Mia & the LG: Mia Anstine gives tips on how to introduce a new hunter to turkey hunting and how to improve turkey population.
When a new hunter asks how to get started hunting, LG and I often recommend turkey hunting. That, of course, is after he or she passes a Hunter Safety course. In a Hunter Safety class, a new hunter will learn about safety, firearms, laws and ethics. Conservation is another thing we can learn a lot about while we are hunting wild turkeys.
There were only 30,000 wild turkeys strutting, roosting and rearing broods in our country at the turn of the century, according to the Chief Conservation Officer for the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) James Earl Kennamer, Ph.D. The numbers have since increased to 7 million. This is due to predator control, habitat and conservation organizations like the NWTF.
When many of us think of going turkey hunting, we focus on what gun, choke, call or vest we should use. Scouting and patterning turkeys can be another challenge. Important things we can do are study the turkeys’ routines and habitat, and learn what motivates turkeys to stay in, or move out of, an area.
A couple years ago, we saw a diminished population of wild turkeys on our own ranch. In an attempt to see a return of the birds LG worked on maintaining the predator population. She put her own thoughts into increasing the turkey population. Then she asked our local NWTF representative about it. She learned which animals were potential predators to turkeys, where turkeys live and what turkeys eat.
Potential wild turkey predators
There are a number of wild animals that look for turkey snacks. Turkey eggs are a prime target for none other than Pepé Le Pew, aka. Mr. Skunk. According to wildlife biologists at the NWTF, a skunk will roll a turkey egg around until the egg cracks. Then the skunk will eat the contents of the egg. Statistically, only about half of all turkey nests make it to hatching. LG, in her predator management attempts, trapped several skunks, raccoons and foxes. She knew there were other marauders around that hadn’t become victim to her traps.
LG asked another biologist friend what other animals might have wild turkey on their menu. The list included snakes, coyotes, rodents, bobcats and even mountain lions. She also learned that the number 1 species wild turkeys have to fear swoop down from the sky. There are a number of birds that feed on, not only the eggs, but also turkey poults, and even mature turkeys. Owls, eagles, ravens, raptors and crows make this list.
Talking about these feathered predators reminded us of 1 that LG caught in her live trap. She once caught and released a turkey vulture. Turkey vultures are also known to seize the opportunity to enjoy a turkey egg or two. With all of this information about predators, LG asked, “How can the turkeys protect themselves?”
Wild turkey habitat
Wild turkeys need a habitat in which they can keep from becoming prey, but still find food.
Turkeys look for areas that provide shelter, and tend to live in areas that have good cover. Valleys and meadows surrounded by trees give them a safety zone within running distance. Leafy greenery and bushes are prime nesting areas. Thick brush and downfall can give birds coverage, even in winter months. Surprisingly, these areas also provide meals for young and old.
Food for wild turkeys
Turkeys feed on smaller creatures that tend to live in the same area that they do. Insects, small rodents, slugs, ants and spiders found in the brush become tasty morsels to them.
Wild turkeys also feed on seeds. In winter months, it is common to see wild turkeys in cattle pastures or near feedlots. This is due to the easy access of corn to fill their craws.
LG wanted to know what she could add to our ranch to give the wild turkeys more food. She was told that, in our area, it would be optimal to plant chufa or oat crops. The crops will help with erosion control, but need to be irrigated. Different crops will grow better in different climates. We suggest contacting your local NWTF representative for more information on what is recommended to plant in your area.
What can you do in your area to improve the turkey population?