Many people who have lived in town less than fifty years may not realize that there was a time when there were no wild turkeys. For a long time, they have been a large part of the wildlife one sees in the area. According to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, wild turkeys are native to much of eastern America. Extensive land clearing for agriculture and hunting by settlers caused turkeys in the area to disappear for a hundred years. Much of our area has reforested, yet there is still a lot of agricultural and scrub land. This is ideal turkey habitat; they roost in forest trees but feed and nest on grass and scrub land.
Turkeys are social animals that prefer to live and travel in flocks. We see lone males in open areas in early spring. They puff themselves up to twice normal size and strut, hoping to attract a mate. If while you are driving you encounter a flock crossing a road, they may panic; some will run down the road, some will take flight. Either way, they can move at 25 to 30 miles an hour, allowing them to evade most predators. Turkeys are so plentiful that there has been a hunting season for many years.
It’s been some time since HHS member Bev Lasure suggested I write about the re-introduction of wild turkeys in Hartland. I put it off for a long time because I had little material. Ironically, I was once present at one of the turkey releases but don’t remember where it was or who was there other than my father. Not too long ago, I found snapshots of Hial Lobdell and Lee Lasure releasing turkeys (Lee was Bev’s late husband). Hial’s daughter and HHS Board member Janet Hewes remembers the event. She said the turkeys flew a long way down a field before roosting in a tree. The Fish and Game clubhouse was the old district schoolhouse next to Lobdells’ house. The snapshots were dated ’67-’70. That’s when I would have witnessed a release in another location when I was home from college. So it’s coming together, except that the Fish and Wildlife site says they were first reintroduced in Rutland County in the winter of 1969–1970.
Someone said I should talk to Paul Howe. Well, I let that slide, and then the Howes left Hartland to live in Florida full time. Daughter Paula Staples bailed me out recently by talking turkeys while visiting her father in Florida. (Both the Stapleses and the Howes are HHS members.)
The first piece of information indicated that in the early ’50s the Hartland Fish and Game Club did the first turkey release in Vermont. My first reaction is that has must be so wrong. But the Fish and Wildlife website indicates that in the 1950s hundreds of game farm turkeys were released by individuals and by local fish and game groups. These birds were several generations removed from the wild, and none could survive the Vermont winters. So let’s consider Hartland the first to try.
Paul said the Hartland club bought three sets of two hens and a tom from Virginia. One set was released near Lance Williams’s (on Clay Hill Road, in the northern part of town). Another was released at Hial Lobdell’s (on Advent Hill Road, south of the first location). The third set was released on Brothers Road near the “Cat Farm” (farther south, but not much below the geographic center of town). The people involved were Harold Barbour, Hial Lobdell, Floyd Rockwood, Allen Brothers, Lawrence Young, Lance Williams, Paul Howe, Avery Howe, and Wright Foster.