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Wild turkey rebounding in Delaware

Courtesy: DNREC

Delaware hunters are gearing up for the start of wild turkey season knowing that their prey should be easier to find this year.




Ed Lewandowski lives in Sussex County and has seen signs of a rebounding wild turkey population.


“We didn’t see a turkey on the farm until maybe 10 years ago and recently we’ve seen as many as 60, maybe 70 birds in a group,” Lewandowski said.


It’s impressive for a bird considered extinct in Delaware three decades ago due to unregulated hunting in the early to mid-1900s, and it wasn’t just restricted hunting that made them go extinct, said The National Wild Turkey Federation’s Director of Science and Research Tom Hughes. Market hunting and subsistence hunting also contributed to the turkey’s decline.


“Just anytime, any place with no regulations at all and no thought of conservation at all - it’s very much unlike what we do now,” Hughes said. “And combine that with habitat destruction. Most of the forests were cut, turkeys were pushed back from their normal range and found refuge in a few of the southern states.” 


Delaware wildlife biologists re-introduced the bird to the state in the 1980s. They trapped 50 to 100 turkeys in Pennsylvania and released them in Kent and Sussex County. State Environmental Scientist Justyn Foth said just last year, hunters harvested 706 wild turkey and population numbers were as high as 6,000 statewide.


“We were able to take birds transplanted from another area and we had the available habitat and the birds were able to successfully reproduce and recreate a viable population in Delaware,” Foth said.


The fact that there are more turkeys out there excites hunters like Lewandowski as hunting season approaches. Lewandowski has been an avid turkey hunter since 1999. Once he caught his first bird in 2000, he was hooked.


“Certainly just being in the woods in the springtime in the early morning and watching everything come to life is exciting,” Lewandowski said, “and hearing that first sound-off from the roost and then trying to really quickly figure out how you’re gonna hunt that particular bird because you know there’s a challenge ahead of you.”


Each Delawarean with a turkey hunting license is allowed to harvest just one turkey per year.


Wild turkey hunting season opens April 8.

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