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Tom, tom

It’s the spring turkey hunting season in Montana right now, continuing through May 20. So if you see people at the gas station or grocery store dressed up in their best camouflage, chances are they may be turkey hunters.

Turkeys are not native to Montana. They were first planted in the state years ago, but have really spread out and thrived over the past few decades. That’s thanks to groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, which cooperated on transplanting turkeys to different areas of the state.

There are five different kinds of wild turkeys in the United States. The ones planted in Montana were the Merriam’s subspecies, which are found mostly in western states. The others are the Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande and Gould’s. Another turkey subspecies, the Ocellated, lives only in Central America. A few Eastern turkeys live in the Flathead area.

Male Merriam’s turkeys can weigh 18 to 30 pounds, while females are much smaller, weighing around 8 to 12 pounds.

You can tell a male from a female turkey by a couple of different traits. Males, during the spring breeding season, will gobble and spread out their tail feathers, called fanning, to attract females. Most males, also called toms, have beards — hair-like tufts that poke out of their chest. Some also have a snood, a fleshy growth between their eyes that can turn bright red if they are trying to attract a female, called a hen. Some males also have spurs on the back of their legs. Young males are called jakes.

In the spring, turkey hunters are allowed to only shoot males. That’s one way to ensure that turkey hens lay eggs so there are plenty of turkeys that survive. Over two weeks, hens will lay between 10 to 12 eggs in the spring. The young turkeys, called poults, will hatch in about 26 to 28 days.

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Within three weeks the poults are able to fly high enough to roost in trees at night with the adult turkeys.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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