Steve Hickoff is the Realtree Turkey Hunting Editor and Blogger. He’s been beaten by more birds than he can remember. Still he kills enough to eat well, and fool with beards, spurs and fans until the next season. Pennsylvania born and raised, Maine is his home base now. A full-time outdoor communicator with a couple university writing degrees, he chases spring gobblers and fall flocks around the country. It's "all turkeys, all the time" on the Realtree Turkey Blog.
As Realtree Turkey Hunting editor, I’m fortunate to talk with and hear from the country’s top turkey biologists on a regular basis. Some of the facts might surprise you. Here’s what I’ve learned from them over the years:
FACT: Not all hens nest. Hatches in specific geographical regions don’t come off at the same time either.
In general, wild turkeys hatch in May and June down south, and June and July up north, with regional exceptions. Here in northern New England I've seen and received reports on late May hatches over the years. I've heard numerous accounts on hunters seeing Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine hens with nests full of eggs in late April. I tend to see and hear this sort of thing every year. Early. Late. Right on time.
Why? Green Mountain State biologist Doug Blodgett tells me that’s to ensure turkeys in a region (any location around the country) generates the potential for birds. Spread the odds. Nature's way.
FACT: Young hens don’t always nest their first year.
There’s a reason for this. On average, studies show yearlings (a.k.a. "jennies") begin nesting later in the season than adult hens. If unsuccessful, they finish re-nesting attempts sooner.
On a personal note, several times over the years while spring turkey hunting I’ve witnessed: (1) young hens squatting to be bred, and (2) adult gobblers ignoring that gesture, strutting nearby, with no other hens in sight. Let me know when you figure that one out! Young hens also lay fewer eggs than adult birds, which average 10-12 in a normal clutch. Eggs incubate roughly four weeks. Here in Maine I've spotted strutters with hens as late as the second week of June, a week after the season had ended (it closes at noon on Sat., June 4 this year). Do the math on that potential brood.
FACT: Re-nesting attempts can number four or five times.
At least according to renowned turkey biologist Lovett E. Williams, Jr. This one definitely surprised me when I first heard it. Once, sure, but five times? Wow. Re-nesting efforts conclude by midsummer in the south, and late summer up north. I’ve personally seen nesting Maine hens in July many times. Once I accidentally disturbed an August nester in the middle of a field of high grass. A week later I found her there dead, the victim of a predator kill if the scattered feathers were any indicator. Coyote scat sat nearby.
FACT: Predators influence turkey numbers.
Sure enough, the presence of predators sometimes indicates a healthy habitat. Nevertheless, winged and four-footed predators kill potential turkey hatches by eating eggs in some cases (coons, crows, possums, foxes and skunks), and young birds in others (coyotes, feral dogs, hawks, big owls and bobcats). A buddy this 2011 spring season told me he found a New Hampshire turkey nest full of eggs that had been eaten; some of them had been dragged a distance away.
Q. What are you seeing around the country as turkey nesting goes? Have you spotted any poults with brood hens yet? Let us know in the comments section below.
(NWTF Media Photo)