Two days before Thanksgiving, I heard distinctive turkey talk in my back yard. Tiptoeing, I crept with camera in hand to the deck so I could watch and photograph 20 Rio Grande poults, jakes, and adults. This flock wandered into town from a not-too-distant creek to inspect lawns and flowerbeds as their keen eyesight located insects slowed by chilly morning temps. As I enjoyed this unexpected surprise, I realized that it’s only been in my lifetime that Kansans get to enjoy such a scene. From the early 1900s until Kansas Fish and Game reintroduced this once native species in the 60s, turkeys were extirpated from our landscape.
This conservation experiment took time to get off the ground. Early transplants got off to such a slow start that even in the late 70s, biologists were still trapping Texas and Oklahoma gobblers to rehome in Kansas. My husband helped release some these captured birds in western Kansas. I recall the thrill of spotting a flock foraging along a creek or river because seeing them was so unexpected.
In the beginning hunting seasons lasted only days and few drew licenses. Over decades, units and seasons expanded until almost all Kansans can now turkey hunt during spring and fall. In some units, hunters can buy more than one permit to harvest what some consider the best meat they can put on the table. Bird numbers are strong enough that modern nimrods can opt to stalk with bows, shotguns, or muzzleloaders.
While not every farmer appreciates this creature, many, like our former neighbor, are glad to see turkeys roaming wild again. That gentleman saved garden and table scraps to toss into the barnyard to attract them. The little girl who lived down the road used this flock as models for her 4-H photography projects and earned at least one first place ribbon for her pictures of nesting turkeys.
Supporting this game animal doesn’t benefit only our diets. Across America, wildlife departments have reintroduced these birds so that their populations have grown from 1.3 million to well over 7 million nationally. This has led to more than a $10 billion economic impact nationwide, with Kansas receiving an ample share of funds.
If you have a hankering to provide freshly harvested turkey for Christmas dinner, it’s not too late to buy a license and join the second half of the fall hunt. Camoup and pursue your bird in units 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 from December 12 through January 31, 2017.
Maybe wild turkey feasts aren’t your thing. You can still enjoy a country drive to watch flocks forage along creeks and edges of fields. If you’re out at dusk, you might see these ungainly birds fly to roost in an old cottonwood tree. Seeing something built like a feathered basketball with a long neck and wings take to the air offers its own entertainment.
Thank goodness our state Fish and Game Department joined the national movement to restore turkeys to our state. Kansans can enjoy hunting, photographing, or simply watching them parade through the countryside or town.