Residing at Robert Tommie's 2-acre yard on Popham Road, the wild turkey currently is exhibiting signs of the dreaded "terrible two's." While Tom still welcomes guests without much fanfare, Tommie is amused that he -- the one who raised the wild turkey from a poult -- is becoming the target of the game bird's recent adolescent tantrums.
"Not this last spring but the spring before, I came home in my work truck and found -- this [tiniest], little baby turkey as you can imagine was in my front yard," Tommie said. "I live across from about 300 acres and he went running across there and I couldn't find him. The next day I came home and he was in my yard again, and this time he stayed and he's stayed ever since. I have chickens and he stays with my chickens, and I've had probably 150 people stop and take photographs because he's the biggest turkey you've ever seen.
"He jumps on top of my truck. He jumps on the roof. He roosts in my tree. ... In the last about two months ... he's going through some type of adolescence. Now he only attacks me -- only me -- and I'm the one that hand raised him and it's strange. He won't bother anybody [else]. He'll just greet everyone and puff up to as big a turkey as you've ever seen because I've been feeding him really good. He's just a neighborhood curiosity. He's well-known on the road and in the whole neighborhood. I have regular visitors that come by on certain days, mostly on Saturdays and Sundays, and feed him."
Tommie's experience is not uncommon among Bartow residents as more and more wild turkeys are taking root in the nearby Allatoona and Pine Log Wildlife Management areas and even making frequent appearances in rural residential parts of the county. The turkey population increase is largely due to the efforts of the National Wild Turkey Federation. Working with wildlife agencies, the national nonprofit conservation organization has helped restore wild turkey populations from 1.3 million in 1973 to more than 7 million today in North America. In its last published Turkey Production Survey, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Division estimated 300,000 wild turkeys reside in the state in 2009.
"Turkeys are very adaptable," said Billy Fleetwood, a Cartersville resident and chairman of the Etowah Valley Chapter of the NWTF. "You see them, of course, out in the mountainous areas of the wild, but you'll also see them in the rural areas as well. There's neighborhoods on the outskirts of Cartersville and Bartow County that have turkeys right there in the backyard.
"I can remember back in the '70s, if you heard a turkey gobble in the morning everybody talked about it around town. It was something pretty amazing. Now if you don't hear a turkey, you're very disappointed. Most definitely, I would say any hunter out there would tell you [the turkey population has increased]. And, of course, the turkey hunters have increased as well. Back in the '70s, there probably wasn't a handful of turkey hunters in the area. Now there's thousands."
Along with maintaining habitats, Fleetwood said the NWTF has assisted with the growth of the wild turkey population by transferring game birds to unpopulated areas, raising money and game management.
"One thing about the Turkey Federation [is] their dollars are well spent," Fleetwood said. "They're spent throughout the United States and Canada on a national basis to regain populations of turkeys in areas that have been relieved of the population due to growth or human population or reduction of habitat or whatever the means was. [They] help purchase properties or leases for habitat for the wild turkey, and of course, when you help wild turkeys you are helping every nongame species out there as far as habitat is concerned. ... They have had programs where they would, maybe in an area where there was a large population of Eastern turkeys, they would harvest them through traps and then they would transfer them to [unpopulated] areas and start the populations in different areas where maybe the turkey population had gone away or there was never any turkey population there.
"So that has really increased the population, moving turkeys around, sustaining the levels of their population. It's just like anything, you get too many wild turkey or deer ... your food source runs out so game management is very important, and hunting heritage is very important in maintaining the turkey population. And without hunters this program would never happen because the funding that hunters put in puts money back in to the resources for game management control, population control and puts money back in for research and all the other things that the Turkey Federation does."
Formed in 1991 by Fleetwood, the NWTF's Etowah Valley Chapter -- which averages 125 members per year -- has assisted this conservation effort by working with the Georgia DNR, purchasing seed and equipment for planting crops at Bartow's Wildlife Management Areas. Area residents can learn more about the NWTF while supporting its causes by attending the chapter's Hunting Heritage Super Fund banquet Feb. 3 at 6 p.m. at the Cartersville Country Club, 1310 Joe Frank Harris Parkway.
Tickets to the fundraising banquet will cost $55 for individuals and $90 for couples. Attendees will receive an NWTF membership and a one-year subscription to its publication Turkey Country. In addition to a meal, the gathering also will include auctions, and raffle games, with prizes including hunting firearms, wildlife calls and sporting art.
Along with individual donations and corporate sponsorships, the Etowah Valley Chapter will generate funds through ticket sales, auctions, raffle games and banquet sponsors -- $245 for individuals and $290 for couples. In addition to helping the NWTF's efforts, the funds will be used locally to assist the Bartow County 4-H shooting team; a future outreach program for disadvantaged youth at The Margaret and Luke Pettit Environmental Preserve; and the local chapter's JAKES --Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship -- program, where more than 100 youth gather for firearm safety, a wildlife presentation and other activities like a cookout, skeet shoot and archery range.
"I've always thought it was very important to give back, be it to Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Wildlife Heritage, whoever or whatever I think is good stewards of the woods," Fleetwood said. "We need to give back and try to help maintain. And the main thing is the hunting heritage, to continue it on for [our] kids, grandkids and great-grandkids."
For more information on the NWTF's Etowah Valley Chapter or to reserve tickets, call Fleetwood at 678-776-6035. Details about the NWTF can be obtained by visiting www.nwtf.org.