July 01, 2021
The numbers are in, and the Wild Turkey season recorded 7,014 birds checked in Arkansas this spring, including 28 hens. Wild turkey is the second most popular game animal in Arkansas with 112,000 hunters. Deer is by far the most popular with 308,000 participants and Ducks come in third with 87,000. The squirrel ranks fourth with 75,000 hunters. For turkeys, that means just over 6% of the participants come home with a bird. The turkey hunt is intended to be a challenge, and the regulations are in place to bolster declining populations to ensure better (if any) hunts in the future. There are some who find ways to beat the odds by not playing by the rules. This resulted in 152 major wildlife violations during the 21-day season. Hunting turkeys over bait accounted for 72 of those cases.
When I looked online, I found the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is an upland ground bird native to North America. This is one of two extant species of turkeys, and the heaviest member of the order Galliformes. It is the ancestor to the domestic turkey, and originally derived from a southern Mexican subspecies of wild turkey. Although native to North America, the turkey probably got its name from the domesticated variety being imported to Britain from the Levant. The British associated the wild turkey with the country Turkey and the name prevailed. The term was transferred to the New World bird by English colonizers with knowledge of the imported birds. Wild turkeys are omnivorous, foraging on the ground or climbing shrubs and small trees to feed. That is what makes them easy to bait.
I came across another site offering a 5-step process for baiting wild turkeys: get the right tools (including cracked corn), scout the hunting area, set the bait, arrange the decoys, and call the turkeys. The article claims, “I can say without any doubt that now you know everything about how to bait turkeys.” The small print at the bottom of the page adds, “Don’t forget to check the local laws and regulations before you try to bait turkeys.” When I checked another site on hunting turkeys it stated that baiting wild turkeys with food is banned in all states with turkey populations. The only exception is if you have a permit to capture and relocate turkeys or for a depredation hunt. The author described himself as having been “hunting and fishing for over 20 years now!” I hope it has not all been illegal.
Thoughts: While domestic turkeys are not known to fly, their wild counterparts are fast and agile fliers. In their ideal habitat of open woodland or wooded grasslands, they may fly beneath the canopy top and find perches in the trees. My sister tells of walking through a wooded area of Maine in the morning when suddenly a turkey dropped to the ground close by. This was followed by another and then another, as the entire flock dropped from their evening roost to begin foraging on the forest floor. Perhaps Herb Tarlek should have used wild rather than domestic turkeys when he dropped them from the helicopter (vis a vie, WKRP in Cincinnati). Baiting turkeys seem to provide the same result. As Les Nessman said, “Oh, the humanity! Regulations are there to help us overcome circumstances, not to deprive us of rights. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.