By: Dr. James Earl Kennamer
We hunters have an almost uncanny ability to draw the wildest conclusions from the most obscure observations. The wild turkey rumor mill is a result of this skill, fed by the creative imaginations of a few hunters and armchair outdoors people. Let's take a look at some creative, but unfounded, wild turkey rumors I have heard over the years:
RUMOR--Turkeys are so dumb that they will look up when it rains and drown. This popular belief is simply not true. Even the domestic turkey does not look up at the rain and drown. This rumor most likely started from farmers who had domestic turkeys that died during a rainstorm. But instead of drowning, the birds were probably scared by the lightning, panicked and congregated en masse into one corner of the pen, suffocating the unfortunate birds in the center. This rumor also may have resulted from the observation that after a cold spring rain, turkey poults sometimes disappear and are assumed dead. Poults can die from exposure, or hypothermia, after several consecutive days of a cold spring rain. Biologists have seen this trend throughout the U.S., especially in the northern portion of the wild turkey's range.
RUMOR--The wild turkey gobbler will follow the hen to the nest and destroy the eggs. There have been no verified accounts of a gobbler destroying a clutch of eggs. Let's examine the logical flaw; the wild turkey gobbler spends three months during the spring strutting, gobbling and otherwise acting like a freak-show attraction on steroids. After all, the sole purpose for mating displays is for the gobbler to mate with a hen and pass his DNA to another generation of turkeys. Now, why would a gobbler go and destroy this investment? Despite the rumor's lack of logic, some people believe we must have a spring gobbler season to remove the gobblers so the toms don't destroy the hens' eggs. This rumor is definitely false.
RUMOR--If you sprinkle salt on a turkey's tail, you can catch her. Yes, if you can get that close to a hen, you probably can catch her. A similar rumor goes that if you sprinkle pepper on a hen's tail, she will lead you to her nest. If you could get that close, a predator would have beat you to it and already removed the bird from the population. I don't know how this old rumor started years ago, but there is no truth in it.
RUMOR--The department of natural resources is stocking coyotes and rattlesnakes to control deer and turkey populations. Several state wildlife agency biologists report they have been blamed for stocking rattlesnakes and coyotes to reduce wild turkey and deer populations. What is even more outlandish is the stocking techniques.
Biologists have been accused of placing rattlesnakes in balloons, filling the balloon with air to soften the fall and then dropping the package out of an airplane. Another version of this rumor claims that the balloons are filled with water, the snake placed in the balloon and then thrown out of an airplane.
There are two flaws in this logic. First, it would be much easier to release the snakes from crates than from the air. Second, who is actually going to put a poisonous snake into a balloon, much less put the balloon to their mouth and fill it with air. One agency biologist relayed this humorous story:
"Two guys came into the office the other day and accused me of placing rattlesnakes into balloons and throwing them out of an airplane; I said, `Sure, and I'm looking for two guys to blow the hot air into them. Want a job?'"
Additionally, the DNR also is not stocking coyotes. One explanation for the rumor is the recent expanding coyote populations, especially in the eastern U.S. Coyotes are adaptable and don't need any help from the state wildlife departments.
RUMOR--The reason grouse and quail populations have decreased is because the turkeys are eating grouse and quail young.
This may sound ridiculous, and it is, but we continue to receive calls and letters accusing turkeys of eating quail and grouse chicks and causing the smaller fowls' population to drop. It is true that quail and grouse populations in some regions have declined over the last two decades. At the same time, wild turkey populations have dramatically increased.
Loss of quail habitat is the reason for their population decline, especially in the Southeast. The same holds true with grouse, which require young, early-successional forests. Currently, many of our forests are older and offer limited grouse habitat. Wild turkeys, in contrast, use all habitat types from early successional forest to older, late-successional forests. The poor quail and grouse populations is a function of habitat, not wild turkeys eating their chicks.
RUMOR--The turkeys are ruining the deer hunting. Apparently, some deer hunters are even blaming their poor deer hunting success on turkeys. The story goes that turkeys are either eating all the acorns and causing the deer to starve, making so much noise in the woods that the hunters can't hear the deer or spooking the deer with all their racket. Just goes to show that turkey hunters aren't the only ones with a creative imagination. In case you're wondering, this rumor is also not true.
This belief is not limited to just deer. One state biologist relayed the following account:
"Four of us were fall turkey hunting and each harvested a bird. When we arrived at the check station the attendant walked over to our truck and saw our turkeys in the back. He actually thanked us for killing the birds and encouraged us `to go back out and get the some more because they're eating all the acorns and starving the squirrels.'"
Do turkeys make a lot of noise when they are feeding in the woods? Sure, but that should not interfere with deer hunting. In addition, turkeys rarely stay in one location for a long period of time. Are the turkeys eating all the acorns and starving the deer? No. First, wild turkeys can't eat every acorn. Second, deer are browsers and use other foods in addition to acorns. We also need to understand that we had white-tailed deer and wild turkeys co-existing in this country long before the European settlers landed on the east coast.
Rumors about wild turkeys grow, mature and eventually develop into new ones. Many hunters who know their wild turkey biology can begin to believe rumors if they hear the same rumor enough times. Unfortunately, some of these false tales, such as the coyote and rattlesnake stockings, are often counterproductive to state agency programs and hinder our ability to work together to benefit the wild turkey resource.