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Biologist discusses wild turkey with whitetail management strategies

From the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

-- Although many habitat management strategies are common to both white-tailed deer and Eastern wild turkeys, there are specific management practices that address the needs of wild turkeys. Some landowners have the misconception that if management efforts are focused on healthy deer populations, wild turkey populations will flourish.

Landowners and land managers with an interest in managing for wild turkeys as well as deer need to be aware of the differences in order to develop productive management plans.

A broad brushstroke of general management options across various habitats typically improves conditions for both deer and turkeys. It has been well documented that prescribed fire with dormant and/or growing season burns enhances the production of herbaceous forages and removes invasive and undesirable woody plants. This is especially important in pine plantations and mixed pine-hardwood landscapes. Deer and turkeys live at the ground layer where burning is most effective.

Current restoration of historic longleaf pine ecosystems has been a moving force in the importance of frequent fire and has resulted in improved habitats for deer, turkey, quail and many other wildlife species.

Periodic thinnings in pine plantations opens up the canopy, allowing sunlight to reach the ground. The combined use of fire and timber harvests has the tremendous potential of changing poor habitat into excellent habitat. In addition, wildlife-friendly timber harvests that retain oaks and other mast producers are common to carefully developed management plans for deer and turkeys.

Another management tool that continues to gain momentum is the use of herbicides to control and eliminate invasive plants.

If left unchecked, cogongrass, a non-native plant that has gained a strong foothold in some regions of the state, will eliminate native herbaceous habitat for deer, turkeys and a host of other wildlife. In addition, the development and management of wildlife openings continues to be an important and popular means of planting warm and cool season forages for deer and turkeys. If properly managed, openings do have the potential to enhance the productivity of habitats throughout the year.

Habitats managed for wild turkeys, when painted with the finer details, offer subtle but important differences in the landscape portrait. Without rehashing what was outlined as good practices for both deer and turkeys, let’s insert a few ingredients specific to wild turkeys. One of the most under-managed components of turkey habitats is woods roads. When managed as wide, herbaceous, linear openings, woods roads provide an array of habitat components and seasonal needs.

Most roads, unless they exist in a clearcut, need to be daylighted (tree and brush removal) and widened to allow ample sunlight. These roads need to be scattered throughout the property in upland and bottomland areas and vehicle use limited. A good approach is to view these managed roads as you would any other wildlife opening in terms of use and maintenance. Native grasses and forbs should be encouraged.

Alternating strips of native plants and planted crops is a good strategy. For crop selections, chufa and millets in the spring and a mixture of clovers in the fall are prime choices.

The benefits of managed roads for turkeys are numerous.

They provide brood rearing areas, foraging habitats, and travel corridors. Managed roads are especially important when adjacent to poor habitats. In brushy, thick habitats, roads may afford one of the most important habitat features to turkeys. Overgrown thickets that may be used as cover for deer are not used by turkeys. Turkeys simply cannot travel through these areas unless there are travel corridors such as managed roads that connect other habitat types.

Another distinction between deer and turkeys is the foraging needs in woodlands. Turkeys prefer more seeds, berries, fruits and nuts as compared to deer. Be mindful of retaining, enhancing, or planting important trees and shrubs. These include a variety of oaks, beech, dogwoods, hawthorns, chinkapin, plum and blueberries. Native grasses such as Indian grass, big bluestem, and little bluestem should also be recognized and encouraged.

These are just of few of the key features of wild turkey management that should be acknowledged and incorporated into dual deer and turkey management plans. A publication, “The Wild Turkey in Alabama,” is available online at Published by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, it offers detailed information for landowners to develop a successful wild turkey management plan.

For more information, contact Steven W. Barnett, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, 30571 Five Rivers Boulevard, Spanish Fort, AL 36527, telephone (251) 626-5474; to learn more about ADCNR visit

-- By Steven W. Barnett
Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries

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