Turkey Bonus: 5 Practical Tips to Improve Turkey Habitat

Turkey hunting 1

The older I get the more I enjoy doing things to help wildlife on the property where I hunt. I don’t own it but am blessed to be able to suggest a few things and implement some of them.

Turkey and deer populations are not large so we are selective with our trigger fingers and try, during the off-seasons, to implement beneficial habitat improvements. Here are some examples.

Prescribed burning is a benefit to wildlife and habitat. Check out this video from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission.

Prescribed Burning

Prescribed burning is beneficial for habitat and wildlife. Fire removes built-up leaf litter that chokes vegetation growth, kills undesirable vegetation, opens the forest floor to new growth, helps revitalize the soil, and spurs growth of native vegetation. In short, fire is inexpensive habitat management with incredible benefits.

Burned land is black, ugly and doesn’t look like it would do much to help turkeys. But once new growth emerges, which typically doesn’t take long, turkeys will take advantage of the tender shoots, and will continue to use the area as more vegetation emerges.

It goes without saying, but you don’t just light a match and burn. Prescribed burning should be done under the best weather conditions, with a certified specialist supervising the process if your budget allows. Be sure to check local and state regulations for any permits and burn notices that might be required.

Provide Nesting Cover

Hen turkeys look for optimal nesting cover near food and water sources, and adapt to what is available. We’ve all seen photos of turkey eggs found in a nest amid leaves in a hardwood forest. But if brushy cover is available, a hen will use it to more adequately obscure the nest from predators.

You can provide this nesting cover on your property by planting native vegetation that provides a canopy about 2 feet off the ground. Ragweed, honeysuckle and other horizontal-type cover is helpful, as is having this near open areas such as a pasture where the hen and poults can forage during spring and summer. Maybe even more ideal is nesting cover on the edge of a field near a hardwood forest that offers shade and food.

I hunted an area years ago that had all of this. Turkeys used an overgrown gas pipeline bisected by a creek that flowed through a hardwood forest and into a pasture on adjoining private land. They moved along this creek, raised poults in the pipeline brush and were pretty doggone difficult to hunt. But it was a great experience.

If you’re working to provide more or better nesting cover, be sure to have multiple sites if possible. Predators wouldn’t have much trouble honing in on one area if turkeys nested there each year. Remember, too, that a weedy area you think might need to be cleaned up could be one of the best nesting sites.

Sow It and Grow It

Some days during turkey season it all comes together and other days, it's a frustrating mess. (Photo: NWTF)

Some days during turkey season it all comes together and other days, it’s a frustrating mess. (Photo: NWTF)

Turkeys are foragers and will seek the best food sources possible. Whether it’s in Texas or Oklahoma where we think there’s “nothing in that scrub” for them, Florida’s palmetto thickets, the vineyards of California’s wineries or whatever’s available in Maine, turkeys will find and feast on the best available food.

They’re not just looking for berries, leaves and tender shoots. Turkeys eat nuts, grinding them in their gizzards, and we know they love corn and other agricultural crops. Insects make up a good portion of their diet when readily available, too. The next time you kill a turkey during late spring, open the crop and see how many grasshoppers or other insects are crammed in it. This is a great way to learn more about a turkey’s diet.

Consider planting vegetation native to your area instead of using non-native plants. In Georgia, for example, some beneficial native plants include American beautyberry, tree huckleberry, Elliott’s blueberry and wild strawberry. In Indiana, American cranberry could be an option. Also consider planting what might be considered weeds, such as ragweed, if it’s native to your area.

By doing this you could help turkeys, and also help restore native vegetation to your area and eliminate non-natives. Locate these plantings near nesting areas for even more benefit.

Limit Pesticides
Turkeys feed on grasshoppers and other insects when available, but if you’re fogging up areas with pesticides then you could be negating one possible food source. Obviously, if you’re farming on a large scale or hunting near large farming operations this might not be an option. But it’s one consideration if you’re in charge and can reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides.

Predator Control
Coyotes, foxes, raccoons, opossums and other predators prey on turkeys and their nests. This can impact turkey numbers, and predator control should be considered.

Hunting predators is a lot of fun and is one means of helping to control predator populations. But year-round trapping can have a more significant impact when done correctly. Search online for your state’s trapping association to find trappers near your area. State wildlife agencies might also be able to assist in locating trappers. Trapper & Predator Caller magazine (www.TrapperPredatorCaller.com) also is a great source of information.