Basics on Turkey Hunting and more! Part One By Joe Nawrot, Team Renegade Pro-Staff
With the spring turkey season almost here or in some locations already in the making I want to go over the basics that we may or may not know. Feeding, senses and more about wild turkey. Read on to find more about these elusive birds and put the odds in your favor come opening morning.
Food and Feeding:
In the spring and summer, adult birds feed on leaves, grasses and seeds. From summer through fall and winter they will feed on bugs, alfalfa and corn crops such as picked corn fields. Turkeys will go through and pick up what the combine missed or left behind.
Turkeys typically will feed twice a day, in the early morning birds fly down from the roost trees to feed. Sometimes immediately, or in some cases they will have to travel very long distances to food sources.
In most areas a turkey can get water from early morning dew or moisture in the plants they consume. But in areas with scarce water sources, they should have water holes such as creeks, rivers, or ponds. If nothing is close to your hunting area for water, you can dig a man made hole, or have someone make a pond to serve as a place for not just turkeys to congregate but wildlife of all kinds will soon appear to your hunting area increasing your odds.
After the morning feeding period, the flock will move to cover where the birds will dust and loaf around until afternoon. At which time they will feed again and return to the roost just before dark (depending on region, predators or hunting pressure) and typically fly up early on stormy days. On cloudy, snowy mornings a turkey can remain in the roost for hours after first light.
Wild turkeys are heavy feeders in the fall and winter months, they‘ll store fat for the upcoming breeding season, the males will store fat in the breast known as the ‘sponge’ which is the fatty area just above the breast bone. Hens consume insects and other sources of calcium needed to create eggshells.
When the food sources are abundant during the spring and summer, turkeys are on the move constantly and feeding areas are difficult to pinpoint. The flock may travel 2 mph as it moves along, feeding on whatever is available. However, during the fall when turkeys are eating on falling acorns and other nuts feeding areas become clearly marked by patches of bare earth created when birds scratch away ground debris.
To prove the wild turkeys toughness their ability to survive the harsh conditions of winter, wild turkeys can survive heavy snow up to two weeks without food. The birds will conserve energy by staying on the roost and minimize their movement, for days at a time turkeys can loose up to half their body weight.
Winters, especially heavy cold winter snows can present a real risk to a turkey‘s survival. It‘s difficult for birds to move and scratch through crusted, deep snow to find food. In situations like this turkey‘s often seek to areas where other animals such as deer or cattle have pawed through the snow.
In some regions of the country farmers and wildlife managers will often leave standing corn fields in the northern parts of the states, this helps turkey survival through severe winters such the one in Wisconsin back in 2000.
For years now you heard about the wary ole gobbler that always eluded the hunter. Turkeys have excellent 300-degree sight without moving their head. Turkeys can also spot the faintest movements, as when first hatched the (polt) will learn very effective skills needed in the wild by the hen turkey, any movement or strange sounds a hen will immediately alarm the polts by Putting and walking or flying away.
They have a little more trouble distinguishing shapes but a hunter must stay very still and make no surprising movements. One way to keep hidden and get away with movement is by investing in a pop up blind that offers quick set-up, black interior, numerous shooting windows and easy access, Double Bull Archery blinds offer these features and more weather it‘s the T5 series or the New Matrix blind. Wild turkeys are diurnal (active during daylight). They have very poor night vision and are vulnerable to night feeding predators; they will always seek elevated roost trees where they will remain until morning when it‘s safe to fly down.
When a hunter has seen a wild turkey flee at the slightest noise, will testify to acute hearing, a turkeys hearing is very effective at eluding hunters walking through the woods and keeping from hungry predators. Turkeys don‘t have ear flaps so they have to turn their head back and forth to find and pin point sound.
Fortunately for us hunters, the wild turkey‘s breeding behavior is a noisy, boisterous affair. During the spring, mature toms gobble loudly, announcing their presence to any hens and hunters within earshot. When a tom hears the seductive yelps of a hen- or calling hunter- he often responds swiftly, following where his hormones lead.
The wild turkey‘s breeding season begins when the longer days of spring promote an increase in the hormones. The courtship can start as early as February in the south, and can last into late May in the far northern states, and may be delayed or advanced by major weather changes. Increased gobbling marks the start of this annual courtship ritual.
Tom flocks remain intact through the mating season. The dominate tom does most of the breeding and aggressively suppresses the breeding activity of subdominant toms. Hen flocks break into much smaller groups of 2 to 5 birds as the breeding season progresses. Bred hens eventually seek isolation for nesting.
Once a tom‘s gobble has been answered by a hen, the two communicate through a series of back-and-forth gobbles and yelps that assist them in finding one another. Once a gobbler spots a hen, he generally stops his approach and gobbling, and immediately begins displaying. It is the hens responsibly to move closer if she wishes to be bred. If several hens are present, this courtship may carry on for hours.
The highly coordinated strut begins with the tom fanning his tail and puffing his body feathers. He pulls his head back against his chest, drags his wing tips on the ground, and moves forward in a slow, stiff legged walk. This routine is preformed over and over. Throughout the strut the tom vibrates his wings, making a low-pitched humming sound, called drumming. His head color will vary from white to blue to red, depending on the level of his excitement.
The hen decides if and when mating occurs, after approaching the gobbler and she’s ready to mate she flexes her neck against her back, then holds her body in a horizontal position and walks in front of him. She will then crouch on the ground, inviting the tom to breed her.
A dominant tom who has found a group of hens mates those that invite him. Subdominant toms manage to breed other hens while the dominant tom is occupied. When a tom is courting females, it’s almost impossible for a hunter to call him away. Late in the day, however I have found that as bred hens leave to nest my chances of calling a tom increases since the tom again is vulnerable to more breeding.
These few tactics can and will increase your odds this spring, all the above is based 100% on experience through observing birds in different regions. Check back soon on Part Two: Behavior, Communication, Equipment, blinds and more.
Written by Joe Nawrot Team Renegade Pro-Staff Jnawrot2004@yahoo.com
Joe Nawrot- 2003 Iowa Extreme Division Turkey Calling Competition 1st place Champion 2004 Iowa Extreme Division Turkey Calling Competition runner up Two time Wisconsin Turkey Calling Competition runner up 2002 Gurnee, Illinois Bass Pro Shops Turkey Calling Competition runner up 2002 U.S. Open Qualifier held in Springfield MO