The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is seeking the assistance of turkey hunters for a study of North Carolina’s wild turkey population and a disease that affects turkeys during the April 11-May 9 spring gobbler season.

Hunters who want to participate are asked to remove the un-feathered portion of the turkey’s lower leg, freeze it, place it in a sealable plastic bag labelled with the county and date of kill, beard length, spur length, sex of turkey – since bearded hens can be legally taken – and a hunter’s big game harvest ID number. Hunters can call 919-707-0050; they will be directed where to mail the samples or arrange to have agency staff make a pickup.

The Commission will use samples to study the distribution of lymphoproliferative disease virus (LPDV). Wild turkeys that carry the virus may exhibit outward signs similar to those of avian pox, including nodules around the head and feet, weakness, lethargy and disorientation. There is no evidence LPDV poses a threat to human health, but hunters should wear latex gloves and eye protection when dressing any wild game, including wild turkey, and avoid getting fluids around eyes, nose, mouth or open cuts.

The virus was first recognized in domestic turkeys in the United Kingdom in 1972 and later in domestic turkeys in Europe and Asia. The first documented cases of the virus in North America occurred in wild turkeys in 2009. It has since been found throughout the Midwest, Southeast and Northeast.

In North Carolina, there have been six documented cases of wild turkeys exhibiting symptoms. Diagnostic testing in 2013 of more than 200 hunter-killed turkeys that were not exhibiting symptoms revealed that many of these birds had been exposed to the disease previously.

The Commission hopes to collect and test samples from 500 wild turkeys to determine the prevalence rate and distribution of the virus in North Carolina.