The SandPaper

Things Are Wild on the NJ Turkey Front; Seeking Those Pond-Attacking Vandals

The Fish Story

HASTY RETREAT: While wild turkey meat isn’t a modern favorite during the holidays, these gobblers are taking no chances. Despite favoring forests and fields, they know it’s best to zip into ‘No Hunting’ neighborhoods until at least Black Friday, which they call ‘Back Friday,’ returning to wilder environs. More on turkeys in column. (Photo by Jack Reynolds)

Welcome to the holiday season. May inflation work its subtle magic by making this year’s gift giving more spiritual than material, more giving than grabbing. Hey, thoughtfulness can trump even awesomeness – though awesomeness also rocks.

Pontificating out of the way, sports folks and outdoorsy types offer givers a wide field of present picking. Sunglasses, knives, boots, electric/computer doohickies, and sundry forms of clothing are always well-received. While fishing gear and work tools are beloved by many men, special insights are needed when buying such. Men have strict favorites and brands along those lines. Just sayin’.

Remember to show our local shore businesses some holiday season love. If you’re stuck afar, many Southern Ocean County businesses can be reached via websites, like on Cyber Monday.

If you’re saddled with office white elephant gifts or want to throw in a stocking stuffing zinger, run with an almost disturbing number of Pooping Pooches calendars. There’s like a dozen different varieties to choose from. Google it. I’m betting nary a single pooch is getting any royalties.

THE BIRD IS THE WORD: Last year, I was slowly driving a dirt road over Mayetta way when I was forced into an abrupt braking when a flurry of fast-footing wild turkeys bolted in front of me, maybe half a dozen strong, hightailing toward a heavily forested Forsythe Refuge zone. It was a decently cool sight, though nothing all that rare.

However, no sooner did that rafter bolt by than a whole new wave of gobblers emerged from the underbrush, all hotfooting, a baker’s dozen. Now I was impressed and began to smilingly proceed when yet another gaggle came rushing out!

“Oh, come on!” I had to just sit there like I was in a flatbed Ford waiting out a mile-long freight train in Winslow, Arizona. If I had to guess, there were no fewer than 50 crossers.

There is obviously no shortage of wild turkeys in the state. In an effort to take a count, the N.J. Division of Fish and Wildlife this year initiated a Wild Turkey Brood Sighting Survey. The spring-oriented survey is intended to assist state and national surveyors in monitoring how well this consummate American bird is faring.

ENJOYING N.J.: One thing is provenly certain: Wild turkeys find the Garden State quite to their liking. Some might coyly say the state is to their taste. While we have quite the gaggleful of these indigenous birds, the showing is thoroughly modern. The self-same species had been extirpated from the state long ago, due to over-hunting that began with the early settlers, when New Jersey was called Nova Caesarea, as in New Caesar. In fact, it is estimated that all N.J. turkeykind had been obliterated by as early as the mid-1800s.

I’ll controversially note there might have been a bit of buffalo hunter involved with this eradication since the colonists and kin knew full well that the local Lenni Lenape tribes relied on turkeys, counting on the birds for food, ornamentation and, vitally important, arrow “feathers.”

So how is it we are now nicely knee-deep in them? Dramatically put, it is the result of likely one of the greatest wildlife management success stories in the history of the state

In 1977, Division of Fish and Wildlife biologists, in conjunction with the N.J. Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, reintroduced wild turkeys by releasing 22 imported birds in a let’s-see manner. They survived stunningly well. In fact, within a couple years, they had perpetuated to the point that slew after slew could be live-trapped and relocated around the state. The transplanting carried on for years.

Once stocked, the turkeys spread like wildfire, which mattered a ton in Central and South Jersey, where the speedy birds are particularly apt at eluding fast-moving forest fire flames, using a truly impressive ground running ability and an even speedier low-level flying capacity.

Flashback: In my younger days, I’d try to run down turkeys in the wild. Their 25-mph ground speeds coupled with an uncanny capacity to duck and weave within the undergrowth made it farcical on my part. Hell, I never even got close enough to force them into flight. I found them the coolest of all N.J. birds. I’ve since had them saunter up to me looking for handouts, obviously fed to the point of a foolish acceptance of mankind.

By 1981, the state’s turkey population had grown to the point of huntability. Since the fine-feathered folks at the New Jersey State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation were instrumental in the return of the wild turkey, the state quickly and quite deservedly devised a wild turkey hunting schedule, including spring and fall seasons.

Per a recent state press release, the latest tally shows N.J. is a happy home to as many as 23,000 turkeys.

“There is now an abundance of wild turkeys throughout the state with turkeys found wherever there is suitable habitat. In South Jersey, where wild turkeys had been struggling just a few years ago, intensive restoration efforts have improved population numbers significantly. The statewide … annual harvest (is) approximately 3,000 birds.”

The wild turkey’s success story is also being told nationwide. There are about 7 million wild turkeys in the U.S., making it one of the most successful wildlife species in the nation. That flourishment is assisted by the massive number and importance of America’s farmed/domesticated turkeys, numbering over 200 million birds.

When it comes to flavor and public dining preferences, wild turkeys fall short — much to their survival advantage. Their taste is notoriously “gamey.” It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, especially when up against domesticated turkeys bred to eradicate any signs of gaminess.

TURKEY TALK: Time to talk turkey, an expression with weird roots.

