The Hunt for Tom

The Hunt for Tom

Meleagris gallopavo commonly known as the wild turkey. There are five species of wild turkey in the U.S., only one of which has a native range in Michigan–the Eastern Wild Turkey. You may have seen quite a few of them recently as the hens are traveling in large flocks with their young. They are typically 3.5 feet tall with a wing span of over 4 feet.  Their life span is typically 4 years.

Name that Turkey: The wild turkey has many names for the different stages of both male and female turkeys.

  • Poult or a chick: male and female turkey recently hatched from eggs.
  • Jenny: The young female turkey.
  • Jake: a young male turkey.
  • Tom: a mature male. Distinguishable by their “beard” which is not on their face, it grows from their chest. Combine that with a perfect 18-feather fan display, and they are pretty easy to pick out.
  • Hen: a mature female. How dull for her, plus about 10-20% of the time she also has a beard. Ouch.

The wild turkey has made an astounding come back from the 1930’s when the birds were nearly extinct due to deforestation and hunting practices.  Today the number of turkeys is nearly 7 million birds.  In order to keep the wild turkey population in the green, we as landowners and hunters need to play a part in providing essential and needed habitat for the species.

Who’s Hungry?

The wild turkey’s diet is more than 80 percent plant food, with 10 to 20 percent insects–making them omnivores (eating both plants and animals).  Young chicks need insects, berries and seeds, while adults will eat anything from acorns and berries to insects and small reptiles.  Turkeys are very opportunistic birds and will acquire nutrients from many sources.  A few recommendations to increase the wild turkey foods on your property: plant native oaks, nut and berry producing plants or shrubs, and native grasses (which produce seeds that turkeys gobble up).  Some common trees and shrubs to plant are red oak, crap apples, and beech nut.

Grit: turkeys also need small pebbles to grind up the food they eat. Who doesn’t enjoy a little gravel in their food? Always essential: a source of open water. They need something to wash down those pebbles!  A dependent, reliable source of water near foraging, nesting and cover areas is critical for any wildlife.   

Nesting and Home Range 

Although Turkeys roost in trees, they nest on the ground.  The hens will remain on the ground for 1 month until the chicks or poult mature.  Ideal roosting trees are mature, open-crowned trees with branches spaced 18 inches apart that run parallel to the ground. Can you picture it? There is a maple tree in my front yard that would be perfect…but may be too close to my own nest for their comfort.

A wild turkey flock can range from 350 acres to over 60,000 acres. Smaller tracts of land can be managed for wild turkey as long as they have at least one habitat requirement. Nesting & roost cover as well as brood range are some of the more important requirements.

Fall Hunting

Now that you have some background information about Tom & Co., you are ready to hunt. Wild turkey season is September 15 through November 14 (no rest between turkey and deer). Now, if you didn’t apply for a license you will have to wait until August 28 to buy one over the counter–that is if there are any left. Confused? Maybe revisit the section about turkeys making an “astounding comeback.” The populations are closely watched by natural resource agencies to keep the populations from plummeting. If you can’t get a turkey license, there are other game birds in season around the same time: ruffed grouse (a personal favorite), quail, and woodcock.  


Geeked about wildlife? Talk to Jeff Fewless, CTAI, and learn how to enhance your property for wild turkey or other wildlife, or create a conservation plan for your property:   


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