ROMANCE, Wis. - You could say the people of Romance have a love affair with wild turkeys.

Turkey Capital of Wisconsin, this small unincorporated community of Vernon County is where turkey hunting in the state picked up again in the early 1980s.

Native Americans in the area hunted turkeys before disease eventually wiped out the population.

But that all changed in 1976 when the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources entered into deal with the state of Missouri to swap five grouse for each one of two dozen wild turkeys in a bid to return the bird to the natural habitat.

"They wanted grouse, which we had," said Ray Whisler, who later helped Romance receive its official turkey hunting designation in the early 1980s. "The (turkey) flock originated in Romance, and they just started multiplying.

"It made a lot of local people happy to get some recognition," Whisler said. "It was personal promotion for our area and a business promotion."

Howard Maxwell, who was born and raised in Romance, remembers well the first turkey-hunting season.

"Within five years, we had a season," Maxwell said. "We learned a lot, I'm sure. We did a lot of calling."

Two dozen turkeys and their offspring had quickly taken root to the woods and flat nutritious farmland in the valley in which Romance lies along the Bad Axe River, about four miles east of Genoa.

Some of them migrated and others were trapped and taken to other parts of the Coulee Region. The result 26 years later is turkeys throughout Wisconsin, but it's no coincidence that Vernon County is Zone One.

"There are thousands now," Maxwell said. "They're a pest," he said with a laugh.

The turkey capital designation was not without competition as Boscobel also tried to lay claim.

"They tried to steal it from us, but they didn't make her," Maxwell said.

He added there really wasn't any bad blood between the two communities, and Boscobel ended up calling itself Turkey HUNTING Capital of Wisconsin.

Romance, population about seven not including the suburbs, has two taverns, two baseball diamonds and plenty of green space.

No one seems to know how Romance got its name, but it might stem from a pioneer's lover's lane where people went parking in buggies, locals said. Now the attraction is turkeys, and some hunters even visit Romance to register birds shot elsewhere because of the designation, Whisler said.

Until last year, Whisler owned one of Romance's taverns for about 15 years.

"We have pretty good turkey around here," said Kevin Wuolle, who owns the Romance Store, which is really more of a tavern. "I actually enjoy seeing the turkey walking around. A lot of times in winter, we see them walking up the highway."

There certainly are more turkeys than people in Romance, and that is just fine with its hunters.

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