Improve Hunting Success by Identifying Turkey Habitats

by Josh Fuqua, Game Lands Maintenance Supervisor, Southwest Region

The wild turkey has a long rich history here in the Keystone State. Although the Eastern Wild Turkey at one time here in Pennsylvania had extremely low populations, we now have a thriving turkey population for all to enjoy.  There are many different factors that go into turkeys having a sustainable population. We are going to look at one of the key components for turkeys and the keys to identifying them to make you a more successful hunter.

So what key are we talking about? One word: Habitat. Turkey habitats can vary widely across the country as it does even here in the Keystone state. From the rolling hills, to the big forested country, or the agricultural farm land, habitat plays a crucial role for the wild turkey. It provides turkeys with roosting sites, bugging and foraging areas, nesting cover, and security throughout the year. Why is it important for us to identify these habitats as hunters? This knowledge can improve our chances of being a successful hunter and gain knowledge of turkey’s patterns.

Locating turkey habitats could seem like a daunting task, depending whether the area you are hunting is public or private ground. But knowing that all turkeys have the same basic needs and wants can help you to narrow down the search quickly. We will look at some of the needed turkey habitats in, that can be useful to identify on public or private ground.

Josh Fuqua in action conducting a prescribed burn in Indiana County, Pennsylvania
  1. Roosting sites: Turkeys need roosting sites, as every evening they fly up to roost for the night, thus helping them to avoid a lot of predators. Roosting sites vary greatly from area to area, but basically you are looking for areas with mature, tall trees. Turkeys can roost in anything from a huge 100-year-old red oak, to a tall skinny hemlock, or a group of birch overgrown with grapevines in the top.  Over the years, many times I have seen turkeys in an array of roosting sites and thought to myself, “How in the world did that turkey roost in that all night long?” If you start finding a lot of droppings under some mature trees with some scratched up areas near them, you probably have found a roosting site. This knowledge is good to store for the future, because the closer you can hunt in the mornings and evenings to a roost site, the greater your chances are at harvesting a turkey.
  2. Bugging and foraging areas: Turkeys have a wide variety for their diet. They eat anything from berries, bugs, grasses, grains and nuts. If you have a lot of agricultural farming in your areas, turkeys will key in on these areas throughout the year. When crops are planted in the springs, they will peck through freshly plowed and planted fields. In grassy fields, they will spend a lot of time bugging for insects and teaching their young to do so. These agricultural areas can be an easy area to scout for turkeys, as they can usually be seen at a distance without spooking them. In the woods, turkeys will search for nuts and berries. If you identify nut producing trees, or berry producing shrubs with large areas of recent scratching, this would determine it is a food source that they have recently visited and may do so again in the very near future.
Prescribed burns create ideal turkey habitat by spurring the growth
of vegetation and creating better cover over time.

Another foraging area turkeys love are lands that have recently had a prescribed burn performed on them. Turkeys love to return to these areas to forage for dead insects, or nuts that have been exposed for the finding. The Pennsylvania Game Commission routinely performs prescribed burns on State Game Lands and Co-op Farms to improve the habitat on them. Many times I have witnessed turkeys walk right into a prescribed burn area on the very same day it was burnt to start foraging in the freshly-burnt landscape.

  • Nesting Areas: Hen turkeys will nest in a variety of locations if they believe themselves and their nest will be safe from predators. Brush piles, the base of a big tree, hedgerows, or warm season grass fields all could be a possible nesting site. If you find a nesting site in the spring, many times the hen and sometimes a gobbler with hang out near these nesting sites.
  • Security: One of the turkey’s top priority security to avoid predators. Turkeys are always on high alert and have amazing eyesight to pick up the slightest movement, or many times no movement at all but they know exactly where you are. When you find a place that turkeys feel they have a secure roosting sites, secure foraging areas, and security throughout the year, you will increase your odds because the turkeys will want to continue to be in those areas.

Some really great areas are ones that have had prescribed burns conducted on them. Also great areas are those that have early-successional habitat. In my job with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, I have been able to implement these types of practices on the State Game Lands that I am tasked with managing. Although I am a big hunter myself, it is very satisfying to me to know that I helped to improve the habitat to benefit the turkeys and also to give other hunters an opportunity to harvest a turkey by improving the areas they use.

Josh and his wife, Desiree, proudly posing with the gobblers they
harvested in Spring 2018 on game lands that Josh manages.

This past 2018 spring turkey season was very satisfying to me. I harvested a nice gobbler on one of the State Game Lands I am in charge of managing. Then the following weekend, I was able to take my wife out and she was harvested a great gobbler, too. What made her hunt really special is that we had just built and planted the food plot she harvested him in the year before. It was a picture perfect hunt with the big Tom full strutting down the food plot from one end to the other right to us. I was so proud of her and to know that the work I had been a part of benefited the turkey and also gave us an opportunity to harvest him was amazing,

If you look for these key habitat types that turkeys need, you can improve your chances for harvest success and create great memories this season.

Josh Fuqua is a Game Lands Management Supervisor and avid hunter from Indiana County, PA.

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