The spring season for wild turkeys is not too far away, and I am hoping to get a tag to hunt them in an area not too far from home. Surprisingly, wild turkey has become the second most sought after game animal, next to white tail deer, and I can understand why. Not only are turkeys great on the table, they are a challenging bird to hunt.
What is truly amazing is the resurgence of wild turkeys, thanks to conservation, support from hunters, and support from organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation and wildlife management divisions throughout the country. Wild turkeys were nearly hunted to extinction by the end of the 1800’s, while their habitat continued to be wiped out by the advancing populations of humans in the United States. Their continued population growth is a true testament to wildlife management, and now there are about 7 million wild turkeys in our forests today.
The turkey is a tall bird, well adapted for walking, running and flying; in fact they can fly up to 60 miles per hour. Wild turkeys are very smart birds with rather large brains, which make them a challenging bird to pursue, while enabling them to survive in the wild. Adult males are known as gobblers, toms, or jakes, they are about two times the size of hens and normally weigh between 16-30 pounds. One of the main differences physically between gobblers and hens is the gobbler’s coloration of shades of a red, white, and blue in the head and neck. The gobbler also has a beard protruding from his chest and sets of spurs which are located on the back of the leg near the foot.
The habitat of the turkey has changed since the days of the pilgrims and other European settlers. The large forested areas that were uncut are now gone. But despite the lack of large forested areas the wild turkey has managed to flourish because of its’ great ability to adapt to the surroundings. Wild turkeys are forest dwelling birds that require at least 40% of their habitat to be well matured forest areas. These forest areas can contain such trees as Oaks, Pines, and Hickories. Some turkeys have been known to survive on land that is sparsely forested.
The turkey is an opportunist and will eat almost anything, and may range many miles in a single day in search of food. It is an omnivore, and its diet consists of about 90% plant matter and about 10% animal matter. While acorns are the main food in a turkey’s diet, it will also feast on fruits, greens, seeds and some insects. Acorns make up about 50% of a turkey’s winter diet, but in areas where forestation is slim, there are a few agricultural crops such as corn or soybeans which fulfill their dietary needs.
Another key piece of habitat for wild turkeys is a permanent water supply within roughly a ¼ mile area. A permanent water supply may come from rivers, streams, or lakes and wetlands. Nesting and roosting will normally occur within 100 yards of this permanent water supply.
The turkey makes its nest primarily in trees, but sometimes on the ground. Turkeys like the safety of trees to protect them from predators, which is an important thing to understand if you hunt them. They will fly to their roosting trees at dusk, and if you can locate those roosting trees, that will increase your odds the next morning.
There is a lot to talk about regarding hunting turkeys, and I will be writing more about this topic as the season grows nearer. To me, hunting turkeys is a great way to get out in the spring, into the same areas that you will hunt deer and elk in the fall. Turkey hunting is also a great sport to get young hunters into the sport of hunting in general, it is a great opportunity to learn outdoorsman skills, hunting tactics, and the thrill of the hunt.