Winter is coming to a close, the days are getting longer, and the comfortable temperatures encourage more outside activities. Hiking is always popular at this time of year, whether looking for shed antlers or just wanting to explore someplace new and getting the benefit of a little exercise.
The Rim Country has numerous marked trails in the ponderosa forests that are perfect to get away and enjoy the outdoors. As one wanders the woods, it is likely that wild game will be seen or even heard.
These forests in the early fall resonated with the bugles of bull elk as they were gathering their harem of cows. Now, with the warming temperatures of spring, it is the gobble of the male wild turkey that rings through the woods in the early morning dawn and the late afternoon sunset. The boggler, as the male turkey is called, is gathering a flock of hens during the mating season. These birds are very vocal during this six-week period compared to the rest of the year.
A gobbler is susceptible to a call and can be lured into close range if all the variables are just right. They can be hunted or photographed successfully with the right calling technique and remaining still while the call is being used. A wild turkey’s eyesight is extremely keen and any motion will quickly scatter the birds before a shot or photo can be taken. This bird can be an easy meal for a variety of predators, which include coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions and foxes, so any movement will put them into the alarm mode.
These predators and the drought, which correlates to a low density of birds, have negatively impacted the local hunting area of unit 22. While a few miles to the north and east, the population of turkeys is much better, such as in units 23, 5A, and 5B. Consequently, there are more hunting tags available in those units for the spring gobbler hunt designated by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
In most cases this is a lottery drawing for the upcoming spring hunts, which are becoming very popular in Arizona. The permit allows for the harvesting of a bearded turkey within a calendar year. There are a few units in Arizona where an over-the-counter tag can be purchased for archery only. In many states where the population density is much higher, the limit is more generous during a season.
The wild turkey population in the United States has grown from 1.3 million in 1973 to almost 7 million birds by 2013. This has been accomplished by a combined effort of the National Wild Turkey Federation, predominantly made up of hunters, and the various state game and fish agencies throughout the country. This is a true success story in wild game management. There are now healthy, huntable populations of birds in 49 of 50 states.
Growing up in eastern Iowa, I never saw a wild turkey and seldom saw a whitetail deer. Now they are abundant in the hardwood forests along the river bottoms. The science of game management and the investment of hunting dollars can improve all wildlife for everyone to enjoy.
For any of you wanting to know more about the wild turkey of Arizona, there will be a seminar given by Steve Sams, president of the Arizona chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, hosted by Shoot For The Heart. This will be presented at Mountain Bible Church at 6 p.m., Tuesday, March 19 with the emphasis on calling birds and their native habitat.
The weather is getting warmer by the day, so why not take an early morning walk along a pine forest trail and listen for the distinct call of a wild turkey as he says good morning to the dawn. Once you hear it, you’ll not forget it and the next time you might even try to call in old longbeard. This weekend, enjoy God’s creation the great outdoors.