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Intro to Wild Turkey


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Introduction to the Wild Turkey - Meleagris Gallopavo


Preferred wild turkey habitats, especially for Eastern birds, are large tracts of mature forests (bottomland and upland hardwoods, pine-hardwood, pine) interspersed with open areas (pastures, hayfields) that provide diversity for feeding and reproduction. Turkey habitats can often be improved through certain land management practices. Improvements can include thinning and control- burning pine stands, planting food plots, and creation and maintenance of permanent grass/forbs openings in heavily forested areas. Before implementing habitat improvements, a landowner should determine management objectives, inventory existing habitats, consult with a professional wildlife biologist, and develop a comprehensive management plan.

Forest management plans should consider wild turkeys and other wildlife species. Final harvest (clear-cut) areas in upland pine forests should be restricted to 50 acres or less with maximum feasible age differences between cutover and adjacent stand (s). Pine stands should have a 40-year or longer rotation length. Thinning and burning in many upland pine types are beneficial to timber and wildlife. Turkeys are attracted to these areas because the open under-story promotes growth of seed-producing grasses and legumes (important turkey foods) and increases insect abundance.

Conversion of hardwoods and large tracts of pine-hardwood forests to pine plantations could decrease turkey populations. Travel corridors and streamside management zones of older timber should be maintained at least 300 feet wide where clear-cutting is practiced. Small group select or clear-cuts (up to 20 acres) in bottomland hardwood stands can be used to regenerate hardwoods. Selective thinnings favoring oaks, beech, wild pecan, and other mast-producing species benefit turkeys and other wildlife. Hickory nuts are not a favored turkey food. Dogwoods, blueberries, huckleberries, and other fruits found in the under-story are good turkey foods, and these species should be protected and increased.

Suitable habitats that did not have viable populations of wild turkeys have been restocked with native wild birds in past years. However, pen-reared turkeys should never be released into the wild, since introduction of diseases and poor genetic stock could negatively affect wild populations.

Illegal hunting (poaching) can be a serious limiting factor. Therefore, laws based on sound biological information regulate hunting to protect the wild turkey population. Annual gobbler survival rates may range from 35 to 55 percent on heavily hunted public areas. As much as 90 percent of all gobbler mortality occurs during the spring hunting season. The effectiveness of regulations is only as good as the level of enforcement given, the degree of protection afforded turkeys by landowners, and the ethics of hunters. Access control by gating roads and close coordination among hunters and conservation officers can aid in the establishment and maintenance of wild turkey populations. Survival rates of gobblers and jakes are not significantly different. Harvest controls, such as not harvesting jakes, can increase the percentage of adult gobblers. Collection of information from gobblers harvested (weight, beard and spur length, and age class), hen-brood surveys, and gobble counts assists wildlife biologists in management of the wild turkey.

Predator management is a controversial issue in wild turkey management. Research has indicated that viable turkey populations can generally withstand predation if suitable habitat is provided. However, the main limiting factor on a turkey population in suitable habitat is predation. The decline of trapping and hunting of furbearers has led to large increases in these populations, which may be at or near an all-time high. Managers might enlist the aid of hunters and trappers to help manage turkey predators.

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Turkey & Turkey Hunting Magazine focuses on turkey hunting techniques, turkey behavior and biology, the latest wild turkey research for hunters, equipment, destinations, and hunting ethics.


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