On a personal level, spring’s turkey hunting season is an auspicious moment for me. Each time I take to the woods locally I can’t help but think, “Isn’t this something?” Here’s why.

Before the mid 1990s you did not see wild turkeys in Howard County. Why? Because there were none. If you wanted to enjoy this springtime activity it meant travelling to the southern part of Indiana or other states. But over the past decade many successful outings have taken place right here in Howard County.

Some of you may think it’s no big deal, but to me it is, because on a local level I was fortunate in witnessing their resurgence firsthand.

The reintroduction of Indiana’s wild turkeys is one of our state’s greatest conservation success stories. Between 1930-1950 efforts began which initially included reforestation projects. This was immediately followed with the passage of legislation aimed at protecting natural areas. This helped jump-start the creation of suitable habitat where the eastern wild turkey could again thrive in the Hoosier State.

In 1956 Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources reintroduced wild turkeys to the state. Their first release took place in Martin County where four hens and one single tom, trapped in Arkansas, took flight over the southern Indiana sky. Initial efforts were aimed at southern tier counties where habitat was the strongest. In 1970 Indiana again opened the door to legalized hunting, although limited to only a few select counties. Reintroduction efforts continued every year to the point where springtime “gobbles” can now be heard in all of Indiana’s 92 counties.

One of my most memorable times in the turkey woods had nothing to do with a “click,” a “bang,” and me standing over a long bearded strutter.

It was late February 1996 when I received a call I will never forget.

“Hey John, we are going to release wild turkeys in western Howard County and want you to join us,” said now retired IDNR wildlife biologist Tom Hewitt.

The original reintroduction took place in the area which was then referred to as Stellite Park.

“Most of our latest release sites have focused on areas in the northern part of the state,” Hewitt explained on that cool morning. “Although Howard County is marginal in terms of habitat, we have been looking pretty hard at the western Wildcat Creek drainage for quite a while and we are going to give it a try,” he added.

With that said we began opening cardboard boxes containing the birds.

“Isn’t this something?” I said out loud as the first bird bolted from its enclosure. It was history in the making as we watched nine hens and three gobblers sprint on slender legs before taking flight on raucous wings. They sailed over the tree lined banks of the Wildcat.

“Isn’t that beautiful?” said Hewitt as we watched the birds soar across the gray, late winter sky. “Maybe in a few years you’ll be able to hunt close to home and won’t have to drive very far,” I’ll always remember him saying.

“Yeah right,” I said in sarcasm. I could only hope. The thought of harvesting birds locally was a pipe dream, one I thought I’d never see.

Normally the DNR allows for the legal hunting of turkeys six years after they are reintroduced but in the case of Howard County they opted to give it an additional year. In 2003 Howard County was added to the list of Indiana counties open to hunting. I couldn’t believe it. We went from no turkeys in this area to a population substantial enough to warrant a legal hunting season.

The sun was nothing more than an orange smudge on the eastern horizon when I heard a bird pitch from its roost. Shortly after daylight I succeeded in calling in that small gobbler. He strutted and pranced around my foam decoys. With my Remington 12-gauge pushed tight to my shoulder I clicked the safety off. But squeezing the trigger was something I couldn’t do. It was something personal. It was a feeling the time wasn’t right, still too early. I watched as the gobbler disappeared into the woods, with it my chance at collecting my first “homegrown” wild turkey.

The following year would be different. I will always remember that special morning. I could feel the rain drops tickle the back of my bare neck on the way to the woodlot. I cautiously placed the decoys before taking my seat against the trunk of a large cottonwood. The clucks and yelps from my calls seemed to hang in the damp air. It wasn’t long before a gobbler paraded from the woods. Each soft purr brought him closer and closer until he was strutting in normal turkey splendor trying to win the hearts of the fake hens which moved slightly in the soft breeze.

It was at that moment a huge smile crossed my face. I had personally witnessed the reintroduction of these magnificent birds in my home county and now was provided, on a personal level, the opportunity to collect one. And it all took place in under a decade — not a lifetime.

Needless to say I dropped the hammer and was soon standing over that beautiful gobbler, its iridescent feathers almost glowing in the shimmering light. It was at that moment all I could think was “isn’t this something!”

TOURNEY RESULT

Dennis McKee and Mat Temme won the first Kokomo Reservoir Monday evening open team bass tourney of the season. The weekly event is sponsored by Cardwell Built Construction and Roby’s Bullseye Outdoors. The winners brought in four largemouth bass dropping the digital scales at 6.88 pounds. Second place went to B.J. Butcher with four fish totaling 5.67 pounds. Blake Stout reeled in one fish tipping the scales at 4.35 pounds which gave him third place as well as the weekly contest’s award for big bass.

John Martino is the Tribune's outdoors columnist. He may be reached by email at jmartinooutdoors@att.net.

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