Oh my, it's ME!
It's been seven years since I was a regular old newspaper reporter, but today I dipped my toes back in that water with an article about spring turkey hunting in the Sacramento Bee's Outbound section.
Read more...And I've got to say: Hats off to the Bee for having the huevos to run hunting stories at a time when most major metropolitan daily newspapers in this state ignore it, or choose to cover hunting only as a problem, or a political issue.
Now, there's no need to tell you what's in the story - you'll either click over and read it yourself, or you came to this blog because of the story. (And if you came here because you read the story and you're horrified that I hunt, please feel free to comment on this or any other post. This is a civilized blog and we've had some very vigorous and fascinating discussions with non-hunters. As long as you're not rude, you will not be attacked here.)
What I want to do in this post is share with you some of what isn't in the story.
Fascinating statistic. I pored over all sorts of hunting stats, and I can tell you that hunters in this state bag an estimated 24,600 turkeys per year - about 80 percent of them during the spring season, when we can take three.
But here's something that will freak out all you whitetail fans on the other side of that big mountain range: We take only 28,600 deer per year.
People have hunted deer here since forever because they're indigenous. Turkeys, on the other hand, are planted, and regular hunting has been going on only since 1968, when we opened our first season on them in San Luis Obispo County. I really expected deer bag numbers to be much higher than turkey numbers.
P.S. If you go over to the story, be sure to click on the "California turkey hunting statistics" link - there's a ton of stuff besides statistics in there, including a how-to for people who want to start turkey hunting, safety tips and a list of places to hunt in the Sacramento region.
Good metaphors. I asked everyone I interviewed why turkey hunting drives us wild. My buddy Phillip at The Hog Blog gave me the line I used in the story: "Call and response." I figured the non-hunting readers at the Bee could relate to that best. And that was my goal: I had to write a story that was accessible to any reader who had interest in it.
But two other people couched it in terms hunters would really relate to: "It's the bull elk of the bird species," said Andy Bauer, a sales rep at my local Sportsman's Warehouse (Rocklin).
And Jim Garcia, owner of Garcia's Hunting Preserve (a local guide service with access to 15,000 acres of private land from Lincoln to Maxwell), totally nailed it: "It's like a poor man's elk hunting." Yep, that's it. The same excitement without the same travel requirements, and without the same physical requirements. Still hunting instead of hiking all over creation. Gentle terrain.
Favorite line out of a government report. There are two groups of people in California that hate turkeys: grape growers (mis amigos!) and people in neighborhoods with Turkey Problems. A lot of people in California live adjacent to turkey habitat, and some people go out of their way to feed the birds, then freak out when the gobblers get a little unruly during mating season. (Or, just as realistically, some moron in the neighborhood feeds them, and the neighbors who don't have to put up with the gallinaceous incursions.)
So, California produced this massive "Strategic Plan for Wild Turkey Management" in 2004, and the section dealing with problems spurred by human feeding notes, "Turkeys that are fed by people become habituated to those food sources and may become a nuisance."
I thought immediately of Berkeley.
OK, not 'nuff said. When I was a young reporter, I covered the homeless in Palo Alto (home of Stanford University), and efforts to curb the unruly behavior of some who thought it was a good idea to panhandle aggressively at ATM machines. I'll never forget what the guy at the local homeless service organization told me: "Holly, we gave more to the homeless this year than we ever have before, and this is the year they've been the most demanding and pushy." Or something to that effect. I was pretty liberal at the time, but that taught me an important lesson about human behavior. And this report reminded me: Human behavior is an awful lot like animal behavior.
Funny reaction. I tried taking a few photos for this story at Sportsman's Warehouse after I interviewed the resident turkey experts there, and had a hell of a time. Part of it was challenging lighting, but part of it was that - surprise, surprise - hunters are pretty distrustful of anyone who works for a newspaper.
I didn't want to ambush shoppers, so if I thought they were going to step into the frame, I introduced myself and told them what I was doing.
So, when two men walked up to the turkey decoy aisle, I stuck my right hand out to one of them and said, "Hi, my name is Holly Heyser and I'm working on a story about spring turkey hunting for the Sacramento Bee." The guy stared at my hand like I was offering him a coiled rattlesnake, or perhaps a cup of cyanide, and just walked away.
People always want to know if I'm treated rudely by men when I'm out in the field, but I have never been so rudely treated by a hunter as I was by this man. Not impressed! Manners, son, manners!
Indigenous or not? Turkeys are not indigenous to California - at least not the ones we have here today. We've planted many different kinds, and the Rio Grandes are what really took root. We have some fantastic habitat - the oak woodlands that ring the Central Valley are Turkey Heaven.
But there's actually archeological evidence that another species of turkey lived in Southern California about 10,000 years ago - they've apparently found lots of turkey bones in the La Brea Tarpits (a favorite geek hangout of mine when I was a kid and aspired to be a paleontologist).
Unlike other introduced species, though, there's no evidence I could find that they're destroying any indigenous plants or animals. Turkeys are "opportunistic omnivores" - they'll eat whatever they can get.
I really wanted to find out where the Sierra Club stands on this, so I called both its Sacramento and San Francisco offices, but no one called me back. Yo, Sierra Club: I tried.
And in case anyone's really freaking out about this, the Department of Fish and Game isn't doing any more planting - it got smacked for that back in the 1990s. The department occasionally relocates "problem" turkeys to established turkey areas, and that's it.
Poop. Sure, why not end with poop.
One of the people I interviewed was Ryan Mathis, regional biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation. He talked a lot about scouting, and I made a half-assed effort to scout last weekend when Boyfriend and I went mushroom hunting in Amador County, which is turkey central (not to mention nice wine country). The problem was that I didn't know exactly what kind of feathers and poop I was looking for, so I emailed him for guidance.
He obliged me by sending enormous close-up pictures of turkey crap, which pretty much made my day. I'm going to refrain from posting those pictures here, but only because I haven't asked for permission, not because I've suddenly become delicate. Suffice it to say that gobblers and jakes have J- or L-shaped poop, and hens poop in a curled pile. (Strangely enough, he sent me one shot of crap that was both L-shaped and curled. We'll call that one Pat.)
So that's your fun fact for the day: Curly poop = girls. Straighter poop = boys. Makes sense. I think.
Postscript: Just noticed the banner ad over my story... Yikes!
© Holly A. Heyser 2009
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Oh my, it's ME!