Acorns are an important food for wild turkeys. In most areas, acorns are eaten by turkeys every month of the year and more than a third of their diet consists of acorns in fall and winter. To ensure a dependable source of natural foods for turkeys landowners should strive for an equal distribution of age and size classes of trees on their timbered lands. This means that approximately one-third of a timbered tract would be in small trees and reproduction, one-third in pole-sized trees and one-third in mature saw logs. This sort of balance will ensure a dependable mast crop for wild turkey, plus the added benefit of openings created when stands of saw logs are harvested.
Food plots for turkeys should only be used to supplement natural turkey food supplies. Food plots, however, be helpful in times of extremely bad weather or during drastic shortages of natural food supplies and can be an important turkey management component. Winter wheat is one of the best crops from the standpoint of ease of establishment and use by turkeys. Forest clearings of one acre or larger, when planted to wheat in August or September, will provide green wheat all winter, with most turkey use occurring during early spring just before hens start to lay. Hens and poults will use the grain all summer.
In August, half of the field can be disced and the other half left standing. Volunteer wheat will provide a source of green food and some grain will remain in the other portion. Wheat planted for a cash crop also provides the very important winter green portion of the turkey’s diet; the stubble, if left, provides a good place for a hen and brood to catch insects.
Corn and beans also attract wild turkeys and are especially important during periods of severe weather in late winter and early spring when food supplies are short. Normally, there is an abundance of corn left after harvest, probably more than will be consumed by wildlife, but leaving a few rows standing next to timber ensures a food supply in case of deep snow. A portion of the corn left standing should be knocked down to ensure good utilization by turkeys.
Permanent food plots can be established in forest clearings by applying recommended amounts of limestone, rock phosphate and fertilizer and seeding in the fall with 1/2 bushel per acre of wheat and 2 pounds per acre of orchard grass. Then overseed one-half of the plot in the fall or winter with 2 pounds per acre of Latino cover and 2 pounds/acre of red clover, and the other half with 10 pounds per acre of Korean or Summit lespedeza. Such plantings should provide attractive, nutritious food for turkeys, deer, and other wildlife for 3 to 5 years without further treatment. Apply no more than 20 pounds per acre of nitrogen plant food to avoid excessive vegetative growth. Turkeys prefer thin stands of vegetation and may not use dense, lush stands.
Abandoned fields surrounded by timber are an essential part of the annual range of wild turkeys. These fields often include former house sites with bluegrass, an important food item during the spring and summer. Turkey management techniques should be implemented to keep such fields open and in a grass-legume mixture if possible. Mowing or moderate grazing improves the quality of these fields for turkey because it stimulates the growth of plants that comprise the diet of wild turkey.