A Quest For Wild Gobblers Becomes Fowl Obsession

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Inside Liberty Park near Twinsburg, Ryan Trimbath of Summit Metro Parks plays recordings of a male turkey with his smart phone.

Ideally, another male gobbler would not only respond in kind, but amble on over to, y’know…hang. Compare wattles. Talk turkey. Trimbath explains.

“The males this time of the year will hang out in flocks together as opposed to the spring when they’re territorial and competing for females. That would be one way that they would communicate with one another. To kinda say, “Hey, it’s getting cold out here, let’s flock up!” (laughs)

But while we saw tons of turkey tracks and scratches in the snow where turkeys had scavenged for food, we felt pretty much alone in the woods.

Another expedition took me to the Bedford Reservation, with Cleveland Metro Parks Naturalist Bethany Majeski.

“I’m gonna use my turkey wing bone call here, it’s actually made from the three bones in a turkey’s wing, to try and make the yelping call of a female turkey…and see if we can get some males to gobble and respond to us.” (TURKEYCALL): “WHEEP-WHEEP-WHEEP-WHEEP….”

Still, no close encounters. Despite the no-shows, Majeski assured me there ARE wild turkeys in Ohio. But over a century ago, development and overhunting caused the birds’ disappearance statewide.

“And then through conservation efforts in the 40s and especially here in the 50s in the state of Ohio, they were re-introduced. Turkeys were once in very dire population straits. There were only an estimated 30,000 left in the country. Now today they’re easily in several millions in population.”

Wild turkeys are leaner and gamier than their farm-raised brethren. They can range from being shy and skittish to aggressively territorial, or downright nonchalant as they roam through the roads and backyards of suburbia.

Just ask 20-year old Brandon Brownfield, who lives in Twinsburg.

“I know I see’em, just coming home from work. Wherever food is, you’re going to find them. They like to eat corn and little grubs, they’ll scrape up the ground for trying to find all the insects under the leaves and snow.”

Brownfield’s also an avid turkey hunter.

“Just being out in the woods and y’know having all that to yourself. And gathering your thoughts, and when you do harvest the turkey you get to eat it and enjoy it with your family. I love it baked. My mom does it the best, she knows how to do a good wild game turkey.”

Brownfield didn’t get out to this spring’s turkey hunt, so he’ll scout out Giant Eagle’s freezer section to hunt for a classic farm bird. These are bred to be SO plump, most can barely walk.

Wild turkeys can not only run up to 20 miles per hour, those feathered gobblers can FLY, too.

Back at Liberty Park with Ryan Trimbath, after 90 minutes of thankless searching and turkey calls (GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE)….we packed up our gear and ventured out, as the sun went down and the wind picked up.

And then….we saw it. A lone turkey, 40 yards away, staring at us. A beat later, it bolted straight up into an old oak tree.

(Ryan): “Well, he got some good lift, ah…he’s probably what? 30 feet, 40 feet up the tree there? (Bull): “I was impressed for something that’s basically built like a basketball.” (Ryan): (laughs) “Yeah, it’s just a little silhouette, it’s poking its head around a bit.”

So as you take knife and carving fork to your golden bird this Thanksgiving, drenched in its savory juices ….take a moment to reflect on its wilder, freer cousin that roams the woods and meadows. And be thankful you’ve probably not spent the past week and a half trudging through the snow and cold to try to record one.

Not that I’m resentful of the 18 fruitless hours spent searching.

“Oh come on! I know you’re out there!”

Brian Bull, 90.3.

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