Turkey Buffet

Kids Outdoor Outpost - April 2020

Joe Schuster | March 28, 2020

Well, we’re wide open with turkey season. Have you bagged your gobbler yet?

I have several friends who immediately turn their thoughts and energy to turkeys once deer season ends. Much has been written about the habits of these spring birds, particularly how to call them to the gun. Last month, we covered some of the different types of turkey calls. From the easy-to-use box calls and pot calls, to the more involved trumpet and mouth calls, these calls can be found stuck in pockets turkey vests all across the country. This month we’re going to shift focus to what these wily birds eat.

They are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals. During hunting season you’ll often find them scratching around in the leaves as they search for leftover white and red oak acorns, early spring fruits and buds. Sometimes, they may be a little late on the fly-down as they may be snacking on the tree branch buds. If you’re hunting in an agricultural area, your birds may be chomping on the crops of the region. Hunting in swampland? They’re probably getting a taste of small frogs and salamanders. Got cattle on or near your hunting area? They’re likely to be flipping “cow pies” to dig out grubs and beetles.

If you roll a gobbler, consider playing detective as you discover what your turkey has been eating. The turkey has what’s known as a “craw,” which is a thin-walled tract right below its neck. It’s essentially a holding tank for food prior to digestion. Cutting off the craw and slicing it open will reveal the contents of the craw and what the turkey has been eating. You might find tree buds, grasses, insects, flower tops and other clues as to their habitat and hang-outs.

Here’s an interesting story involving my son Jared while he was at Fort Carson, Colorado in the U.S. Army. He took a Merriam’s turkey out West on public land and happened to make a connection with a game warden out there. The officer who checked his bird and license just happened to be from Athens, Georgia.

A year later, Jared ran into him again after dropping another Merriam’s gobbler. My son mentioned that it was very odd that in an area that was devoid of good habitat that he found an unusual amount of talkative birds that were really only in that one spot and not any others.

Jared opened up the craw of the bird for the officer to see, and it revealed a large amount of bird seed and corn, meaning that someone was illegally baiting turkeys in the area. The officer had already been watching the general area and was suspicious of the illegal baiting activity. Jared and I suspected that what they discovered in the craw could have very well led to catching a poacher and saving a number of turkeys.

So when you take your next bird, consider opening the craw. You never know what information you could learn.


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