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Turkey Hunting

HABITAT

Like many animals, turkeys vary their feeding location based on time of year and availability of food. Adult birds that fed primarily on acorns in December will include fresh greens and newly sprouted plants during spring season. After young-of-the-year turkeys are hatched, they require insects, as much as 75% of the diet, for the first few weeks of their lives. However, by fall seasons, these young birds focus on food with high fat content, such as acorns, to be prepared for survival through their first winter.

While plant material is as much as 90% of the adult turkey’s diet, archery hunters may find them in fall season eating grasshoppers in the early morning sun. When acorns are available, turkeys will feast on them for the majority of their diet during fall gun seasons. They may also eat berries, greens, and waste grain. When considering food sources as part of the hunting plan, knowing those parts of your hunting area where a variety of food is available within a small area will improve your chances. You can also look for places the birds have been scratching in the leaves to locate feeding areas.

Turkeys require water on a daily basis. On wet spring days, this may be satisfied with standing water throughout the habitat. Between rains, seeps, springs, streams, ponds or any other water source within the turkey’s home range can be used. Hunters that have not visually located birds they intend to hunt might look for tracks at water sources, as the birds will not be far from water.

The home range of a wild turkey is less than 2000 acres, with toms typically having a smaller home range than hens (remember she comes to him when he struts). Typically, a flock of birds will stay in a reasonably small area unless they are disturbed. Even when that flock leaves, if the habitat is good, more birds will move into the area, especially during the spring breeding season.

An important part of spring turkey hunting is locating that space within the tom’s home range where he flies down in the morning, struts, gobbles, and courts his hens. Unless he’s disturbed, boss gobbler will not go far from this area, so setting up nearby will be essential in calling him to you.

HUNTING TIPS

Scout Daily Activity

Turkeys are birds of habit. They will be approximately in the same area every day. The flock will roost in the same trees, gobblers use the same fields to attract hens, and the birds will feed in the same areas if they are not disturbed. By observing them daily, a hunter can plan to hunt to take advantage of these habits.

Dress in Complete Camouflage

Everything should be camouflage from nose to toes, including the hunting equipment. Headgear is very important as the skin, hair, glasses, and teeth could each stand out to the turkey as the “telltale” sign of human intrusion. The gun or bow/arrow also need to be well camouflaged, as this is the equipment that must be moved for an effective hunt.

Stay Still

Turkeys have exceptional vision and the slightest movement will alert them. If you have a bird in sight, watch for an opportunity when it is behind some feature, such as a tree, to raise your gun or draw your bow. Even when you do not have a turkey in sight or working, be as still as possible. The bird you would have hunted may be within range to see your movement, and it will be long since gone.

Sit at Large Tree or in Blind

Many hunters now recommend a blind of some kind to hunt turkeys. Blinds hide your movement somewhat, and allow limited comfort. As turkeys can not smell, you can include a cup of coffee in your blind. If you are planning to hunt without a blind, find a tree that is large enough to hide your silhouette completely. Plan to sit in the shadow (west side of tree in early morning) if possible as sunlight may glint off anything you are wearing.

Stalking

Stalking turkeys is not advisable, particularly in spring. While you believe you are the only hunter on a given property, another hunter may be in the area, and an unsafe hunting situation could develop. In addition, as stated earlier, turkeys have extremely good eyesight. If you are moving, the odds are good that the turkey will see you before you see the turkey. Rather than trying to stalk a turkey that you see out of range, make a mental note and be prepared for future hunts.

CLEANING

When a turkey is taken with a head/neck shot, they typically fall immediately, but may thrash their wings. This can damage feathers for your mount. You will want to get to the bird quickly to preserve the feathers or to prevent a stunned/wounded bird from escaping. If the bird is still alive, be careful to avoid its feet, as toms can cause painful wounds with their spurs. Place your foot firmly on the head and neck and hold the bird still. This will dispatch the bird that is still alive and minimize feather damage on one that is thrashing. There are a lot of online resources on how to remove the tail feathers (fan), beard and spurs. Here’s a good video​ from our counterparts in Indiana with that information; their YouTube channel also has details about preserving these items as well.

