Keeping Turkeys on Your Property
Wild turkeys are like the ugly step child when it comes to wildlife management in North America. We love to hunt them each spring but we would rather give our full attention to the majestic whitetail deer the rest of the year.
Unless you are a legitimate turkey nut, you probably only worry about turkeys for a few months each year. Maybe two or three months before the spring season and the month or so that most of us get to actually chase them. Fall turkey seasons are a total afterthought as most of us are entrenched in deer season.
Think about it. How many shows, websites, and other outdoor related media out there focus heavily upon whitetail hunting and management? Now how many focus equally as much on turkeys? We're almost all guilty of giving the whitetail the bulk of our time, and there is nothing wrong with that.
You can still walk out on opening morning of spring turkey season and yelp a big gobbler into shotgun range. You can also stumble out of the gates when it comes time to change gears for a few months. You know exactly how to attract and manage for whitetails, but you may be pondering how to do the same for turkeys.
The good news is that turkey management does not have to be as in-depth and expensive as serious whitetail management. Keeping turkeys on your property can be extremely simple. You just have to give them a few resources to work with.
For most of us, it's all about keeping those roaming birds around long enough to hunt them during the spring. If your goals are as simple as keeping turkeys close for the spring, you might be able to get the job done with little hassle.
Keep 'Em Fed
A lot of folks who are primarily deer hunters but change gears for a bit to chase turkeys in the spring will tell you how many birds they saw from the deer stand. They usually go on to vent their frustrations on seeing huge "flocks" during deer season but no turkeys in the spring season.
The problem is that you had a big field of cut corn back in November but a field of freshly tilled dirt in late April. Turkeys are not much different than deer in the fact that they are tied to their stomachs. Not as much as much larger whitetails are, but turkeys still follow the food. A well balanced food plot game plan can always help you to hold turkeys through the spring season. Something far more simple can help as well.
Try to keep those corn feeders rolling through the late winter and spring. Not only can you help your deer herd out as they drop antlers and begin regrowth, but you can also hold turkeys at the same time. Just tossing out bags of shelled corn could do the trick. Keep some food available in the weeks leading up to the season. Do remember that many states have restrictions on baiting. Other states mandate a certain time period between baiting and hunting. Always check your regulations before baiting.
Supplemental feeding is a great option if you are allowed to do it, but what if your state has strict regulations? Food plots are always a great option if you enjoy getting serious with your hunting passion. Plots can also give you that next step in providing more for the turkeys year-round.
Planting clover is a no-brainer in deer or turkey hunting. Clover is extremely attractive for both species, adaptive, and it is there when you need it. Clover will be the first thing to green in the spring. Well before you can think of breaking out the tractor or planting any kind of warm season annuals or grain crops. Clover will continue to provide forage and bugging opportunities for turkeys all summer and into the fall.
Turkeys love clover. Clover food plots are also prime strut zones for big longbeards. Turkeys can stroll through clover plots with great visibility while picking at the green forage and the bugs on top.
Quality turkey habitat is obviously going to play a key role in your quest to keep them around your property. While turkeys are extremely adaptive to a wide variety of habitats, there are certain things that will work and others that will not. Your property may be perfect for deer with thick thermal cover, but that could work against you in the spring strut.
Turkeys love to be in areas with good visibility. While they will work their way through thick cover from time to time, turkeys prefer to be in moderately clear areas. Selectively harvested or mature blocks of timber, open fields and meadows. If you have CRP fields with brush up to your chest, there is a good chance that turkeys will be avoiding your area. A turkey's eyes are its number one tool.
Turkeys also need good nesting and roosting habitat. With no place to make a nest to lay eggs and no place to escape danger to rest, you will have no place for wild turkeys. Some form of mature timber is a must for quality roosting. Even better if you have mature timber that produces some type of mast crop. Good nesting habitat can come in many shapes and sizes. Having some grassy edges or meadows on your property adjacent to a woodlot or thermal cover could be the ticket.
Mow It Low
One of the easiest yet most overlooked land management practices for turkeys would be simple mowing. If you have access to a tractor and a brush hog, you can create a turkey friendly property. Spring grasses will be booming no matter which region of the country you call home. Mowing trails and keeping field edges moderate could help to make your property a preferred one for the local turkeys.
As we mentioned above, turkeys live by their incredible eyes. An overgrown property is not ideal. Giving the birds some well mowed walking trails through grassy areas would be smart. Again, keeping your larger fields and food plots from booming up to eye level for a turkey would be smart. Mowing can also expose a lot of bug activity, which turkeys will love as well.