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Turkey behavior (attn jnelson)


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Which is the determining factor to dictate early spring behavior? Is it the temp or amount of sunlight or a combination of both? Just wondering what this warm winter may do to the early season.

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if you don't mind I provide my 2 cents.

Mild winters like this will make it much easier on the birds to find food. This in turn will lead to healthier birds come spring. Turkey's have proven to be a hearty bird when it comes to the MN winters. Anything less than 6" of snow they fare quite well with very little winter kill.

If the weather persists, the mating season could be in full swing by the 2nd or 3rd season. But, as in years past, the spring rains have made it difficult for the hunters in seasons A-D as many won't hunt in the rain and the birds will put the mating off until the weather cooperates.

Light rains are actually a plus for both the hunter and the hunted. If you can tolerate a little moisture, the birds like to be out in a light rain. One, because it helps with the dust mites, and two, because it's easier for the birds to see predators in the open. In the woods, it's very easy for a predator to sneak up on a turkey when the leaves are wet/quiet.

Sorry to ramble on, so I'll sum it up.

You're right on the money with the temp/sunlight. Warmer temps will speed up the beginning of the mating season. But if it's raining a lot, they will delay the mating until it eases up some to ensure drier conditions for egg laying.

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As with whitetails, turkey breeding is in direct relationship to the lengthening daylight (photperiod) which also generally corresponds with the days getting warmer. But really has nothing to do with temperature.

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I've read good cases for both, but almost all turkey biologists agree that it's photoperiod first, weather second. Toms, much like whitetail-bucks will breed whenever females will allow, but the hens are biologically programmed not to allow breeding until proper success of their eggs is ensured. Weather, especially snowstorms, play a role in shifting these breeding periods by up to a week or two.

From what I've seen where I hunt, snowstorms and periods of rainy weather will delay things quite easily, while it really takes prolonged periods of dry, unseasonably warm weather to speed things up. Wet/cold conditions make for failed nesting, and are avoided by delaying breeding if at all possible.

Warmer weather, at this time especially, will make food much easier for turkeys to find, and actually keep them in their segregated winter groups for longer. There's no need to get back together to better search for food, avoid predators, etc.

We'll get some warm spells here or there where it seems like every tom in the woods is ready to go. However, it just seems to me like these are teaser periods for hunters and toms alike, where they're out there trying to attract a mate, and the hens just don't want much to do with it.

All things considered, if you draw for the first season, you're usually sitting pretty. Hunter success rates in Minnesota for the 5yr. average are better for the first two seasons (42.7%, and 39.6% respectively) than any other by far (about 31% being the next closest).

Most people think this is due to getting after the "dumb" turkeys first, and being the first people to call at these birds. In parts of Minnesota, pressure is a real problem, but MN does a great job spreading out pressure and limiting tags to provide for quality hunts. My first 5 spring hunting seasons, I never saw a soul out there.

I think it has more to do with when the MN seasons are set up. The first and second (depending on weather) are just usually prior to peak breeding, and right smack in the middle of the biggest peak gobbling period. Hens are not ready to breed, and toms, sensing the ensuing breeding about to take place are more ready than ever. They'll do stupid things and come long distances to bad calling, especially without hens. Even if with hens at this time, if the hens are disinterested in breeding, especially satellite toms will investigate almost any lead they have on a receptive hen.

I'm convinced that in MN, more hunters are successful during this period than any other because it's a very favorable season to be hunting. Furthermore, many people that hunt seasons A&B are unexperienced turkey hunters. I don't mean to ruffle any feathers or put anyone down. It's just that I know too many people that will apply for 3 years for season "A", to go hunting one time in 3 years. There's not a thing wrong with that if that's all the more often you wish to chase them in MN. For most, it's the allure of a big dumb bird fresh out of winter coming to any call a guy makes. For others, it's the thought of an "opening day." For others still, it coincides with Trout-fishing better. My point is that theoretically, even with lower experience levels of hunters in season "A", they're still more successful. It's a phenomenal time to hunt birds.


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A bigger question is how will the very poor hatch of 2004 impact 2006 season. Very few jakes around last year translates to less 2 yr old Gobblers around this year.

Scouting and patterning maybe more important this year.

Regarding weather - it is still the weather pattern you get on your 5 days that is the biggest factor. Just ask the majority of hunters during "D" last season.

The mild January could also transform into one cold and wicked March - too early to tell, but it is fun to start thinking turkey hunting now.

