The secret of a successful hunt has little to do with your shooting ability and everything to do with knowing where the animals are. Back before hunting seasons, this was easy. Once you found your quarry, you just followed them.
Things aren’t that simple now. Very few of us have the time to devote to that much scouting. Turkey can be a challenge to scout anyway. By spring with its abundance of food, they could be anywhere.
If you want guaranteed success, you need to know where the turkey were when food was sparse and that means understanding the winter food supply. Once you know where they winter you can predict where they will migrate.
A Turkey’s Diet
Turkey are not known to be picky eaters and will eat almost anything. The common foods are:
- Nuts including hickory, beech, walnut, and acorns
- Seeds including corn, seed from bird feeders, wheat and other grains
- Wild fruits and berries
- Foliage in the form of shoots leaves
- Plant parts such as bulbs, roots, and buds
- Worms and mollusks including slugs and snails
- Small reptiles
Which of these make up the diet of turkey in your area will depend on your climate, what is available, and when they can find it. In Florida, lizards and worms may be available year-round where in Maine, the diet will be mostly nuts.
Winter Food Sources
Most food will be gone by winter with every creature in the woods foraging to get fat before the weather gets bad. There are a few food items that are more likely to hang on until those later months. What these are is regionally dependent as well as on what other species are in the area.
For the purposes of this article, we will consider mostly the middle of the country and the northern states. This takes care of the most common turkey habitats and areas known for the best turkey hunting.
Fields and orchards are big draws for winter turkey. Fields will have remnants of the crops grown there. Favorites are soybean, corn, and grains. These areas are often picked fairly clean but a turkey is an industrious animal and will pick through fields over and over for the last morsel.
A personal favorite are apple orchards. Apples, especially in cooler climates, will remain on the ground for months without being eaten. A turkey doesn’t care and will gladly pick through rotten fruit for any edible part. If you have access to an orchard, especially one near a wood line, this is a good place to start scouting.
Bird lovers in rural areas often learn how pernicious turkeys are. They will raid any backyard bird feeder, often causing significant damage in the process. A feeder that is kept constantly stocked will often become a hub for turkey activity. Scouting surrounding areas can be beneficial.
If you don’t have access to any of these areas and have to hit the woods, you are looking for dense stands of nut-bearing trees. The majority of these nuts will have been picked through by squirrels long before but any remaining nuts are a lure for turkey.
Hickory and Beech are probably the longest lasting of the nuts and are a great place to start. Scouting areas around these trees is often fruitful.
A last resort are areas dense with rotten timber. Often these trees can still have an ample supply of grubs and other invertebrates even in the dead of winter. If you have found no turkey anywhere else, this could be the area holding them.
Protein-rich foods like insects are much more calorie dense than other winter foods. They are also not as coveted by other animals at this time of year. Scouting these areas can be more difficult but not impossible with a reasonable chance of success.
Once you find a Turkey
The whole reason to concern yourself with winter diet is to figure out where the turkey will be heading next. Spring is a time of plenty and a favorite food for most plant-eating animals is new growth. Turkey often hit open fields for the freshest food sources.
Look for farm fields or other open areas near where you found them in winter. These will experience the quickest new growth and likely draw birds faster than anywhere else. Depending on the local population, these areas can often hold turkey for several weeks to a month.
Though many flocks of turkey will begin to move as spring mating season gets underway, knowing their path from winter can be the edge you need. Tracing their migration is the secret to turkey hunting success and a nearly guaranteed kill when hunting season arrives.