They have strong oaks to seek refuge in or use as roosting trees.

The only source of danger (besides the occasional human hunters) is an increasing presence of coyotes and fair numbers of red foxes, which doesn’t worry the adult birds but can be a problem for small and flightless poults.

Much of the credit for the proliferation of America’s finest game bird must go to the now 525,000-member (including 43,000 women) National Wild Turkey Federation that was founded in 1973 when there were only 1.3million turkeys throughout North America. Since then, says the NWTF, the number of wild turkeys has increased to nearly 6.5million birds.

But the federation never takes all the credit. It always points to its thousands of volunteers and partners in state, federal and provincial wildlife agencies who readily pitch in whenever a turkey introduction or monitoring program is initiated.

The turkey federation, through willing members, has raised and spent more than $193 million on more than 29,000 projects benefiting wild turkeys throughout North America.

If you’re interested in joining one of the nation’s most progressive conservation organizations, call 800/843-6983.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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