Photo: Mark Raycroft
Want to transform your so-so hunting parcel into the ultimate turkey property? Then learn from whitetail deer hunters and manage even small pieces of land for year-round use by turkeys.
If you do it right, you’ll have excellent habitat for spring hunting, but also all the components you need to entice hens to raise broods that you can hunt for years to come.
A couple of years after creating a mosaic of habitat, Robert Hosking now kills several gobblers a year off his 40-acre parcel in North Carolina, and he has plenty of year-round use by nesting hens, young broods, and overwintering flocks. Here’s how you can build a small-plot turkey utopia.
Mast is great, but to concentrate turkeys you’ll need food plots. Instead of using pricey turkey-specific seed blends from stores, Hosking recommends a blend of rye, clover, winter wheat, and sunflowers, which he plants in close proximity to small patches of meadow grasses, where poults find grasshoppers after they get their dietary start with seeds.
Don’t overlook the importance of winter feeding. Hosking uses automatic feeders to distribute cracked corn through the lean months, but even where supplemental feeding is allowed, Hosking suggests planting winter wheat and rye to provide natural forage above the snow. Because standing grain will be hit hard by deer, consider low-growing forage, like the chufa tuber, in southern latitudes.
If you don’t have a natural water source, dig out a small pond. Near his food plots, Hosking scrapes a depression in the soil, just enough to hold a little standing water to keep the turkeys coming for a drink. When these puddles dry up, they often make great dusting bowls.
Turkeys pick their own roosts. Identify them by locating an abundance of gobbling at dawn in areas with the most mature trees. Once you find a roosting site, resist the urge to hunt there. Nothing will move turkeys off your property quicker than showing up in their bedroom.
You can create spring nesting habitat by piling up deadfall (limbs and woody brush) throughout the winter. Assemble these piles along the edges of timber and dense, grassy meadows. Encourage the growth of thorny brambles and dense brush along meadow edges and maintain the meadow canopy with grasses that grow at least 2 feet high.
Hosking traps egg-raiding raccoons, possums, and skunks, but he also uses a natural predator defense. By deploying lots of deadfall, he keeps predators guessing about where turkeys might nest. Even though hens may only utilize a few of these nesting sites, Hosking notes that predators have to check every single one.
Illustration: Pete Sucheski