Knowing Turkeys

Sponsored by: Whitetail University, Atsko,

 

By: Wade Nolan Bowhunting Biologist

A few months ago, I was sitting in a ground blind on Robert Hoague’s hunting lease hunting hogs near Waco Texas when a flock of turkeys moved in right after first light. I was sitting in the back of the darkened blind as they fed and walked within 2 feet of my open blind windows. It was a rush and I learned something.

The winter flock had a few jakes mixed in but was mostly hens. The jakes stayed only a few minutes. I think the jakes were trailing the hens. The feeder where I was sitting hadn’t been sat in for months and they are never hunted near the feeders in the spring. In other words, they had no bad history with the blind and hunters. But boy, were they alert.

Turkey eyes are designed to detect predators. Understanding how their eyes work can give you and edge.

Turkeys are a prey species. Coyotes, foxes, bobcats and hunters with turkey tags routinely hunt them. They have to be alert at all times. Turkeys have been uniquely equipped to detect predators. With turkeys, the eyes have it. They can see at least as good as a man with 20/20 vision but even more significant they can see more of the spectrum than we can.

That morning before I left the blind a pair of grey foxes came by the blind. The turkeys saw them coming and ran off as if someone fired a starting pistol. They have a very poorly developed sense of curiosity. If something looks even a little bit fishy, they simply leave.

The hen in the center and the one on the right can both see you. If you can see their eye, they can see you.

The turkey eyes are set on the side of the head and offer monocular vision. That is in contrast to our binocular vision where each eye sees the same scene from a little different angle. To get depth perception a turkey must turn its swiveling head a bit and see the scene from the other eye. This they do quite well. They can see a 270-degrees field of view without moving their head. Therefore, when they move their head only a ¼ turn they can see 360. The next time you see an unalarmed turkey at close range watch its head. It is constantly moving from side to side. They are watching 360-degrees.

Check your camo with a black light. If it glows blue, you have a project ahead of you…kill the UV.

The really unique ability they have is to see into the UV spectrum. This means they see all of the colors of the rainbow plus they can see the blue glow your camo may be emitting. You must understand that UV-brighteners gather in and concentrate UV light and re-radiate it as blue. These brighteners may come already imbedded in your camo turkey vest before it left China. On the other hand, you may have washed your camo pants or shirt in Tide, Cheer or All and now you are glowing blue to a turkey’s eyes. Not much blue out there. Don’t let it be you.

UV-KILLER and Sport-Wash are two steps that serious turkey hunters never miss.

You should always treat your turkey hunting camo with UV-KILLER by Atsko. Recently, Mathews picked up the entire Atsko line www.atsko.com  and it is now available in Mathew’s Bow dealer shops. The label now has Lost Camo on it. To treat your camo… first wash in Sport-Wash and then spray with UV-KILLER. After treating, as long as you only wash your camo in Sport-Wash the UV-glow will be gone once and for all.

Turkeys know what animals like to eat them…deer don't make the list.

While I sat there motionless in my ground blind, a deer walked in. The turkeys had seen it approaching and paid no attention to it. Once it made it to the corn two hens actually charged the young buck and backed it up saying …my corn, find your own. Although the buck weighed more than the entire flock, he gave ground.

I caught this bald eagle blinking with his nictitating membrane. Note his clear eye in the one pic and the smoky membrane over his eye a few seconds later. Turkeys have the same membrane.

Another interesting eye feature a turkey eye has is a nictitating membrane, which acts as a transparent eyelid that flicks cross the eye every few seconds. It allows the turkey to blink without losing his view for a millisecond. The membrane also keeps the eye lubricated. Although I have not filmed the nictitating membrane at work in a turkey eye, I didn’t get to see the same membrane at work in a bald eagle last summer in Alaska. It acts as a means to keep the eye moist during windy flights.

If it is your goal to arrow a turkey this spring, I have some info that could prove valuable to you. Turkeys don’t like big blobs of UV-Blue sitting at the base of a tree. Also in the low light environment of a blind UV can shine and give you up. Don’t skip the UV issue.

If you decide to shoot a turkey this spring with a bow, I strongly suggest you use a big mechanical broadhead. A wounded turkey can run at speeds over 20 mph and can fly at 50 mph. If you don’t anchor them, they often become fly-always.

This Swhacker broadhead is a perfect turkey broadhead. One-inch in flight but it scissors open to 2 ¼-inch razor sharp blades upon impact.

The best shot is to shoot them side to side through the wings. Slice the wing bones and they will be walking, not flying. Use a big mechanical with a 2-inch + blade and your bird will likely not go far. A turkey has over 600 feathers but the ones you are trying to cut are 10 or so flight feathers on each wing. Breaking a wing bone is critical to impede flight. The target size is only as big as a tennis ball. Like a deer, a heart lung shot will do it every time. If the broadhead and arrow stays in the bird, it further impedes flight. www.swhacker.com

Those are a few turkey facts that will make you hunt more successful this season. Understanding their strengths will make you more effective. Don’t buy into the chatter that they are brilliant birds. They simply have a well developed set of defense mechanisms to protect them against predators. Now that you understand some of them, you are their equal. Go arrow a bird.