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April 19, 2013

Outdoors: Scouting for Mr. Tom on Cape Ann

The restoration of turkeys in Massachusetts represents one of the most successful wildlife re-introductions in our history. Although the turkey was a staple in the diet of the early colonialists, the last turkey was killed on Mt. Tom in western Massachusetts in 1851. From 1914 through 1960 there were several unsuccessful attempts to re-introduce them using pen raised birds. Unfortunately these turkeys never produced a flock that could sustain itself.

However, other states were very successful in their efforts of re-introducing turkey flocks by capturing and moving wild birds. Between 1952 and 1974, the estimated nationwide turkey population grew from about 320,000 to 1,300,000, and the number of states permitting some form of open hunting season climbed from 15 to 39. Recognizing the need for redirecting its restoration project, MassWildlife made contact with other eastern states, and in 1972 was granted permission by New York to live-trap wild birds for transfer to Massachusetts.

Between 1972 and 1973, 37 birds were captured in New York and released in southern Berkshire County. The new flock grew slowly at first, but expanded rapidly after about 1976 with the estimated fall 1978 population totaling about 1,000 birds. Supplemented by an overflow from adjacent states, turkeys ranged throughout most parts of Massachusetts west of the Connecticut River. In-state transplants of the birds, conducted from 1979 to 1996, expanded the range of the bird into the central, northeastern and southeastern parts of the state. Some estimates place the number of birds now in the 17-18,000 range!

There are many flocks of turkeys here on the North Shore. Because of housing patterns and the hunting restrictions of the different towns, it is a bit of a chore to find open spots to hunt. That being said, if you are diligent in your efforts, it is surprising how many places there are in this area that hold good flocks. Between now and the opening of the season, try to find as many flocks as you can.

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