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Benelli is a consistent supporter of NWTF’s JAKES program, its Turkey Shoot, a banquet firearm provider and in other capacities that help bolster the NWTF’s mission.

NWTF | April 5, 2023

No Silver Bullet

Earlier this year, the National Wild Turkey Federation announced it will be making another vital investment in wild turkey research to address declining populations and answer new questions in wild turkey ecology, just as the organization did in 2022 when it allocated $360,000 to seven critical research projects. The official announcement of new research funding will be made in June 2023. And while the upcoming project announcements are exciting, the projects the NWTF invested in last year are still ongoing and should concern all turkey hunters. 

Here are seven ongoing wild turkey research projects:

South Dakota: Researching survival and reproduction

Like many states, South Dakota had a boom in its wild turkey numbers during the early 2000s. Around 2010, however, the harvest rates in the Mount Rushmore State began steadily decreasing year after year. The NWTF is helping fund a new wild turkey research project in the southern part of the state that will measure various demographic information about wild turkeys. Data gleaned from the project will be used to create a growth model, giving wildlife managers a better understanding of populations and how to manage them accordingly. Over two years, researchers will capture and fit 80 hens each year with VHF (very high frequency) radio transmitters to acquire data. The combined data from the 160 wild turkeys will allow researchers to estimate both annual survival and reproduction probabilities for adult and yearling age classes.

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Mississippi: Analyzing wild turkey genetics and population densities

(Photo Credit: North Dakota Game and Fish Department.)

The NWTF is also helping fund the most thorough wild turkey ecology study in North Dakota to date through a new, multipronged research project — led by the University of North Dakota and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. The project seeks to better understand the survival and productivity of North Dakota hens as part of the NDGFD’s translocation program. The NDGFD receives calls from farmers about nuisance wild turkeys in livestock feedlots annually and captures and relocates about 200 birds on state WMAs, a win for ranchers and hunters alike.

Researchers will study the underpinnings of this unique program while also gathering other insightful information. Translocating nuisance birds across North Dakota is a more recent endeavor that is not well-documented and still poses many unanswered questions about how birds respond to being moved to a new habitat. For instance, how do survival rates compare between translocated females to non-translocated females? Does nest survival differ between translocated turkeys and non-translocated turkeys? These questions and more are at the heart of this new study. Each year researchers will capture 90 wild turkeys (180 total) and attach them with GPS-VHS transmitters. These devices will be attached to both nuisance birds and control birds (birds that are captured and released in the same area). In addition, all captured birds will receive an aluminum leg band and will be aged, sexed, swabbed and have blood samples taken. Researchers will use this information to screen for evidence of infection or exposure to many diseases and pathogens that will help assess the population’s overall health.

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Diseases: Researchers spearhead new study of LPDV

Another wild turkey research project will use state-of-the-art technologies to study diseases at a cellular level, informing the overall understanding of disease ecology and helping guide future wild turkey management. Lymphoproliferative disease virus, or LPDV for short, is well-known amongst researchers and wildlife managers, as it is not uncommon for wild turkeys and various other land-dwelling birds to be infected. LPDV was first documented in an Arkansas wild turkey in 2009 and has since been detected in wild turkeys in at least 29 states. Researchers will examine LPDV and other diseases within cells and tissues of wild turkeys and assess patterns of how the diseases spread and how they manifest in a variety of circumstances. The study will use the emerging capabilities of the RNAscope, technology that examines the distribution and extent of virus components within both diseased and non-diseased tissue at a cellular scale. To this point, it has been impossible to distinguish the extent of LPDV and infections in cells and tissues, but through RNAscope’s technology, researchers will get a relatively clear picture of how widespread and damage-causing these viruses can be in birds at various stages of infection and disease. Data attained from the lab findings will be compared to field data from multiple state agencies and will help better gauge the population-level effects of LPDV on wild turkeys and what management strategies could be implemented, if needed. Samples will include birds from multiple states throughout the Southeast, as well as from experimentally infected turkeys to use as a comparison with naturally infected turkeys.

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From all the critical research to conserving or enhancing over 22 million acres of wildlife habitat, it is important to note that these critical investments across the country are made possible by the incredible people that make up the NWTF, including its partners, volunteers and members. Sign up as an NWTF member today and help conserve America’s greatest game bird!

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