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If no food sources, you won’t find any turkeys

I wrote in this column a couple weeks ago of having gone to my favorite fall turkey hunting spot and shockingly finding absolutely no sign of turkeys ever being there.

No scratching, not even old ones, no droppings no feathers, no answers to my calls. I walked over acres of territory and saw no evidence of turkeys.

I briefly wondered if West Nile Virus had hit here, but then I realized that there was no sign of the most important thing to look for: food. No acorns, wild grapes, beech nuts and other foods turkeys love. So that was the problem, I decided.

It is almost always the problem, whether it’s deer, turkeys, grouse or squirrels that seem nonexistent when you hunt there. But I’m amazed at how many hunters think that everything stays the same in the woods year after year. That’s why some hunters will hunt from the same old tree stand year after year in deer season: my father killed a buck from this stand 20 years in a row, and I’m staying here too. But you must ask yourself, “what was here 20 years ago that isn’t here now?”

Both forests and fields change over time. Trees grow taller so that the sapling that was deer browse 20 years ago is now 40 feet high and leaves are out of reach. The canopy may be so heavy now that seedlings do not get enough sunshine to sprout and thrive. Berry bushes die, and many years, for whatever reason, the mast crop fails. So it was in my area this year. So I will check it out in the spring season that will be upon us shortly.

I appreciate letters from readers, and this is one I received that reflected my own assessment of the state of food availability last season.

This letter is from Jeffrey McNelis of Tyrone.

“Shirley,

I read in your column this Sunday about your concern with turkey numbers. I too shared that concern all through turkey season as I was seeing very few birds and was certainly not seeing them in their usual haunts. But I learned that the problem (at least in our area) was that they were following the food sources (as they always do), and our mountain had very sparse acorn production. From what I’ve heard, that was the case in a lot of spots this year. A late spring frost will do that. Every day we would leave our mountain we would drive past standing cornfields and would almost always see turkeys feeding. Once the corn was harvested, a week or so later, they were back on the mountain. In fact in deer season I had more turkey sightings than I’ve ever had in my life. I saw either flocks, or parts of flocks almost daily! And they were scratching away for all they were worth. The only thing I could find in the areas of their scratching were tiny acorns or acorns from the prior year. I assume that’s what they were after, but they stayed in that immediate area for the entire two-week span that I was hunting there. (I’m somewhat limited as to how much I can move around, so I hunt the same general area regularly). It’s actually a good thing that the turkeys were around because the deer sure weren’t. I saw fewer deer in the two-week stretch than I’ve ever seen in my life (and I’m 71). I attribute most of that to the fact that I was in a dead area and couldn’t move to a more productive spot.”

This is what special interest groups hold fund-raising banquets yearly to make possible. It’s called habitat improvement. It’s how you can help.

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