At long last, a longbeard appears on the homestead
It took almost two years to close a big circle, but my trail cam earlier this month confirmed what biology had already assured – I had a mature longbeard wild turkey in my creek bottom.
The sight of the big tom, posing for my trailcam, was a special thrill for me because I live in Sandusky County in northwest Ohio, one of the last counties stocked with these magnificent birds.
Here is the backstory:
I have lived above a little creek swale that I call Froggy Bottom, just above the 500-year flood-line, for 46 years. It lies in the heart of “Agland”, where turkey biologists 35 years ago said we would not be seeing wild turkeys. Turkeys then were considered to be a “big forest” bird, which translated to mean “forested” portions of eastern and southern Ohio.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife began a trapping and relocation program in 1956, using turkeys captured in other states to reestablish an extirpated species. As the state’s population built up, turkeys were relocated throughout Ohio’s forestlands. But no one thought they would do well in farm country. But they never asked the turkeys.
Then in 1994 the wildlife division began experimental stocking of birds in some of the more heavily wooded northwest and western Ohio counties, starting with Williams in the extreme northwest corner. Biologists hoped that the birds would adapt to river and creek corridors. They did, with vigor.
By January, 2000, the remaining turkey-less northwest and western counties were stocked, including parts of Lucas, Ottawa, Wood, Sandusky, Allen, Putnam, and Van Wert counties. The birds never looked back.
In my home county, some birds were stocked in the Muddy Creek watershed, about 8 to 10 miles from my homeland. For 17 years I hoped against hope that I would see some of these beautiful, smart gamebirds in my own creek bottom. Each spring I would listen for gobbling, searching in the winter snows for tracks. Alas, no cigar.
But in mid-February, 2018, my trailcam, a 70th birthday gift from the kids, digitally captured two hens in a snow-covered meadow behind the house. Where there are girls, there will be boys. Except, none showed up.
The following spring the hens showed up with a single poult in tow. You do not get poults without the boys and girls getting together. So a tom or two had to be there somewhere…they remained ghosts.
Last spring, four hens and three poults showed up on my digital cam-card. Things were cooking, but still no-shows from a longbeard. While I was off elsewhere hunting turkeys last spring, my wife heard a gobble as she walked to the mailbox one morning. And a farm neighbor had spied a strutting longbeard with five hens on an old lane. But I still had no photo conformation.
We see a flock of birds fairly reliably in the neighborhood…often in cut corn. But they usually are too distant and spooky when you stop the car, for a good look.
But when I checked the cam-card early this month, there he was: a genuine mature longbeard wild turkey. I was ecstatic. Since then I even have seen the old boy with his harem and retainers – five or six hens and at least two jakes – 50 feet from the back kitchen window. He and a jake were pecking seed at my bird feeders and the rest of the retinue bobbed and weaved along the backside of my pond.
I wish the old boy well with his harem this spring, and hope he does not beat up on the younger boys too much to discourage their ardor. But I probably will not hunt him this spring…I need to see at least two longbeards back there before I chance ruining a good thing.