Combination of factors explaining why A (sometimes B) offers the highest success rate.

1. Birds have not been worked / hunted

"green" 2 yr old gobblers will learn

2. Birds gobble more and thus can be located easier during the earlier seasons.

3. Birds are not henned up yet (Nelson's comments)

4. Less birds. As you progress through the seasons there are simply less birds to locate and shoot

5. Less Foliage. Birds are easier to spot coming in. yes some argue that the birds can see you too, but ... if you see that red / white head at 70 yards - shame on you for moving. I have had late season gobblers sneak up and spit and drum at 25 yards - and could not see them.

These points are not necessarily separate. Many are inter-related.

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Awesome points!

As for the 2004 hatch, I'm always leery about hatch predictions that biologists make for broad areas (entire MN turkey range). Weather patterns are often localized, and their effects are typically quite different throughout the state. I just think keeping a pulse with the areas we all hunt is a better indicator of birds in the woods than hatch reports. Either way, like you said, it's fun to think about how good/bad the season could be.

Last year I saw fewer groups of single and double jakes, but saw quite a few more gaggles of them. I hunted about 10 days throughout the season (1 day hunting, 9 calling, videotaping). We had a group of 6 of them ranging all over the place. Perhaps this is an indicator of sorts? I don't know of what? Any help here?

Weather during your hunt is a big deal, you bet. Seems like I'm always cursing the guys that go just before or after me. Bad weather will make it more difficult, but it's good to learn how to take the birds that won't come on a dead run from 500 yds away.

You hit the main ones, but I'll add a few more factors to the fray as well (seperate but very related as you mentioned):

6. Passive hunting techniques (NOT BAD!). I would venture that the predominant hunting style for most MN hunters is to set up a blind, call, and wait. This method is most effective when toms are ranging long distances to find receptive hens, and are willing to investigate calling more readily.

7. Concentrations of birds are easier to find. Food sources are not quite well-defined/available yet, and hens often are still in their wintering grounds (depending on temp.). The places that everybody and their brother have been seeing turkeys all winter are still very good locations, as the toms will be nearby.

8. Hens are more social during this period as well. This isn't a hard/fast rule by any means, but this period is a dynamic one for the hens too. They're often more vocal and willing to come in to check out your calling. Boss hens are trying to maintain their dominance, and young sassy ones are trying to establish their place in the flock.

I'm sure there's more, but there's also great reasons to hunt later seasons. The predominant one being that putting in for a later season tag might mean you actually get to hunt that year!

I'm pumped for the '06 season.

Where's Ray and Borch? They're smart. They know that once they start along this dangerous line of thinking, they won't be able to stop until end of May.


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I have hunted in MN five straight seasons - hope 2006 is the sixth. All past five seasons were licenses on first draw.

All I can say is I avoid A - C.

Now my 11 year old son - he is applying for Season A. Figure if he does not get drawn - he simply builds preference points.

Look forward to getting more days in the field.

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  • 'we have more fun' FishingMN Creators


Where's Ray and Borch? They're smart. They know that once they start along this dangerous line of thinking, they won't be able to stop until end of May.


I'm around. I miss a few hours in this forum and people start to worry about me! laugh.gif

A lot of good points already mentioned. Another issue with weather effecting turkey behavior which I haven't seen mention yet is late spring snow storms. A few inches doesn't mess things up too much. But a foot or more and prolonged cold does. Many established nest are lost and the cycle begins again.

An example of this which has played itself out on a few occassions on my Black Hills hunts. Late season blizzards that wiped out turkey nests. Suddenly the toms were henned up in a major fashion again. Hens were awaiting positive nesting conditions and the breeding cycle restarted.

It's a cruel trick on a mid to late season hunter when this scenerio plays out.

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Man, I don't want to get involved in these discussions already. I just started ice fishing a couple weeks ago when pheasants were no longer an option. Now, I'm going to kill that.

The earliest I have ever hunted was last year in MN. That was the Season C (April 22?). I am actually afraid to hunt any earlier than that, because reasonably mild weather is what I know (start of May onward). I really think the only thing that makes a bird a challenge in May is that their courtship groups have already been established. Toms spend long periods of the day with their hens until they're nested. The whole goal is to figure out the period of the day when that Tom is "available." Not to mention, approximately where he is available. That's not an easy task.

Now, another "May" option is to find a bird that has exhausted his supply of hens, or has been run off by the other toms. Those birds are around, but you have to look places that aren't the prime feeding and strut zones. For me, it been the "back alley" valleys or the crumby turkey spots where there's people nearby or seemingly easy predator access. The birds are nervous and not in one spot for very long. But they are killable.

