Iowa turkey hunters reported harvesting 12,200 birds this spring, which DNR wildlife technician Jim Coffey says is a high mark. He says hunters have been required to report their harvest for the last eight or nine years and this is the most ever reported.
Coffey says it’s hard to get a handle on the number of wild turkeys harvested before the mandatory reporting. “Turkey hunters are kind of like mushroom hunters — they want to tell everybody their stories — but not tell you the whole story. What we’ve heard from our turkey hunters is that they were very excited about the number of birds they were seeing, the number of gobbles they were hearing in the morning — which makes for a successful hunt in their minds — and then when you actually harvest a bird that really makes the morning successful,” Coffey says. “We had we were really seeing a lot of birds, hearing a lot of birds, having a lot of excitement in the woods, and that’s what we are really encouraged about.”
Coffey says there was a very successful hatch for turkeys two years ago, and that had led to the abundant number of wild turkeys this year. He says turkeys are like pheasants and other birds that nest on the ground, as they can be heavily impacted by cold wet weather during the hatch.
“So, anything that you can do to protect that nesting season when the hens are incubating, and then of course after the young are born, the cold, wet weather has a lot to do with it. But, turkeys themselves are a little bit bigger bird and they can move a little bit more than some of those smaller birds can. So, they are susceptible to those conditions, but not at the same level,” Coffey explains.
The wild turkeys are much different then the ones you buy in the store for you Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. The wild turkeys have dark colored feathers. “In the springtime you are allowed to shoot bearded or male wild turkeys…about seven percent of females will have beards and they will be legal — but that’s usually not the ones that we are harvesting,” Coffey says. “So, the average male wild turkey in the springtime is going to weigh about 24 to 26 and about 15 to 16 pounds for a juvenile or one-year-old bird.”
There’s a difference in the taste of the wild birds compared to the farm-raised turkeys. “The difference in flavor from wild to farm raised is essentially the fat. Wild turkeys obviously have to be lean and they are constantly moving and consuming calories to maintain their bodies, so they don’t have a lot of extra fat on themselves,” according to Coffey. “Whereas the domestic turkeys are raised in a confined situation and are given plenty of corn and plenty of food on a regular basis. And those birds are very rarely over six months old.”
He says meat of domestically raised turkeys won’t taste as wild, because of the extra fat and the birds are not as old as the wild turkeys.