Dan Higgins, Food and Drink Reporter for the USA Today and Green Bay Press Gazette, emailed the National Wild Turkey Federation, Wisconsin chapter, about doing a story on the history and food value of this majestic and enduring gamebird. Read his story here.
Wisconsin State Board member and technology chair Andy Opichka was quick to forward this message to Wisconsin staff and board members. John Motoviloff, NWTF’s Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation Coordinator for Wisconsin, put the word out to a network of NWTF friends and volunteers.
In mid-November, Motoviloff got word that a friend had harvested a wild turkey and was happy to deliver it to him. Motoviloff also secured wild turkey legs from another friend
On November 18, Motoviloff and Higgins met at Sunview Family Restaurant in Beaver Dam. The two are based, respectively, in Madison and Appleton.
Motoviloff provided Higgins with a recipe from his cookbook Wild Rice Goose and other Dishes of the Upper Midwest--and of course the turkey and accompanying paperwork. The slow-and-low-cooked legs turned out to be a big hit, but the whole roasted bird was—as sometimes happens—dry.
Higgins also spoke with Wisconsin DNR Assistant Upland Ecologist Alaina Gerrits, who provided details about the history and of wild turkeys in Wisconsin. The historic range of wild turkeys in Wisconsin extended from the Illinois border northward to a line from La Crosse to Green Bay. Wild turkeys were extirpated from the state in 1871.
Gerrits explained that wild turkeys were successfully reintroduced into the state in the 1970s following an agreement between the Wisconsin DNR and Missouri Department of Conservation. Ruffed grouse would be trapped in Wisconsin and exchanged for wild turkeys trapped in Missouri. Initial reintroduction efforts centered in the Driftless area of southwest Wisconsin.
Thanks to tireless work by staff and volunteers from WDNR, NWTF, and other conservation partners, wild turkeys now exist in all Wisconsin counties.
In a few short decades, Wisconsin has gone from having no wild turkeys at all to being among the leading states in wild turkey harvest—and a reason for Thanksgiving indeed.