For the last 10-12 years, a vast majority of my hunting has been on small tracts of land in and around Southern Missouri and for the most part, it has lived up to expectations. My family farm is a prime example of how small tracts can produce awesome hunts. Unfortunately, two years of poor hatches and habitat destruction is taking its toll on the turkey populations on the places I love to hunt the most.
In the 2018 Spring Turkey guide published by the Missouri Department of Conservation, hunters were warned that while Missouri is still a prime destination, hunters may have to work a little harder to fill their tag. 2016 was a very poor hatch; this will result in fewer two year old gobblers. 2017 was not much better for poult production. Mother Nature can be cruel but she can also be forgiving. While we are off to a very cold 2018 season, it remains to be seen what turkey production will be like this year. One to two good seasons and turkey numbers will rebound. The one thing they cannot rebound from is habitat destruction.
According to the National Wild Turkey Federation prime turkey habitat includes:
🍃 Trees for food, daytime resting, escape cover and roost sites
🌱 Grasses that provide food for adults and poults
🐣 Nesting habitat, including developed understory of vegetation and overhead cover
🐛 Brooding habitat that is insect rich and provides cover
Dad’s farm is 100 acres but only has 10-20 acres in timber. The rest is crop land or pasture but the farm has been surrounded by other properties for decades that provided ample nesting habitat and as a result, this small tract of land produced a lot of turkeys. Today this is not the case.
My son and I braved the unseasonably cold elements for this year’s youth season on the family farm and were incredibly disappointed in the lack of turkeys on the property. A two day hunt produced zero gobbling and only one visual turkey sighting. Remember that in year’s past, there were a multitude of birds due to the right habitat components but urban sprawl has played a significant role in the flock’s decline on my parent’s farm.
Within a half mile of our family farm there has been:
🏠 A new home built on 5-7 acres of nesting habitat
🌿 7 acres of nesting habitat converted back into pasture
🔨 10-20 acres of nesting habitat cleared to make way for a new subdivision
There are still plenty of trees for roosting and escape, food and water but a critical component in the reproductive cycle of wild turkeys, nesting habitat, is disappearing due to urban sprawl. And it is not just around our family homestead. Farm land that has been in production for generations is being developed at a rapid pace as more people spread from urban areas to experience country living and who could blame them? The only problem is as more housing developments are created past the city limit signs, more habitats are sacrificed.
Yesterday I was lucky enough to fill a tag. Three jakes came into our set gobbling and in full strut. It was a sight to behold and I was thrilled to experience such an enjoyable hunt. After breakfast, we took a drive to scout potential hunting sites for next week and I was shocked to see homes or new construction on many of the farms that have been so good in the past.
There is no sense complaining about urban sprawl. It is reality and it will force hunters to develop other options. It should also motivate us all, hunters, land owners and conservationists, to take action to ensure the habitat that is left is as good as it can be.
Here are some things you can do to help save wild turkey habitat:
❶ Join the National Wild Turkey Federation:
No, you may not own a farm or hunting property but you can certainly take a stand by belonging to an organization like the NWTF. In fact, you should consider belonging to other organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and the Quality Deer Management Association as well. If you value hunting and the outdoors this is an easy action on
❷ Visit your state’s conservation website for tips on how to manage your property:
The Missouri Department of Conservation not only has online resources but will mail residents, free of charge, a complete library of land management resources that benefit all wildlife.
❸ Bring in the pros:
It will cost you, but hiring a professional who can help you manage your farm or recreational property is an excellent way to ensure you are doing the right things to create habitat where both turkeys and other wildlife can thrive. And some states may have programs to provide financial assistance.
❹ Be mindful:
I myself intend to have a cabin on acreage to retire on but trust me when I say careful consideration will be given to when and where my future home will be built. This is my opinion, but I believe most developers do not even consider wildlife habitat when building a new community; they just want to build houses. If you intend to develop land or build a home outside of city limits, be mindful of where you break ground. Anything you do to the landscape will have a ripple effect.
Every time I see a large tract of timber or a sage field bulldozed I get a little sad but I also realize this is a part of life. I plan to do what I can on the properties I hunt, own and manage to provide the best habitat so my kids and their kids can enjoy the sport of turkey hunting for years to come. I would challenge you to do the same.