Managing land for turkeys
Outta' the Woods
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 wild turkeys to your property.
Wild turkeys, like white-tailed deer, are referred to as “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, half of your property should be in mature forests and the other half in early-succession “openings,” such as fields, clearcuts or forests having between 40 and 60 square feet per basal area. Basal area is a measurement used to determine the density of trees per acre. Land that falls into the 40-60 basal range has 40 to 60 average-sized (13.5 inches in diameter at the base) pine trees per acre.
To create even better and more varied habitats for turkeys, you should offer “differing age classes” of forests and early-successional areas – and make prescribed burning a big part of your management plan.
Harvest pine trees on a different section of your land on a 10-year cycle so that after a few decades, the property consists of several sections with trees of varying sizes (ages).
Early-succession habitat can be achieved on “plantation-cut” areas with a 40-60 basal count, because the trees are spaced out enough for sunlight to penetrate the forest floor, where frequent fire enables new growth of succulent woody ornamentals, native wiregrass and goldenrod.
It also is important to keep any hardwood hammocks, drains, ravines, bottoms, wetlands and other unique habitats intact and free from timbering. Hardwoods are an essential element of wild turkey management. Thick hardwood lowlands provide travel corridors that turkeys and deer use extensively.
If there’s not any water on the property and you have the financial means to do so, dig a pond. Turkeys, as well as all other critters, need water to drink, so if you have that, then you have yet one more piece of the turkey-management puzzle.
“Buffer” strips of native grasses and woody ornamentals should be left unmowed. Hens require this thick understory cover for nesting. When possible, prescribed burning should be applied that allows for a low, woody component to be scattered throughout most of the timber stands. Periodically lengthening your burning rotations will give you this desired effect and help provide suitable nesting habitat.
In Florida, most hens begin to lay their eggs in late March or early April, but the nesting season can extend through June. After all of the eggs are laid, they take about 25 days to hatch. Therefore, if you can, you may want to limit burning or mowing of preferred nesting habitat through August.
Good brood habitat should hold food in the form of seeds, insects (an invaluable protein source) 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 predators.
There is great interest nationally in the planting of food plots for wildlife, including for turkeys. Within extensive closed-off 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.
Food plots 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 turkeys.
Once the decision has been made to create food plots, you need to know where to put them, how big and what shape to make them and what to plant. The best ones 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.
For tips on food plots, go to your local IFAS Extension office or, online, visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ag140.