Per certain authorities, the expression became popular following a news clip in an 1835 Niles’ Weekly Register, which began “An Indian and a white man went a shooting in partnership and a wild turkey and a crow were all the results of the day’s toil.”

When it came to splitting the humble bounty between the two, the white man, in rather typical attitudinal snarkiness, said, “You may have your choice: you take the crow, and I’ll take the turkey; or, if you’d rather, I’ll take the turkey and you take the crow.” The Native American pondered the absurd offering and said, “You no talk turkey to me … ”

I’ve redacted racist parts of the write-up, but the “talk turkey” meat of that quote stuck. I’m thinking it was right about that time when Native Americans came up with “White Man speak with forked tongue.”

Just for the record, the term’s earliest usages became associated with chatting nicely over a Thanksgiving feast, i.e., prattling. Later, it was applied to finally getting down to brass tacks, which is a whole other phrase origin story.

As to why turkey took on such a Middle East tilt, it is allegedly due to the bird’s resemblance to a bird found in … Turkey. That needs explaining.

Way back in the earliest colonial times, a Turkish expatriate, his name lost to time, saw wild turkeys for the first time. He blurted out, “That looks like a bird we have in Turkey.” Speaking in his native tongue, the only thing other colonialists within earshot understood was “Turkey.” A bird is named. Imagine if the bird resembled one found in Constantinople.

It’s historically imperative that I dispel a nationally ingrained myth that Ben Franklin actively stumped to have the wild turkey dubbed our national bird – bugger off, eagles.

Take it from a natural born leg-yanker like myself, Ben was a tongue-in-cheeker of historically epic proportions. Even his immortal key/kite/lightning experiment was likely Ben being his most hilarious: Surely a few sheets to the wind, he ran into the thunderstorm to goofily fly a kite, knowing he’d get a solid round of laughter before being dragged back inside.

As to choosing turkeys over eagles, the tale is predicated on a letter Franklin sent to his daughter, Sarah, “For my own part I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead tree, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labour of the fishing hawk; and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the bald eagle pursues him, and takes it from him. … the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.”

Again, I must assert my rank as a wise-ass and lampooner by assuring with absolute assuredness that Franklin was simply on a full-blown snickerous roll when he wrote that letter. In fact, his daughter was often the recipient of his most outlandishly satirical communiques.

THERE OTTER BE A LAW: A local north end historic site recently saw its pond and related aquatic vegetation “vandalized.” Letters were written to the media asking what kind of creep would do such a thing. A SandPaper writer is looking into the matter.

While the jury is out on the inner essence of such a heinous ransacking, I’ll reflexively put my money not on human culprits, but on critters – namely river otters. They are notorious for such pond pounces, in this case removing vegetation to better address the tasty penned-up fishes hiding within the aquatic greenery.

Don’t overly doubt such an otterous thing. Remember the snickers that flew when I first reported LBI coyotes in that same region.

A similar pond plundering took place in the backyard of Ship Bottom Mayor Bill “Porky” Hulsenbeck when his treasured koi pond was swarmed upon by nocturnal invaders. In a night’s time, every single colorful goldfish in the mayor’s backyard waters went forever missing. It was surely an organized otter effort, evidenced by the many tracks left behind. Porky is an avid hunter, so he knows how to read such signs.

In the columnistic past, I have written on the goodly presence of otters along much of bayside LBI, especially near the Causeway. When we used to annually fish for winter flounder near Hochstrasser’s Marina, an otter or two would occasionally come out into the sunlight, often popping out of nearby runoff pipelines.

It was those same waters where I had a run-in with a particularly combative otter. I was kayak fishing for bass in the dark when one snuck up to my kayak … and splashed me one good. Those critters might be small, but when they throw their entire body into splashing, they can unloose a load of chilly water.

I took the splashing as a freak occurrence and went back to jigging. A few minutes later, another dousing. It was after a third wetting that I realized things had gotten quite personal. The assailant wanted me gone.

I commenced with protesting. “What is your problem? There’s plenty of room out here, dude!”

The “dude” must have really pissed him off because his next splash was a drencher. “Knock it off, you weasely numbnuts!”

Yes, Virginia, there was a point in my life where I was siting in a kayak in the bay in the middle of the night arguing with an otter. I’m not sure if it was a high or low point.

Oh, I eventually lost. Becoming chilled from the splashing and unnerved by wondering from whence the next attack might come, I defeatedly paddled over to the south side of the East Thorofare Bridge – beyond the otter limits.

RUNDOWN: It’s time – make that high time – to join the 2022 LBI Surf Fishing Classic. The long Turkey Day weekend is famed for winning entries.

The event’s committee has launched a campaign titled “Don’t Be a Turkey, Get Out And Fish.”

It reads, “LBI Surfcasters Prepare for the November Blitz!

“Is this the weekend that the striped bass powder keg blows up along the beaches of Long Beach Island? Based on the reports to our north, it looks like that very well could be the case! …

“With the Classic running until December 11, there is still a great deal of prime fishing ahead with chances for prizes. Registrations are still being accepted at the weigh-in stations. They are Surf City Bait and Tackle, Fisherman’s Headquarters in Ship Bottom, and Jingles Bait and Tackle in Beach Haven.

“Complete information can be found by stopping by one of those shops or online at www.lbisfc.com/lbi-fall-classic-surf-fishing.”

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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