The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 7, 2014

Outdoors Insider, with Dale Sunderlin: A bit of turkey history

For the Star Beacon

— Long before European settlers arrived in the Americas, Native Americans enjoyed abundant populations of wild turkeys, and hunted the birds for food.

At least 4,000 years ago, these early Americans created calls from turkey wingbones to help them bring turkeys in close enough to kill.

By the early 1900s, most wild turkey populations had been wiped out in North America, victims of centuries of habitat destruction and commercial harvest. As late as the Great Depression, fewer than 30,000 wild turkeys remained in the entire United States.

Fortunately, our nation’s hunters, wildlife agencies and conservation organizations intervened and turkey populations rebounded dramatically. More than 7 million wild turkeys now roam North America, with huntable populations in every U.S. state but Alaska. Wild turkeys are also hunted in parts of Canada and Mexico.

This turnaround began in 1937 with the passage of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, which placed taxes on firearms, ammunition and other hunting equipment and earmarked funds for conservation and wildlife habitat enhancement programs. Lobbied for and supported by sportsmen, this tax has raised billions of dollars for wildlife restoration.

This money is still needed today to support continuing efforts to conserve wild turkeys and other game and non-game species. With nearly 3 million sportsmen and women considering themselves turkey hunters, all paying taxes on their equipment and buying hunting licenses, the sport’s continuing contribution to conservation cannot be overlooked.


Turkey gun 101

Spring turkey season is just around the corner and the level of sophistication in firearms available to the modern day turkey hunter has followed the same path as turkey calls. As more hunters have joined the sport, manufacturers have responded to their needs by making shotguns with features ideally matched to the turkey woods. Here are a few quick tips for making sure you have the right gun for the job this spring.

A perfect fit

There is no sure way to determine gun fit other than seeing a firearms expert. To ensure that your gun fits, pull the gun to your shoulder (obviously with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction). Ask yourself the following questions. Does it swing into place without extra movement or effort? Does the weight feel comfortable? Try adjusting the placement of your forward hand. Can you hold the shotgun steady for a given amount of time? Can you comfortably carry the shotgun for long distances?

You should be able to answer “yes” to all of these questions. All these variables play a role in determining gun fit for turkey hunting.

The right choice   

With the new, high-powered turkey loads and chokes available, 20-gauge shotguns have become very popular for use in the spring turkey woods. Better advice than simply purchasing the largest gauge or load size would be to ensure appropriate length, weight and recoil for the person doing the shooting.


Take the time to shoot the shotgun with different loads, shot sizes and even choke constrictions when possible. Most shotguns come with several choke options and the aftermarket chokes have shown great success in increasing pattern performance down range.


Dialing in your pattern

There are some very important aspects of accurately shooting a turkey gun that need your attention before the season rolls around. After you’ve found a load that patterns well, one that puts over 100 pellets in a 10-inch circle at 40 yards, it’s time to fine tune.

When you’re shooting a tight-patterning shotgun at a small target, like a gobbler’s head and neck, you have to be sure the core of the load is hitting precisely where you aim.

Similar to shooting a rifle, changing loads from one brand to the next can change the point of impact down range. Switching choke tubes can change point of impact, too.

Here’s a simple checklist for getting the most out of your patterning sessions:

To camo or not?

Camouflage is another consideration in choosing a firearm this spring. We all know that turkeys have keen eyesight and getting a shotgun with functional camouflage could give you that added advantage.

Practice pays off

The trick is, you probably have the right shotgun for harvesting that trophy gobbler this spring. It may just require some experimentation and practice to determine the optimal choke constriction, load, shot size and distance. If you are in the market for something new, just about every manufacturer is now producing shotguns made specifically for turkey hunters. They all perform well, however, the same considerations must be considered before carrying one on a hunt.

Best for last

The best advice for making sure that you have the best shotgun this season is to know the limitations of your firearm. Patterning, experimenting with different loads and chokes and practicing real hunting situations on the range will help you learn when to shoot and when the shot may be risky. If using a 20 gauge, you may need to be within 25 yards of your target for your shot. The same distance could be used as a rule of thumb for very young hunters. Making sure you are aware of the capabilities of the hunter, as well as the firearm, can be the difference between success and disappointment.

Remember, pass it on or it will surely pass on.

Burn notice

Ohioans are reminded to be aware of the state’s outdoor burning regulations and take necessary precautions if they are planning to burn debris this spring, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

Ohio law states outdoor debris burning is prohibited from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. during March, April and May. Burning is limited in the spring due to the abundance of dry fuel on the ground before small, grassy fuels green up with moisture. Winds can make a seemingly safe fire burn more intensely and escape control.

“After the long winter, many residents will be spring cleaning and burning their unwanted home and yard debris,” Robert Boyles, chief of the ODNR Division of Forestry, said. “It’s critical that people take the appropriate precautions to contain these fires in order to protect their lives and property as well as the lives and property of their neighbors.”

If a fire escapes control, people should immediately contact the local fire department. An escaped wildfire, even one burning in grass or weeds, is dangerous. Violators of Ohio’s burning regulations are subject to citations and fines. Residents should also check the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations and consult with local fire officials about burning conditions.

The ODNR Division of Forestry offers these safety tips for burning debris outdoors:

Black bear seminar

Are you interested in learning more about black bear activity in northeast Ohio? Ohio’s largest mammal spends a great deal of time in the spotlight during our summer months. Join Division of Wildlife experts to learn more about these fascinating creatures at an informative public program on Wednesday, April 23 from 6-8 p.m. The program will take place at Division of Wildlife, District Three headquarters, 912 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron.

Topics to be covered include bear biology, ecology, life history information, population trends and current status, management, and what to do if you encounter a black bear.

This program is best suited for ages 16 and up. The program is free but preregistration is required as seating is limited. Call the front desk at the Ohio Division of Wildlife, District Three headquarters at (330) 644-2293.

Certification workshop

The ODNR Division of Wildlife will host a free workshop where attendees will become certified Passport to Fishing instructors. The workshop is scheduled for Saturday, April 26 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at Wildlife District Three, 912 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron.

The workshop is free but pre-registration is required; call Ken Fry, Division of Wildlife at (330) 245-3030 or email  Attendees will be required to participate in a background check.

By becoming certified instructors, attendees will help connect students with the outdoors. Resources available to instructors include grants, equipment, brochures, and training.

Passport to Fishing was developed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and adopted by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation.  Workshops teach volunteers the basics of fishing and how to run a four-station fishing program with a fishing event.

These instructors then go back to their communities, with a written curriculum and training aids, to teach youngsters and beginning anglers the basics of fishing.

Visit for more information.

Sunderlin is a freelance writer from Geneva. Reach him at