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NO FEAR OF PEOPLE IN THE WINTER: Jim Ward of the Oregon Hunters Association feeds wild turkeys at the home of Jared and Debbie Rogers five miles north of Elgin. ().
NO FEAR OF PEOPLE IN THE WINTER: Jim Ward of the Oregon Hunters Association feeds wild turkeys at the home of Jared and Debbie Rogers five miles north of Elgin. ().

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

It is one of natures enduring and endearing riddles.

Union and Wallowa county residents are becoming increasingly familiar with this puzzler.

Each winter large groups of wild turkeys often flock to ranches. They come to eat food provided by landowners.

At some sites the turkeys will virtually eat out of the hands of people.

But theres a twist.

Come spring, when turkey hunting season begins, the birds are nowhere to be found. Only the sharpest and most determined hunters can find wild turkeys in forests.

For some reason turkeys know when to trust and when to distrust man.

They are like ghosts in the spring, said Jim Ward of the Union County chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association.

Northeast Oregons wild turkeys arent ghosts in the winter, though. One reason is Ray Fenn, who lives just south of La Grande. Fenn and his wife, Ginger, are among those who feed turkeys each winter. The Fenns feed about 40 turkeys on their property each morning. The birds usually come within 5 to 10 feet of them.

We get a kick out of feeding them, Ray Fenn said.

The Fenns have been distributing food to turkeys for about three years. None of the birds stay past winter.

As soon as the snow disappears in the spring they are gone, Ray Fenn said.

Fenn is among a number of people who feed turkeys with help from the Union County chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association. This winter the chapter has already provided more than a ton of corn.

Northeast Oregons wild turkey population appears to be growing at a significant rate because transplants of Rio Grande turkeys over the past 10 to 15 years have been successful.

This is the fifth year the Union County chapter of the OHA has helped people with turkey feeding. In many cases people who are feeding wild turkeys appear to be luring birds from areas and farms where theyre not welcome, said Ward.

Turkeys are better off without human assistance, but open ground is necessary, Ward said. When the snow is deep and crusted over the birds may need help.

The OHA is not trying to get more people feeding wild turkeys. However, it does want to help those who are already feeding turkeys, said Scott Spears, president of Union Countys OHA chapter.

People who would like to donate corn to the program or would like to help the OHA distribute it can call Ward at 963-6977.

People need to remember that once they start feeding turkeys they should not stop for the rest of the winter because the turkeys become dependent on the feed.

If someone stops feeding turkeys the birds are likely to move as a group to nearby areas and cause damage, said Craig Ely, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlifes northeast region supervisor.

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