Havre Daily News
Five years from now local hunters will have a new season to add to the year - turkey season. At least that's what the Milk River Gobblers are hoping will happen.
Forty-eight wild turkeys were released on a farm about four miles north of Chinook on Wednesday morning by the Milk River Gobblers, a local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation that was created four years ago.
Milk River Gobblers president Terry Turner of Havre said they had been waiting for this day since the chapter was created.
“(Turkey hunters) have been wanting this for a long time,” Turner said.
Milk River Gobblers vice president Jim Brandon said Lewistown is the closest area to go turkey hunting. “I'd like to see more turkeys in this area because I just don't feel like driving that far for turkey hunting,” Brandon said.
“This is great for our area because they'll be in our backyard. We've got the habitat to support it,” Milk River Gobblers member Kelly Walker of Havre added. “There have been a lot of two-legged turkeys in the area, but not the real ones.”
Nine male turkeys and 39 hens were captured by the federation on Monday and Tuesday near Wibaux. One turkey died during the trip to Chinook.
“When you're capturing wild stuff. it's hard to determine what will happen,” Montana Dpeartment of Fish, Wildlife and Parks field technician Tim Roth, who watched the release.
The turkeys were transported to Chinook by trailer, and were released from cardboard boxes. Foundation regional director Chris Fortune of Hamilton said the boxes add more protection for the turkeys.
“The boxes prevent the turkeys from beating themselves up, and they are a thermal insulator too,” Fortune said. “The trailer is also vented so the turkeys won't get too warm.”
Since the food supply is scarce for turkeys during the winter, Fortune said, capturing them was an easy task.
“It's the easiest time to catch them,” he said, “because in April they'll start their breeding season.”
Roth said that out of about 50 different properties, Bob and Carol Munson's farm near Chinook was chosen due to the ideal habitat for turkeys.
“This place has the habitat, a creek and heavy trees for the birds to roost in,” he said. “Bob also has grain hay put around this place for the birds to feed on.”
Scott Geda, 17, of Havre job-shadowed Roth during the release. The Havre High School junior, who wants to become a wildlife biologist, said he learned a lot about the turkeys' habitat.
“This is pretty cool,” Geda said. “I'm learning a lot about how to move turkeys.”
Marilyn Granell of Havre grabbed a handful of turkey feathers after the release and tinkered around with a turkey call. She took half a day off work to witness the release. Granell, who is Bob Munson's sister, said she was going to share her knowledge with her third-graders at Lincoln-McKinley Primary School.
Carol Munson said her husband will periodically check on the turkeys to see how well they are adapting to their new environment.
“He'll kind of keep an eye out on them,” she said.
“That's tops on our list - the survival rate of the hatch,” Fortune said.
Roth said local hunters will have to wait at least three to five years before the turkey population increases in the area.
“We want to get them good and established,” he said. “It all depends on how well the birds take their new environment because it will take them awhile to figure out on their own where the food is and so forth.”
“It's going to take them awhile to settle down,” Carol Munson said.
Milk River Gobblers secretary Adriane Doucette of Havre said predators and weather could also affect the survival of the birds.
Fortune said that on average, a hen can have between six to 14 baby poults at a time.
Roth said this was the first turkey release he's witnessed in 12 years of being with FWP's Havre office. He said that if this trial period fails, the process will start over again.
“We'll pick another area and try again,” he said.
R.L. Gant of Havre is a Milk River Gobbler member, but isn't a turkey hunter. Gant's interest in the turkeys is to see them thrive in the area.
“I'd like to see these birds flourish here,” he said.