Itâ€™s no secret that over the past few years there has been discussion of a declining Iowa wild turkey population. Lots of speculation surrounds the reasons, but it really comes down to weaker poult recruitment, inclement nesting conditions and decreasing amounts of adequate cover. While we are not in the heyday of six to eight years ago, there are still plenty of birds to be found; some in very overlooked locations.
During the late winter of 2011, I was out shed-hunting a new piece of property I had just gained access to and I stumbled upon a turkey roost area that was heaping with turkey droppings. I have never walked into a turkeyâ€™s bedroom and had it smell like a farm, but this had me excited. What made this spot even better was I could watch it from the road about three-quarters of a mile away.
Itâ€™s always good to put on some boot-miles when looking into a new piece of property. Not only for the sake of locating the turkeys, but to also familiarize yourself with potential obstructions that will indeed hang up an approaching gobbler. Locating the primary roost areas is your first concern, then determining where they head from there. The tracks they leave when they hit the ground can go in many different directions leaving you wondering which way they head each day.
A turkeyâ€™s daily travel habits will remain consistent as long as they donâ€™t run into predators (including hunters) on a regular basis. Itâ€™s easier to determine this pattern from a distance, so locate an overlook and glass their morning routine as often as possible well in advance of the seasonâ€™s opener.
If an elevated location is not available, I would suggest spending a few mornings out there watching and listening from as far away as possible without running the risk of running into the birds prematurely. And, as tempting as it will be, leave the calls at home and make your trip in and out as quickly and quietly as possible.
About two weeks before the season opened, I was sitting in the cab of my truck watching that very roost, expecting to see a circus come alive once the birds flew down. I was far from disappointed as I watched a few hens, a couple longbeards and 27 jakes come out and raise a giant ruckus; 27 jakes! After the past few years of seemingly lower recruitment, that got me very excited. I spent about six days observing their morning movement and I had a great plan for opening morning.
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The number of jakes actually turned into a problem during my hunting efforts because I was calling in more of them than toms. If a tom did show up, he was very skeptical of the decoys and reluctant to close the distance. As they have been known to do, those jakes ganged up on many of the mature birds, getting them back for the hazing they received not so long before. I eventually worked in a nice two-year-old and managed to fill my tag, but as he lay flopping among the decoys I couldnâ€™t help but reminisce about years past.
Most of my hunting friends that were fortunate enough to kill a spring gobbler were killing mature, long-spurred turkeys. Very few two-year-olds were being brought in, which proved that the previous years had poor production. I know it was a year in advance, but I was suddenly very excited for the 2012 spring turkey season because, as you know, jakes grow up to be toms!
â€śDuring 2010 we received a lot of reports that indicated brood production was up,â€ť says Iowa Wildlife Research Biologist Todd Gosselink. â€śIn fact, our numbers show us that we had a 25 percent increase in production during 2010. That can be attributed to the quality weather we had during the breeding season and into June and early July. Certain parts of the state were wet and rather saturated but, as a whole, Iowaâ€™s turkey production is on the rise.â€ť
Gosselink says during the 2011 season they had a large variety of brood reports ranging from folks seeing large broods to those who are seeing hens without any poults. However, they were also receiving reports that the poults seemed rather small, meaning the hens probably lost an early nest, but had a more successful hatch the second time around. While the birds are younger and smaller going into winter, they will likely do just fine with ample forage.
â€śJune 2011 was rather wet and uncooperative for turkey nesting,â€ť Gosselink continues. â€śJuly and August dried up nicely and allowed for those hens to successfully hatch their second nest. Renesting attempts only work if the weather cooperates and especially if fall starts out rather mild. The turkeys will find agricultural fields that have abundant waste grain and will spend the fall feeding and bulking up for winter in those locations.â€ť
â€śThe 2010 production is the real story for spring turkey hunters,â€ť he says. â€śObviously, those turkeys will be two-years old in 2012, so hunters can expect to see an abundance of adult birds while out hunting. Two-year-old gobblers love to gobble and, next to jakes, are the easiest to call in. Most hunters consider a two-year-old a fine trophy and will happily bag one to end their season.â€ť