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Managing for Wild Turkeys vs White-Tailed Deer

This Turkey Tuesday is about differences in managing for turkeys and white-tailed deer. I often hear people state or suggest that “if it’s good for deer, it’ll work for turkeys”. While this is partially true, it ignores some fundamental and important differences between the 2 critters. Yes, turkeys can benefit from plantings of cool season forages designed to benefit deer, such as cereal grains, clovers, and brassicas. Likewise, management strategies targeted at improving hard mast production, such as timber stand improvements, also will benefit turkeys. But it’s important to consider differences in how turkeys and deer avoid danger when determining how management practices may affect turkeys. Deer use their smell, sight, and hearing to detect danger and when they need to escape it, they run into dense cover and hide. Turkeys rely heavily on their vision to avoid danger – they have to be able to see above the vegetation around them. So, turkey management often requires more disturbance to vegetation – for example, deer managers may use a prescribed fire return interval of 3 years on a particular property, whereas turkeys would benefit more from a 2-year interval. The take home is, if managing turkeys is a priority, the strategies you use to create and maintain high quality habitat for the bird are often more intensive than when managing for deer. In forested areas, pay attention to line of sight – a turkey hen stands at about 3 ft height – vegetation taller than that works against their ability to use the vegetation effectively and safely. I always tell people, if you want to see the world from an adult turkey’s perspective, plop down on one knee and look around you. If you want to view the world from a poult’s perspective, lay on your stomach. Either will change your perspectives of the places we manage for turkeys and the effectiveness of our management actions.

© Tes Randle Jolly

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