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Wild turkeys making comeback in Indiana

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Wild turkey

A wild turkey moves through the brush in January 1997 in southeastern Minnesota.

LAPORTE — There was a wild turkey for Thanksgiving dinner in some homes, and whoever did the carving might have felt a greater sense of reward because of the major work that likely went into bagging it.

Hunters often don’t even see a wild turkey, but when one does come into view it doesn’t take much to scare it off.

“Their sense of hearing and sense of sight is second to none. You have to be well hid and perfectly still,” said Al Smith, owner of Maple City Sports in LaPorte.

Smith used to travel to southern Indiana where turkey hunting was legal. That was before the once-decimated population was restocked and grew and hunting was allowed statewide.

“It’s a popular activity,” said Smith, whose store at 718 Lincolnway is often frequented by hunters going after wild turkeys.

According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, 12,081 of the birds were harvested last spring, up 2 percent over the year before, when wild turkeys were claimed in 89 of the state’s 92 counties.

“Turkey numbers are good. They’re stable. Depending on where you’re at, they fluctuate a little bit,” said Ken Kesson, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources biologist covering Berrien, Cass and St. Joseph counties.

The amount taken sounds like a lot, but in Indiana, for example, the success ratio is 1 turkey to every 5 hunters.

Smith said the challenge keeps many turkey hunters going back out.

Some hunters, according to wildlife experts, are also drawn by a desire to experience a more traditional Thanksgiving than of a turkey brought in from captivity.

In Indiana there’s one wild turkey season left for the year — Dec. 3 to Jan. 1, for crossbow users only.

By 1945, wild turkeys had practically vanished from the Midwest because of uncontrolled hunting and destruction of habitat from development.

But, starting in 1956, at the request of hunters and the gun industry, wild turkeys started being captured in other states like Missouri and Iowa and brought back to Indiana and other parts of the Midwest, according to the DNR.

The effort was successful enough that in 1970 there were enough of the birds for Indiana to designate a spring hunting season for turkeys and DNR estimates there are now as many as 120,000 wild turkeys statewide.

Conservation Officer Shawn Brown, who is stationed in Michigan City, said the turkey population pales in comparison to deer, but there are enough of the birds that collisions with motor vehicles occasionally happen.

He recalled one that shattered the windshield of a bread delivery truck a few years ago in southern LaPorte County.

“They can be dangerous flying across the road. They’re big birds. They fly fast,” Brown said.

Tim Maloney, senior policy director for the Indianapolis-based Hoosier Environmental Council, said his organization’s attitude toward wild turkeys is a friendly one.

Unlike deer, known for consuming rare native plants and crops, sometimes in large numbers, wild turkeys prefer to eat more plentiful things like acorns and wild berries, mostly in wooded areas and away from people.

“The fact that they’re doing well has very limited downside. It’s not there would ever be any downside, but it’ll never be like having too many deer and their ability to either eat crops or eat native vegetation to the point where you’re diminishing plant diversity because they’re eating it all,” Maloney said.

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VALPARAISO | History was in the making when Steve Davis participated in an Elks wild game dinner in Columbia City, Ind., in 1989.

While frozen turkeys are a common sight this time of year, wild turkeys are more difficult to spot. But for those who have seen the elusive bird, or those who have even hunted the gobbling gaggle, they know that wild turkeys in fact appear quite naturally in areas all over Lake and Porter counties.

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