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Taking Risks

This Turkey Tuesday is about taking risks. Research on many critters is showing that individuals have defined personalities, with some being risky and others being shyer and more cautious. Us turkey hunters can relate, we hunt toms that define taking risks and others that epitomize being cautious. Ongoing work by Nick Gulotta and Patrick Wightman suggests that toms lend themselves to being assigned to a personality relative to how they move, with some moving faster and using more open areas that increase visibility while others do the reverse. Interestingly, it appears that there is considerable variation among toms in these personalities, and that hunters tend to disproportionately harvest birds who are risk-takers and increase their visibility by spending more of their time near openings. While this is not surprising, the next step in such work is to determine whether these risk-taking traits are heritable – meaning, they are passed down through generations. Research on other species has shown that some movement traits are heritable, but it’ll take more work to determine if this is the case with wild turkeys. Regardless, I find it interesting to ponder this possibility and hopefully you do too. As turkey hunters, we have many tools to alter a bird’s behavior – we call them to a location where a “hen” is stationary, use camouflage and blinds to fool their vision, and can use decoys to create the illusion that a receptive hen is present, or a competitive tom or jake is there to steal breeding opportunities. Is there potential that we’ll change how toms react to us hunters, or how behavioral traits occur in populations? Are the tools we have at our disposal making toms that are not risk-takers become just that, and will that make toms in some populations harder to hunt decades from now? More research is needed to answer these questions, but the take home is that some toms do appear to be risk-takers when it comes to how they move, and it influences their survival.

Pic by Jay Scott.

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