‘Save the habitat, save the wild turkeys’ says national foundation

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CAMBRIDGE — “The wild turkey is very smart, and elusive,” says John Luthy at the National Wild Turkey Federation fundraiser. Kimberly Capel, Maryland Chapter president adds, “The wild turkey has keen eyesight, four times as good as a human, and excellent hearing as well.” And many more add “It’s far more delicious than the domesticated turkey.”
The February fundraiser, held at Cambridge’s American Legion, and catered by Old Salty’s, was a capacity crowd of hunters who ate crabcakes, ham, and chicken, but were there to celebrate the wild turkey. The purpose of the event was to raise funds to create more habitat for the wild turkey, for some, the most challenging prey to find. In fact, the slogan of the nationwide organization is “Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt.”

According to George Thornton, CEO of the national federation, every day 6,000 acres of critical habitat is lost to development. That’s the equivalent of 2.2 million acres a year, an area the size of Yellowstone National Park. So the group raises funds, hires biologists, and secures new habitat to landscape with plants that provide food and cover. A turkey out in the open is vulnerable to hawks, foxes,and coyotes. So the federation buys private property, and makes agreements with utilities to use their right-of-way for wildlife, not just wild turkeys, but quail, pheasant and grouse too. Hunters also pay license fees to states and that money goes to wildlife and habitat conservation. Shawn Weddle, a regional director, explained that Maryland has strict rules about how many turkeys can be shot. The limit is three a year, one in each of the three hunting seasons, winter, spring, and fall. The seasons bring their own rules, based on the science of biology; for example no hens can be hunted in the spring, only bearded males.

Women and children join men in the wild turkey hunt. Michelle Elliott, vice president of the local chapter, describes a day: you dress in camouflage, arrive at a ground blind before sunrise, and wait in silence because you can’t sneak up on a turkey.” At sunset, the hunt is over. Here on the Eastern Shore, the turkey will be an “Eastern.” Florida and some southern regions have the “Oceola,” Texas has “Rios,” “Merriams” in Montana and North Dakota, and “Goulds” in Arizona. They differ in color variations of feathers and legs. But elusiveness is common to all.

Across the country, the federation has programs for new hunters to learn outdoor safety, archery and gun safety, and even fishing.

The money raised at the Cambridge event comes from tickets and auctions and will be used for conservation purposes on the Eastern Shore. Negotiations are underway for some right-of-ways.
Nationally, the federation’s goal is to add 500,000 acres for public hunting in ten years, and with more access to new habitat, attract more hunters to maintain the habitat and the hunt.

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