Where the quail went, wild turkeys go now

By Larry Dablemont, Contributing Columnist
Posted 6/28/21

I was just a kid in the late 50’s and early 60’s when quail hunting all over the Midwest was something amazing. Even in the Ozarks, hunters often found 6 or 7 coveys a day. I was there, I …

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Where the quail went, wild turkeys go now


I was just a kid in the late 50’s and early 60’s when quail hunting all over the Midwest was something amazing. Even in the Ozarks, hunters often found 6 or 7 coveys a day. I was there, I saw it! In Oklahoma and Kansas that number might double. No one then would imagine that quail would decline in number to a point where avid hunting dog men would no longer hunt them. I can only venture a guess about this, but I would estimate that for every ten quail coveys you could have found then, there is only one today. Yes, a decline of ninety percent!

And in the late 1900’s and early 2000’s wild turkey were so plentiful in the Midwest you would have thought they would never decline. Let me say this… I saw hunting in four or five Midwestern states from the late 60’s for 50 years that was phenomenal. I hunted them with the enthusiasm of a beagle in a rabbit haven! What I am about to reveal, I have never written before, but about ten years ago, I stopped counting spring gobblers I had taken at about 175, give or take a half dozen, and every one was a legal tom.

As a paid turkey hunting guide in the late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s I watched my clients kill more than 50 wild turkeys, again all legal! But after all, I was a self-employed writer who had no job other than selling newspaper columns and magazine articles. I sold turkey-hunting articles to Outdoor Life and Field and Stream for many years, and I hunted in five states. I sold turkey hunting articles to eight different magazines and more than 100 newspapers.

Many years of spring hunting, I would kill seven gobblers, three in Arkansas, and two in Missouri and Kansas. In 2003 I wrote a book about wild turkeys. In addition, I hunted with Jim Spencer, perhaps the best turkey hunter in the Midwest who has written 3 books about wild turkeys and turkey hunting; turkey biologist Gene Rush, one of the most experienced biologists from Arkansas, 20-year wild turkey biologist Mike Widner, and an old timer named Clyde Trout who hunted and filmed wild turkeys for more than fifty years.

I know wild turkeys, and I have spent hours upon hours with men who know even more than I do. Unfortunately, I know what is about to happen with wild turkeys in the Midwest. A decline is here that likely will get worse, and I believe they will never return to the good huntable numbers we saw up until about ten years back. In short, wild turkey are looking at the same minimal survival that bobwhite quail came to know.

Last week, I talked to Missouri’s wild turkey biologist, who grew up in Michigan, went to school in Ohio and West Virginia, then came to Missouri’s Conservation Department about two years ago. Mid twenties I suspect, and as green as a spring willow. Her name is Reina Tyl, and she wouldn’t talk to me long. She said that my questions would cast doubt on her credibility as a wild turkey biologist and then she hung up on me.

I have nothing from her except what she wrote last week, and I told her that her writing was not accurate. That more than anything else casts much doubt on her credibility, not what I might find out about her in a phone interview.

But truthfully, right now, the most experienced wild turkey biologists can’t tell you the answer to a rebound in numbers. It isn’t there. The consensus amongst men who really do know something about wild turkeys is… there won’t ever be much more than we have now, and there may be fewer.

Ms Tyl’s written observations about wild turkeys can be read in the summer issue of my outdoor magazine, along with about 12 pages of observations and interviews with real experts on the birds. She shows in that writing how little she knows about wild turkey, saying in one place that the drop in number of wild turkeys has progressed for decades.

Not so Ms. Tyl, it has actually happened over the past 8 to 9 years. I know, Ms. Tyl, I have been there, done that! For fifty years plus, I have followed them photographed them and fed them. Here in the woods where I live, and over thousands of acres around me, wild turkey thrived for decades, not declined. I could teach Ms. Tyl a lot about them if she would come and spend a day in the woods with me and a couple of other biologists.

You won’t believe what one of those retired old-time turkey biologists says about what is causing the decline and when it started … but I will pass on his views next week. I will touch on what he and many of those knowledgeable hunters and biologists have to say. But I cannot get much info about that in these short newspaper columns.

You can receive a free copy of that summer magazine with the extensive segment on wild turkeys, by contacting us at my offices…. 417-777-5227. After you read that section you will have a good idea about what is happening with wild turkeys in the Midwest. And you will know a great deal more about them than Ms. Tyl does. I know she won’t spend a day down here, but maybe if she reads that section devoted to wild turkeys, it will help her to know what is happening, and if anything can indeed be done about it.

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, MO 65613 or email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com.


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