Sunday, March 22, 2009

King of the Forest

In the fall, our white-tailed deer bucks with their beautiful antlers are the undisputed kings of the forest.

But in spring, the bucks have lost their antlers and a new king reigns supreme in the forests of southeastern Minnesota -- the Eastern Wild Turkey!
The colors in this photo haven't been edited--his head really was that blue!

We went on an early morning turkey scouting adventure today and arrived as this big tom was just waking up and gobbling his turkey head off before flying down from roost. After he landed on the ground, we spent close to 30 minutes watching him parade around in full strut, trying to attract a hen. I was wishing for one of those nice long lenses for my camera as this is the best I could photograph from about 200 yards away.

In Minnesota, the turkey hunting licenses are chosen on a lottery system. For shotgun hunting, there are 8 different 5-day seasons that you choose in December for the zone you want to hunt in. If you're lucky, you will get chosen for the season you pick, or if you don't get chosen, shotgun hunters then have the option to choose any leftover zones or seasons. We didn't get chosen for the shotgun season we applied for, but fortunately there is also a bowhunting option that doesn't depend on the lottery system. So this year, for the first time, we will be trying to get our turkeys in the bowhunting season which starts May 15th and lasts 10 days. There are several advantages of bowhunting the last 2 seasons: by the middle of May the weather should be pretty decent, we can hunt in any zone (so hopefully we'll be able to find a hunting spot closer to home), and that late in the season a lot of the hens are already sitting on eggs, so we might have a better chance of calling in a big tom to one of our hen decoys. Neither of us have ever shot a turkey with a bow and arrow before, so we're really looking forward to this. Mr. Johnson has been shooting at the turkey target since January and I pulled out my bow this morning to practice shooting for the first time since last November. It felt good to shoot that bow again and I did pretty good hitting the targets even after 4 months.

The picture below shows a flying turkey Mr. Johnson shot a few years ago. (He had it "stuffed" and it now hangs on one of our living room walls.) This should give you somewhat of an idea of what a turkey would look like when it's flying. I think the tail is probably flared out a little bit more than usual (for display purposes). The wingspan on this huge tom is about 5 feet and if I remember correctly, this guy weighed around 22 lbs (27 lbs! Mr. Johnson set me straight on this!).....a pretty huge bird!


Mama Pea said...

So what does wild turkey taste like? Anything like the domestically raised ones we find on our tables at Thanksgiving time? And how much would an average wild tom turkey (dressed) weigh?

RuthieJ said...

Hi Mama Pea,
It's been a couple years since we've gotten a wild turkey, but they taste really good. The meat is a little darker and drier than your average Butterball. A field dressed turkey weighs about half of the total weight. In the spring, a legal turkey is any bird with a visible beard. You can't see the beard on the bird in my blog picture, but it appeared to be about 6-7 inches long and I would guess that bird weighed around 18-20 lbs.

troutbirder said...

Good luck. I think getting one with a bow would be very special. I assume you have to bring them in very close. On a vaguely related note, I once saw a Thanksgiving bulletin board in a second grade classroom (in Mabel-Canton) where Turkeys were noted to say "Gooble Gooble". Really.

Lynne said...

I've never seen a tom all poffed uplike that. Maybe this spring at Hasty?

Heather said...

Good luck with bow hunting your turkeys, Ruthie! I heard my first gobble-gobble of the season across the valley a few days ago, and the other day when driving home from work we saw a handsome tom running across the road. Turkeys fly, don't they? I saw some bird fly low across the road the other day, and it didn't seem like the right body shape to be a turkey vulture or a Canada goose, but it WAS pretty large... I'm guessing it was a turkey.

Anonymous said...

What an awesome bird with that blue head, magnificent.
I like wild turkey, I think one year you had one smoked and it was so tender and delicious. YUM-YUM. THANKS for the pics and lesson.


RuthieJ said...

Hi Troutbirder,
For bowhunting, you have to use a blind and we will set the decoys up no farther than 13 yds away. The targets we're practice shooting at are 8 yds and 13 yds.
The turkey we say this morning wasn't a very good gobbler either--it sounded sort of like gooble-gooble! :-)

Hi Lynne,
I hope you get a chance to see a big tom turkey in full strut and gobbling. It truly is one of the most amazing sights and sounds in nature!

Hi Heather,
Turkeys definitely fly--especially up to roost in trees for the night and then back down in the morning. They can fly pretty fast and will also fly during the day if they're threatened. You can usually tell them from other large birds by their big wings and fatter body shape (I'll add a picture to the end of this post of a flying turkey)

Thanks Mom. Hopefully we'll get another one this year for a turkey feast to share.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Great photos Ruthie. I love seeing deer and turkey. When turkeys fly it is amazing to see since like you said they are so big. It doesn't seem possible.

dAwN said...

Good luck with the bow hunting. I couldnt do it myself...but I think if you like hunting and you eat what you kill...then its ok. I guess i just have a hard time with trophy type hunting. I have never had wild turkey...just venison..and wild duck.
Is it yummy?

RuthieJ said...

Thanks Lisa. I agree, turkeys are all-around amazing birds.

Hi Dawn,
We hunt to put meat in the's good to know exactly where our food is coming from! Some of the animals we've taken have been trophy sized (like the last turkey pictured) but we don't specifically hunt just for them.

Shellmo said...

My husband has always wanted to go turkey hunting! Loved the photo of that turkey strutting around!

Anonymous said...

I'll never forget when our courier struck a flying wild turkey with his van between Spring Valley and us. The bird hit the windshield, completely caved it in and ended up dead inside the van. The driver (miraculously) escaped unscathed but I'm pretty sure he had to stop and change his pants after that one!! It would be the equivalent of having a VERY heavy bowling ball thrown through your a few feathers and "whatnot" :o
Your sissy

Red said...

Well, I haven't seen any yet, but I saw that Liza Lee saw some nearby. I wonder if we have bowhunting around... i'm guessing not being in such a populated area, but who knows.

Jayne said...

Those Toms are a hoot to see strutting around. Good luck on your bow season Ruthie!

RuthieJ said...

Hi Shelley,
Thanks to conservation agencies and the National Wild Turkey Federation, wild turkeys are making a huge comeback in many parts of the United States. Up until about 25 years ago, there were hardly any in Minnesota and now they've expanded their range as far north as Lynne at Hasty Brook. I'm guessing it's the same in Michigan where you are.

Hi Sissy,
Turkeys are not very agile flyers, that's for sure. Your courier driver must have been scared out of his wits! (and the "whatnot" is always the worst part!)

Hi Heidi,
There are 5 subspecies of wild turkeys in the U.S. In California you would see the Merriam's (here's a link from NWTF:

Thanks Jayne. Do you see quite a few turkeys in your more rural neighborhood?

Windyridge said...

Love the photo of the buck. Here in central NY we have lots of turkeys so the season is quite long. I've been seeing them out in the pastures and a few days ago a gobbler was displaying to a group of hens.

Ruth said...

Good luck with your hunt. Our family room has mounted fish on every wall. I could just imagine what the room would look like if my husband was a hunter too!