Field dressing your turkey is much like cleaning a chicken. If you want to keep the carcass whole for cooking like a traditional roasted turkey, here's how to dress it. Split the skin on the belly between the tip of the breast and the tail. Reach under the breast and bring out the internal organs. Don’t forget to save the heart, liver and gizzard for the turkey dinner. All these parts are cleaned for cooking just like the counterparts for a chicken. If the turkey has been shot in the head and neck, as preferred, the organs should have little damage. If the intestines have been punctured, wipe any residue out of the body cavity. If you intend to save the pelt or any part for a trophy mount, you will want to have paper towels to absorb blood from the feathers. Washing the blood off is not recommended, as the feathers absorb the water.

Whether you skin or pluck your turkey depends on what you intend for a trophy and a meal. If you plan to use the skin and feathers for a trophy, talk to a taxidermist for advise before you hunt. He or she can advise you on the best methods of removing skin and feather parts you want to preserve as your mount. If you want to use the turkey as a traditional roast turkey, you may want to pluck the feathers and save the skin on the bird. This will keep the meat moist during cooking. The recipes that follow could be used whether the bird has been skinned or plucked.

Many hunters simply "breast-out" their turkeys, meaning that they remove the breast meat and discard the rest. Here's a great video on how to breast-out a wild turkey; here's another including how to save the legs for cooking as well. Although the leg meat is tough if baked, fried or grilled, they can be slow-cooked​ in chicken broth in a crockpot or stove top pot, or pressure cooked, to tenderize the meat; after cooking, simply "pull" or remove the meat from the bones and cartilage, then use the meat for delicious sandwiches, turkey pie, barbecue, turkey salad, or soup. Here's a video on using the leg meat.

Any bird that will be frozen whole should be completely wrapped, preferably in an air-tight bag. If you intend to use the breast separately as fried turkey, all parts could be cut up similar to cutting up a chicken. To minimize freezer burn, any parts that are frozen should be used within 3 – 4 months unless it has been vacuum sealed, in which case the meat should remain fresh up to a few years in the freezer.

RECIPES

Fried Wild Turkey

George Wright, “Boss Gobbler”, retired employee, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

  • 1⁄2 turkey breast cut into strips
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 2 lbs. of flour
  • 1 qt. vegetable oil
  • salt

Remove all connective tissue when preparing breast meat. Cut into thumb sized strips, being sure to slice against the muscle grain to ensure tenderness. Beat two eggs and two cups of milk in large bowl. Salt turkey strips and soak in milk and eggs for a few minutes. Drop strips into large grocery bag containing fl our and shake until strips are well coated. Heat about 1⁄2 inch of oil in a large iron skillet. Place meat into the grease and cook slowly until slightly brown, then turn. Do not overcook. Should feed four adults.

Turkey soup

From Will Connelly, Hunter Training Officer , Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

  • One turkey – remaining parts after removing the breast
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Corn or other vegetables as you choose
  • Large pot of water
  • Spices to your choice

This is a good way to utilize all parts of the turkey. Skin and cut up the turkey like a chicken (remember how to do that). Boil the back, neck, wings, etc. until tender. Set aside to cool. Dice onions, potatoes, carrots, celery, etc.(corn also) and add to the broth and continue to boil. The amount of vegetables will depend on amount of meat and number of mouths to feed. Add any and all the spices you desire. Debone and add the turkey meat to the soup. Add noodles and or wild rice for the amount of time on the package. Enjoy! (editor’s note: you can also include dumplings instead of rice or noodles with turkey soup!!)

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Visit this YouTube channel or Pinterest Page​ for more great recipes & useful game and fish cooking and hunting info!​​​