The four components of wild turkey habitat are food, cover, water and space. If you plan on improving the turkey population found in your area, then understanding these will help you identify the applicable turkey management techniques for your area. In short, identifying the limiting factors to turkey on your property will focus your attention on the most warranted turkey habitat management practices. To first understand what turkey need, make sure you check out this article on turkey habitat. Once you know what they need, figure out what you may need to provide or improve in your area.
Turkey Survey Techniques
Cameras – Motion detection cameras, commonly referred to as game or trail cameras, can be used to identify the turkey on your property. In many cases, you will not get information on individual birds, but in some cases certain birds will have features that allow them to be easily identifiable. Camera surveys are good at identifying the presence and absense of birds and they are also good as getting a gobbler to hen ratio. Cameras have a lot of limitations for surveying turkey, but they are better than the data you don’t get.
Transects – Most plants and animals can be surveyed using line transect surveys. Although this can give a landowner an idea of the turkey density in an area, it is best used in areas that have a good number of wild turkey. If you already know that turkey numbers are low in your area, then performing transect surveys will only confirm that you have little to no birds. If this is the case, leave this survey technique to those monitoring healthy turkey populations.
Roost Counts – These is the best way to estimate the turkey population in an area. However, it does require finding active turkey roosts. Locating a turkey roost can take some time, but these areas can be easily identified if they are found on your property. Counting turkey on a roost can be done in late evening or even after dark when a full moon in present. Counting turkey on a roost on an annual basis will let you know whether a turkey population is increasing, decreasing, or remaining stable.
Habitat Management Techniques
Roost Enhancement – If a suitable roost site is not located nearby, then a viable turkey population becomes very difficult to obtain. However, if you build it, they will come. Or at least they may come, but they definitely will not if it’s not available. Roost sites consists of large trees along drainages with large, open limbs and an open understory. Roost sites can vary from 2 to 5 acres in size and the habitat can be managed to reflect what turkey are looking for in a roost site.
Prescribed Burning – This habitat management technique is the most effective and cost effecient way to manage for great turkey habitat. Burning can maintain and enhance understory plants in forest areas and improve grasslands for feeding turkey. A turkey’s diet consists of forbs, grasses, seeds, and insects, and prescribed burning can help increase these either directly or indirectly. Prescribed burning is the single most effective way to provide turkey with the habitat that they need, but it will take some a good knowledge of proper firing practices to get the job done both effectively and safely.
Supplemental Feeding Techniques
Food Plots – When it comes to managing for game species, the first thing everyone wants to do is throw more food into the system—the idea being that more food means more animals. Although this can work in some cases, it’s also the easiest thing someone can do. This does not mean this is the best thing someone can do. Food plots are great at providing supplemental food for turkey, especially during the winter, but in most cases food is not a limiting factor for turkey populations.
Protein Pellets – Protein pellets are commonly used to provide supplemental food for white-tailed deer. The high level of protein combined with micronutrients and macronutrients (vitamins and minerals) will very much help a turkey in it’s day-to-day activities and overall body condition, but these items are usually present in the turkey’s environment. With that said, a free-choice turkey feeder filled with high protein food will be a magnet for a flock of turkey.
Harvest Management Techniques
Select Harvest – This harvest method involves carefully monitoring the entire turkey population and removing the appropriate number of each sex. Turkey management is as much about habitat management as it is about harvest management. Keeping that in mind, the number of turkey harvested will be determined by performing surveys to identify the poult production on an annual basis. If there is a good hatch, then more turkeys can be harvested. If poult production is low, then a few to no turkey are harvested during the hunting season.
Gobblers Only – This is probably the most widely excepted way to manage the harvest of wild turkey. It involves shooting no more than 20% of the gobblers in any one year. However, as simple as it sounds, you still have to estimate how many gobblers are in your turkey population. This can be done using roost counts and camera surveys. Roost counts will give you the total number of birds in the area, but camera counts will tell you the gobbler to hen ratio. Using these data together, you can estimate the total number of gobblers on your property.