Talking turkey trapping–patience pays off

July 21st, 2015 by Red Hills

Aaron Griffith, turkey researcher

The cold air wrapped me as I sat in my camp chair. Concealed by my camouflaged blind, I went through my mental checklist. I rummaged through my backpack for my continuity tester and blaster. “OK check the wires,” I thought. I touched the ends of the wires to my tester. “Red light, that’s good. Put the wires into the blaster. Push the charge button.” The red light and high-pitched whine of the box indicated all systems were go.

I settled back into my chair and watched the sunlight overtake what was left of the darkness. It was time to wait, and hope the turkeys would be cooperative. Turkey trapping brings a whole new meaning to the word patience. I had spent 33 hours over the past three days sitting in this chair. My eyes longed for new scenery. With any luck today would be the day.

Shortly after eleven o’clock my eyes caught movement. There it was! A gobbler! He cautiously entered the far side of the field, dropping his head to peck at bits of food as he slowly walked the edge. Suddenly, I could see two more forms emerging from the woods. Two more gobblers! My breath quickened and my heart raced. Hopefully, the cracked corn I had placed would be enough to entice them in front of my net.

Five, 10, 15 minutes went by, but it felt like eternity. Finally, one of the gobblers made his way to the corn and began to feed. “C’mon you two, get with him!” I thought, finger hovering over the fire button on my blaster. At last, the other two turkeys joined the first. The instant all three lowered their heads to take a beak full of corn, I held my breath and pressed the button. BOOM! With flames coming out the exhaust ports, the rockets propelled a net up and over the turkeys as they attempted flight. They came to a rest as they hit the ends of their staked lines. The net fell and the turkeys were captured.

I don’t remember flipping the blind over my head, but that is surely what happened as I scrambled to get to the turkeys. I called for backup as I covered the turkeys with pillow cases to calm them. One by one, we carefully took measurements. Aluminum leg bands and small, lightweight GPS units, that fit and look like little turkey backpacks, were also attached to each bird. As we finished processing each turkey, we turned them loose and watched them sail back into the woods. My patience had paid off.

The turkey trapping, part of my master’s degree project, is a collaborative effort between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, and the University of Tennessee.

We are looking at how supplemental feed for quail impacts wild turkey movement ecology. The attached GPS units will give us insight into how turkeys are using the landscape. By tracking the female turkeys, we will be able to identify when the majority of them are nesting. Additionally, strategically placed sound recording devices will be used to identify when the peaks of turkey gobbling activity are occurring. I am investigating the relationship between peaks in gobbling activity and peaks in nest incubation, as well as the relationship between gobbling activity and hunter pressure.

This research is significant because it will provide wildlife biologists valuable data to assist in setting hunting regulations and understanding how land management decisions affect wild turkeys. So the next time you’re driving down County Road 12 and see a wild turkey, slow down and look to see if it is wearing a tiny backpack. You just might catch a glimpse of research in motion.

Aaron Griffith is a graduate student from the University of Tennessee. In his free time he enjoys hunting and fishing. 

Interesting Turkey Facts

In the early 1900’s there were only around 30,000 wild turkeys left in the U.S., today there are more than 7 million due to conservation efforts.

The wild turkey is the largest game bird in North America.

Wild turkeys can run up to 25 mph and fly up to 55mph.

A male turkey is called a gobbler, a female turkey is called a hen, and immature male is called a jake.

Florida is home to the Eastern and Osceola subspecies. *Osceola turkeys are only found in Florida

Hens lay a clutch of 10 to 12 eggs during a two-week period, usually laying one egg per day. She will incubate her eggs for about 28 days.

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