Sorry, that has nothing to do with the original question. It just states the case why I would rather hunt in May.

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I like the discussion so far, very informative to say the least... Dad and I always draw for the season that falls around the first weekend in May and have always had good sucess. I notice that the toms are usually with the hens but have also noticed larger groups of what I thought to be mature toms hanging out together... I harvested one out of such a group and it appeared to be a mature tom. 10" beard and 1-1/4 spurs. Question is, why would some of the toms be henned up and not resposive to calling while some are still roving in packs like I described? Are hens like deer in the fact they become willing to breed at different times, and if so why aren't these toms following hens and lying in wait? I am still relatively new to the turkey game and curious to their behavioral patterns. I know that jakes will typically run together during this period and be very responsive to calling, but I thought during this period the toms would be seperated? I like to learn this kind of stuff and that's what great about this site, people sharing knowledge.

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I don't know why that is for sure. I've seen it quite a few times during this time in May, which is often why moving on to other birds is a good bet.

My guess is that it simply depends upon how much abuse the boss tom is willing to dish out, and how much satellite toms are willing to take. I see these groups of 2 year old toms quite a bit, ranging around on their own. Depending on how badly they've been brutalized, some of them are pretty shy about coming to calling.

3 years ago I watched a flock of 25 turkeys (just off 14) during my hunt in a plowed cornfield "break-up" like this. There was a definite boss, and about 4 satellite toms. This boss was really the king, and anytime these other birds would try and strut for the hens, he'd go back and pop them. Finally, he spurred one of them, and grabbed the neck skin with his beak and repeatedly twisted his head (OUCH!!!). The four birds tucked tail and headed the other direction.

I saw these 4 toms together for the next 3 days, and they roosted away from the other hens and boss tom. I screwed up on one of the 4 on the third day, and the last morning, took the boss. He was a gaunt 20lbs, and his tailfeathers were ruined from taking a shot in the butt. The back/butt of the bird was gangrenous, and I simply don't know how this bird had the energy to defend his hens and win, as well as come strutting to the call? Beard was my longest to date at 11 1/4". Spurs just over an inch. What joker would hip-shoot a big tom in the butt? I didn't think anyone else was hunting in the nearby area, so I don't know where that bird came from.

Good thought on the breeding at different times. I simply don't know? Anyone else? I do remember reading something about the lead hen determining (socially) quite a bit regarding breeding locations, times, and duration during the season. Help?


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I shot one is WS last year that was the boss Tom of his valley. I watched him for almost 2 hours kick the snot out of 2 other toms. I killed him after I was able to call the other two toms over after all the hens had left the field. The boy was angry that his subserviants were looking for a hen and chased them to gunfire. I guess that's what greed can get you. Anyway, the dude had no feathers on his chest, many missing feathers on his fan, an almost 11" beard, and barely weighed 21lbs ringing wet. He apparently did some brawling to earn his position. J, you're right, how do they have any energy left?

My question, is why were the other toms even out there? Why hadn't they moved on. I guess their patience paid off when I plugged the king. But, why tolerate those whippings?

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Yeah, I know. But I think at one time or another we've all had our head purt near ripped off with some copper-plated #6's in the name of a "hen." grin.gif No offense directed at the female members of the forum at all!


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I know I have. One of my current in-laws made a remark that he could snipe me off at 1/2 mile with his .06 and accelerators (joking of course). I told him if it made him feel more like a man, go right ahead.

I'm still with this set of in-laws. grin.gif

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Ah yes, 'tis the mystery of the turks and why we just can't get enough of them! I've hunted G season for the last 5 years (err was it 6). The first year, the first day I had 5 longbeards come in to my slate calling, no shot available because none would break from the group. Other years, I've had dead silence some mornings, only to have a later morning bird fire up or, I'm speculating after hens had gone to nest. Last year, I had the privilege of bowhunting Nebraska in early April for Merriams, Hybrids or Easterns and the hunting was not much different than what I saw in G season MN. This year I will be doing more "bow-turk research" in NE again in early April. The winter's been mild to date, last years NE hatch was very successful and, as in most states, the turkey population is exploding. To me, Turkey behavior has some patterns to it but as far as I'm concerned, I'd rather do the research myself. I do seriously appreciate the opportunites to learn from the gurus on this sight and share the experience of these awesome birds. Best of Luck.

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