History of the Turkey
Wild turkeys were abundant during the 1800s in Arkansas, based on reports by early explorers and settlers. Early Arkansans hunted turkeys for food on a year-round basis, but over-exploitation combined with habitat destruction decreased turkey numbers.
By the early 1900s turkeys had been eliminated from large areas of the state. With the formation of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in 1915, regulations protecting turkeys were implemented, but turkey numbers continued to decrease. Turkeys probably reached their lowest point in history during the 1930s.
The AGFC initiated many efforts to restore turkeys. Hen turkeys were made illegal to harvest in 1918; state game refuges were set up in the 1920s, and pen-raised wild turkeys (many raised at state game hatcheries) were released as early as the 1930s. None of these early efforts resulted in restoration of turkeys on a statewide basis.
In a mid-1940s survey of Arkansas game animals, an estimated 7,000 turkeys remained in Arkansas, mostly in the Gulf Coastal Plain and along the Mississippi River. Large areas, including most of the Ozarks and Ouachitas, had no turkeys left.
Amendment 35 to the state constitution in 1944, which restructured the AGFC, called for the restoration of native wildlife species, including wild turkeys. Wildlife managers realized that wild turkeys, rather than pen-raised birds, were needed to restore populations. Cannon-netting techniques in the early 1950s enabled wildlife managers to catch wild turkeys in large enough numbers to efficiently restock depleted areas.
Many stocked turkeys were captured on Brandywine Island near West Memphis in the 1960s and 1970s. This effort has resulted in turkeys being restored to almost all suitable habitats in Arkansas, with present populations estimated at around 125,000 turkeys.