By early June turkey season has come to an end except for a few northeastern states. However, the ending of turkey season doesn’t mean we need to shift our focus away from turkeys.It should be the exact opposite. We should turn our attention and focus on poult recruitment.
Hens in your area may still be nesting or they may have already hatched a brood. These poults and their survival are vital to ensuring your flock continues to grow and you sustain a healthy population of turkeys on your property. These few management practices are not the only ones that have proven to work but ones you can easily implement on your property to maximize poult recruitment. There is no one specific practice that is the best, but when combined they have shown to be beneficial.
BUGS & EDGES
The typical day in the early life of a poult is made up primarily of feeding. Hens will want to have their broods in an area that provides protein that these young poults need to develop and survive. The best source of protein for a poult is bugs and there is no better place to find them than field edges. The same food plots that you are going to mow can be the ones that have edges left to attract and hold bugs. Rather than mow the entire plot mow strips randomly across the plot. Drive your tractor with the mower off and raised to mark the path you intend to mow This will insure there is not a hen on a nest in your path. Turn around and mow the path marked by wheel
tracks. After strips are mowed use a disk or chisel plow to create small bare dirt
areas. Hens and poults use these bare dirt areas for dusting.
Poults will walk mowed strip edges bugging for grasshoppers, crickets, and other protein-rich insects. The short cover in the strip allows easy access and the standing vegetation provides escape cover from predators. As the summer progresses and poults mature, they will shift to a more plant-based diet and away from a protein rich one.
When most people think of food plots, they think of planting in the fall for deer season. These are the exact food plots I’m talking about. Most of these plots are planted in a blend or mixture of cereal grains that have grown, matured, and gone to seed. This is free food for turkeys that you have at your disposal. An easy and quick way to help hens and their poults is to mow or bushhog strips into your plots during the summer. This allows an open area for hens and poults to feed with grain scattered freely about.
I’m sure by now anyone that turkey hunts or manages for turkeys has heard or seen the hashtag #savethepoults created by Jay Hembree, owner of Panola Brand. This has become synonymous on social media with trapping nest predators prior to and during turkey season. But what about other predators such as bobcats, coyotes, foxes, and wild hogs? These predators seldom get the attention that raccoons and opossums get but can wreak havoc in their own way. Bobcats, coyotes, and foxes have a much easier time catching vulnerable young poults before they can fly. Wild hogs will not only eat eggs if they happen upon them but destroy thousands of acres of nesting habitat and consume food sources vital to poult survival and overall turkey population health. If legal in your area and you have the ability, continue to trap these predators after turkey season. Saving the poults doesn’t only apply to when they are still in the egg.
After months of round-the-clock effort just to hatch poults, hens need all the help safeguarding and raising their young that they can get. Applying these three simple summer management strategies can have a positive effect on your property no matter the size. We not only owe it to future generations of hunters to do our part, but we owe it to the turkeys.
PHOTO CREDIT: David McLeaf & Hunter Lewis