Wild Turkeys of Iowa – Restoration

The hunting season is over as of January 31st.  Now hunters have to wait for Turkey season to open. Hopefully the weather will improve and the snow geese will come through on their way to their nesting grounds.  It is an excellent opportunity if you are there at the right time.  I have looked through the on line hunting and fishing catalogs.  Now listed is a section for turkey hunting gear and snow goose hunting equipment.  All the big box stores have some great clearance sales. With the up and coming turkey season and snow goose migration each store has some excellent buys.

Presidents' Day Sale at Basspro.com
Gander Mountain - We Live Outdoors

Iowa and Nebraska have an abundance of wild turkeys and they make excellent dining opportunities.  I hunt them spring and fall.  The article below is from the Iowa DNR website on the establishment of turkeys in Iowa.  This is an excellent read and will make you an authority.


The Eastern wild turkey was found throughout Iowa when the first settlers crossed the Mississippi River in the 1830’s. Oak-hickory forests covered nearly 7 million acres and settler’s records indicate turkeys occurred wherever timber existed. Turkeys may not have been as numerous in Iowa as in their primary
range east of the Mississippi River, but they were plentiful enough to be used as table fare and appeared in markets for 50 cents apiece. Uncontrolled hunting and habitat loss led to the elimination of turkeys from Iowa. By 1956, the primitive forests had been reduced to only 2.6 million acres and most likely a majority of the remaining forest was badly mismanaged through overgrazing. Turkeys were eliminated from some northeast Iowa counties by 1854, only 20 years after the first settlers arrived, and turkey populations were
badly depleted in southern Iowa by 1900.

Rugged topography protected some timbered parcels in northeast and southcentral Iowa from mechanized clearing and turkeys may have survived had indiscriminate hunting been controlled.  Unfortunately, hunting was not controlled and the last wild turkey harvested was in Lucas County in 1907. The last verified
sighting of a wild turkey was in 1910, also in Lucas County.

As with many other midwestern states, the initial attempts to restore turkeys to available habitat were made
with pen-reared turkeys. Although records are incomplete, they do show at least 6 releases made at several scattered locations across the state between 1920-38. All releases are assumed to have failed and by 1960 there were still no wild turkeys existing in Iowa. 1960-66

In the 1950’s the rocket net, a new capture technique, was developed and allowed state agencies to capture and transplant native wild turkeys. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), encouraged by success in other states with transplanted wild stock, attempted releases of non-Eastern subspecies in the
1960’s. Thirty-nine Rio Grande turkeys from Texas were released in Allamakee County  in 1960-61. Thirteen Merriam’s turkeys were released in Lucas County and 8 Merriam’s turkeys were released in Monona County in 1966. Both subspecies failed to establish thriving populations or expand their distribution. Neither subspecies was adapted to Iowa’s climateor habitat and experienced poor survival and no brood production.

1966 Eleven wild turkeys caught in Missouri in 1966 were the first Eastern subspecies released in Iowa. They were released into Iowa’s largest contiguous remaining timber block (Shimek State Forest, release site #1). Reproduction and poult survival of these turkeys was excellent and winter flock size increased
dramatically reaching 400-500 turkeys by 1974.


The success of the Shimek Forest release led to a second stocking of another 19 Missouri turkeys (Eastern subspecies) into Stephens State Forest (SSF). The turkeys did equally well in SSF and grewto a 400-500 bird flock by 1974. Within 3 years, turkeys at both forest sites began expanding onto adjacent private forests and by 1971 it was obvious that this was the correct subspecies to be used for all future restoration attempts.


In 1969, 10 supposedly Eastern lineage turkeys from North Dakota were released along the Upper Iowa River. Although the turkeys survived and reproduced their population growth was minimal compared to the turkeys released in Shimek and Stephens Forests.


In 1971, 10 additional North Dakota turkeys were released in Yellow River State Forest. The combined population growth of the turkeys from the 1969 and 1971 releases reached only 140 turkeys by 1974 and then declined. Apparently these turkeys were better adapted to North Dakota’s open brushy habitat and were unable to adapt to Iowa’s oak-hickory forest.


Turkey numbers had grown rapidly enough at Shimek and Stephens Forests that by the winter of 1971-72 the IDNR was able to trap turkeys in-state and transplant to other potential habitats. Since 1965, 3,583 Eastern wild turkeys have been trapped and released at 260 different sites scattered across the state. Generally, turkeys have been released at the rate of 10 hens and 3 adult gobblers per site.

Eastern turkeys adapted so well to habitat conditions in Iowa that by 1980 the DNR decided to start trading turkeys for other extripated wildlife. From 1980-2001, 7,501 Iowa turkeys have been traded for 356 prairie chickens, 596 ruffed grouse, over 180 river otters, over 80 sharp-tailed grouse, and over 3.2 million dollars to purchase Iowa habitat with 11 states and 1 Canadian province. No out-of-stateshipments have occurred since 2001.


The restoration of wild turkeys in Iowa is complete. Almost all suitable habitat has received at least 1 release of Eastern wild turkeys and all (since 1965) have been successful. Any additional releases will be coordinated by district management biologists within their own district. Most sites that will be stocked are very small parcels of timber or are marginal habitat. The goal now is to maintain and to wisely manage existing turkey populations.

The following article is from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. http://www.iowadnr.gov/wildlife/files/files/turkey_restoration.pdf

Go to KFAB radio in Omaha on the web, and there is a video of a flock of turkeys in a residential neighborhood. One really big tom, and he has an attitude.
Good hunting, good fishing and good luck Hank

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