Whether you oversee a large tract of land or own a smaller parcel, there are many wildlife management techniques you can use to help attract and keep wild turkeys on your property.
Wild turkeys, like deer, are “edge species,” because of their need
for more than one type of habitat. Most of the time, with large tracts
of land, this isn’t a problem because the vast landscape is diverse
enough. But in the case of small-acreage, one-habitat properties, it’s
up to you as the landowner to create varied, preferred habitats if you
expect turkeys to use the property.
For optimal turkey habitat, most experts believe a “rule of halves”
should be applied to the landscape. What that means is that half of the
area (and if you own a small tract, then include surrounding properties)
should be in mature forests and the other half in early-succession
openings, such as fields or clear-cut and plantation-cut landscapes.
To create even better and more varied habitats for turkeys, you
should offer differing age classes of forests and early-succession areas
– and make prescribed burning a big part of your management plan. This
will enable new growth of succulent, woody ornamentals, native grasses
and weedy-type flowers.
Hardwood lowlands provide travel corridors that turkeys and deer use
extensively and feel comfortable moving through. Most wild turkeys
prefer to roost in trees over or near water, so it’s important to leave
these areas undisturbed and free from timbering.
Buffer strips of native grasses and woody ornamentals should be left
unmowed where clear-cut areas meet pine or hardwood forests. Hens
require this thick understory cover for nesting.
In Florida, most hens begin laying their eggs in late March or early
April and the eggs take about 25 days to hatch, so take care not to burn
or mow through August. After hatching, poults will roost on the ground
for the first 14 days, and during this period, approximately 70 percent
of these young birds won’t survive, primarily because of predation from
raccoons, hawks, coyotes, foxes and bobcats.
Attempts to control these predators are usually ineffective and
economically unfeasible, so your efforts are better spent creating and
maintaining good-quality brood habitat.
Good brood habitat should hold food in the form of seeds, insects and
tender, new-growth vegetation for young poults to feed upon throughout
the summer. It should consist of 1- to 3-foot-tall grass and weeds open
enough to enable the young poults to move about, yet dense enough to
provide cover from the above-mentioned predators.
There is great interest nationally in the planting of food plots for
wildlife, including for turkeys. Within extensive closed-canopy forested
areas, food plots and/or game feeders are essential to keeping turkeys
on your property. Where an open forest structure is maintained by
adequate timber thinning and the use of fire, such supplemental feeding
is not as necessary because there is enough natural browse vegetation on
which game can feed.
On very large tracts of land, sufficient supplemental feeding can be
quite expensive. In these cases, proper use of burning and
timber-thinning management are more economical ways of providing food
for turkeys and other wildlife.
Food plots, though, are a lot more cost-effective at feeding game
than using feeders on moderate-sized pieces of property. In cases of
smaller tracts, perhaps where food plots can’t be utilized because the
landscape is all lowland and you have a closed canopy, game feeders
filled with corn or soybeans are your only option for attracting
When thinking about good food plot sites, avoid excessively wet or
dry areas, and don’t place them along heavily used roads to minimize
disturbance and possible poaching.
The best food plots are long and narrow rectangular shapes that
follow the contour of the land. When possible, create food plots where
the length (longest part) runs east to west. That way, the planted crops
will receive the most direct sunlight.
In the fall, cereal grains like wheat, oats and rye can be planted
along with Austrian winter peas, clover and brassicas like turnips, rape
and kale. Except for clover, these crops grow well in most of Florida.
Clover requires a higher soil pH – between 6.5 and 7 – and it often
won’t grow in the sandy soils that make up most of our state, unless you
apply enough lime to bring the pH level up. In the northern-tiered
counties that border Alabama and Georgia, the soil is richer with red
clay, and several varieties of clover and other legumes will grow well
All of the above-mentioned cool-season forages can be planted by
“broadcast” method after Oct. 1. At least twice as much fertilizer
should be applied. Slightly cover the seed by pulling a drag over it,
and try to put your crop in the ground when the soil is holding some
moisture and rain is in the forecast.
In the spring after May 1, you can plow under your “browned-up” fall
crop and replace it with any combination of soybeans, cowpeas, browntop
millet, sorghum or peanuts. If you can afford it, turkeys are especially
fond of chufa. That, along with the other warm-season forages, can be
broadcasted and planted just like the cool-weather crops.
Hopefully, using some or all of these wildlife-management practices
will help bring in turkeys and increase your property’s carrying
capacity for birds. If you need assistance, contact the FWC’s Landowner
Assistance Program, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Natural
Resources Conservation Service or your county agricultural extension
agent. Here’s wishing you luck obtaining your management goals and
Written By: FWC