Restoration: Early recovery

Wild turkey population numbers
remained extremely low into the
early 1900s. The five subspecies of wild
turkeys in the United States probably
declined to their lowest numbers in
the late 1930s, according to data collected
by Henry S. Mosby.

"In 1937,
the wild turkey was in trouble
throughout most of its range ... In
the late 1920s and 1930s there was a
scarcity of factual information on
existing game bird populations in
most states because of a paucity of
both funds and trained personnel."

The World War I period, and the
Great Depression, which came a
decade later, showed little change in
existing populations.

As the small tenant fields and
farms of the 1930s and the previously
harvested forest areas began to revert
to successional types of shrubs and
trees, suitable habitat was returning
which would support the comeback
of the wild turkey.

practices slowly improved the landscape
for the future of the wild
turkey and other wildlife species.
Laws enacted early in this century —
such as the Lacey Act in 1905
prohibiting the interstate sale of
taken wildlife — along with other
laws and their enforcement gave
needed protection to the remaining
wild turkey flocks.

Many of our
national forests found their beginnings
in lands bought by the federal
government — much of it marked by
eroded gullies and fields devoid of
topsoil, indicative of overworked
and abandoned farmland. The
nation was slowly recovering from
the Depression until war came again
in 1941.

Before the days of early wildlife
management, little was known about
the biology of wild turkeys or the
factors that influenced populations.
In 1943, Mosby and Charles Handley
answered some of the basic questions
and ushered in a new era of
research and management when
they co-authored The Wild Turkey
in Virginia

The wildlife management movement
had gained credibility with the
publication of Aldo Leopold's 1933
book of game management principles.
The Pittman-Robertson Act of
1937 put an excise tax on sporting
goods and ammunitions. That
money, when matched with state
hunting license dollars, provided
funds to initiate wildlife recovery

When the GIs returned to
the U.S. workforce, state fish and
wildlife agencies, universities, and
federal agencies tackled the difficult
task of restoring wildlife populations,
including the wild turkey.

One of the first major obstacles
was how to capture and move birds
from existing flocks for release in
other suitable habitats. One early
method, which had been used by the
Native Americans, was the pole
trap — poles stacked 5 to 8 high on 4
sides and covered with netting.

A trench was dug under one side of the
trap and the setup was baited with
corn. Modifications included funnel-entrance traps and open-front
traps, which improved the chances
of capturing birds. Nonetheless,
these traps were hard to construct
and lacked the flexibility to catch
large numbers of wild turkeys.

What eventually made possible
the capture of large numbers of wild
turkeys was the cannon net, originally
designed to capture waterfowl.
This capture technique allowed more
states to move wild-trapped birds
into restored habitats.

The cannon-net technique
involved concealing on the ground a
net that would be remotely propelled
over turkeys by a trapper from a
nearby blind. The net was a folded
30-by 60-foot cloth mesh with
square openings of 2 inches, propelled
by 3 or 4 black-powder cannons
electrically detonated.

The first wild turkeys known to
be captured using this method were
on the Francis Marion National
Forest in South Carolina in 1951.

The cannon-net delivery was later
speeded up by use of rocket projectiles
powered by howitzer powder
from the U.S. military. The rockets
propelled a nylon-mesh net. In the
1960s, sleep-inducing drugs were also
used to capture live birds.

Another experiment was the
"drop-net" trap used in the prairie
states and felt to be more effective
than other traps used in more densely
wooded areas found in the east.

The bird-----The species-----Post-Colonial-----Demise-----Restoration-----Pitfall-----Success