Water and the Wild Turkey
— James Earl Kennamer, Ph.D
James Earl Kennamer, Ph.D.
Turkeys and water. The two terms go hand in hand, regardless of what youve been told. In fact, there are situations when water is just as important as acorns, insects and roost trees. Depending on where you live, water means different things to each turkey subspecies. And knowing how water affects turkeys in specific areas can be an advantage to both hunters and land managers.
The Eastern region of the United States is afforded with thousands of watersheds and humidity-filled states that provide ideal habitat for the Eastern wild turkey. Though water is an important resource for the Eastern wild turkey, it gets much of its daily supply of water from dew and insects that fill the regions fields and forests.
While Eastern wild turkeys dont depend on standing water like the Western states and their various subspecies, hunters can still benefit from identifying lone water holes and swamps that may serve as roosting sites for turkeys.
Turkeys will seek out roost sites over water for protective reasons, said James Earl Kennamer, NWTF chief conservation officer. They feel safe being surrounded by water, so hunters who find these roost sites are usually successful.
Turkey hunters can also take advantage of water sources in food plots and pastures that come in the form of forbs, grasses and insects. By patterning flocks that visit specific fields to feed, hunters can become more successful during the season.
On the other hand, Western states dont have luscious fields and dew to serve as their water source. To survive, the various subspecies in the West must find standing water and stream courses. Though wild turkeys may travel several miles in a day, they will return to stream courses to roost in trees, such as cottonwoods, that thrive by water.
When scouting for birds in the West, hunters should watch how they react to the terrain. Turkeys will often choose the path of least resistance, much like flowing water. In places where there is snow melt in the spring, green glades and valleys that are awakened by the warmth of the sun and the flowing waters are prime areas to find turkeys.
Though water is hard to come by in many Western states, the NWTF does provide a solution to this problem — the Guzzlers for Gobblers program. This program helps improve wildlife habitat by planting desirable trees, building water control structures, protecting wet meadows, improving water quality and decreasing soil erosion. Through the Guzzlers for Gobblers program alone, the NWTF and its partners have put more than $4 million toward habitat improvement projects in the West.
The Management Plan
Just because landowners dont have water on their land doesnt mean they cant manage their land for wild turkeys.
Water is a very region-specific source, said Kennamer. Land managers in the Eastern region could spend unnecessary money by putting in a water source strictly for turkeys, while managers in the West could enhance their property for wild birds by simply putting in a guzzler.
Turkeys can travel up to four miles a day, depending on the subspecies and region. When landowners lack water on their property, they can still attract wild turkeys by providing food sources for the birds. From food plots to providing oat hay for wintering birds, land managers can create ideal habitat for turkeys whether they have water on their property or not.