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Help explaining turkey patterns/behavior
I posted some of this in the NY forum and decided to post here for more help. I'm in upstate NY, season opened May 1st and runs all month. We see turkeys pretty much all year long, and usually every spring. So far this year since the opener, about nothing. I drive all over and see very few birds out anyplace, i drove 20 miles of farmland Thursday morning and zero, where usually I see tons. All I have seen are lone hens out feeding in grass fields, have seen just 3-4 total. Also, I found a nest with two eggs in it April 23rd, walked up on a hen sitting on it in tall grass. I am very sure the general population is adequate (though down past few years)
I'm a novice at this, so question for the more experienced on here, any insight to this behavior, is this a lull, weather related, could mating season have been early and now just nesting? Is this much ado about nothing, and just keep at it? Looking for experience, thanks.
Sounds to me like survival rates of hatched poults could be affecting your hunt quality if the population is down. It is the determining factor in turkey numbers if winter don't get the adults. Many things influence survival rates but, cold May rains and, a wet June is really hard on poult populations. The rest of the variables, besides raptor depredation, is minuscule according to every biologist I've talked with about this.
Assuming the population is adequate and, it sounds like it is, a bigger factor in sightings and hunt quality is sex ratio's. Once the gobbler numbers in relation to the hen numbers reach a certain low, your gobblers stay busy with the real hens instead of getting lonely. What most DNR groups don't incorporate enough of is a consistent fall kill of hens, to keep the sex ratio somewhat balanced. That is the key to good hunts.
If I'm not mistaken I read a bit on New York's turkey management about 2 decades ago. It said the state tried to balance sex ratio's to keep quality hunts possible. So, it might not be a problem either. Only you have the tools available to determine what is going on where you are hunting.
Your population maybe suffering from a bad winter a couple winters ago too. You may have a good population but, it is as simple as your area had enough rain to bud up the woods early, keeping the turkeys out of the fields until the bugs hatch. I could keep on going but, it is really just a WAG trying to tell you exactly what is the problem.
The main thing is, pray for early spring rains and a dry June. If you get that, you'll have booming populations of turkeys every year. With plenty of kill-able gobblers. And, if your area has a fall harvest that allows hens to be taken, shoot them instead of gobblers.
FWIW, if you are seeing lone hens feeding, they are setting already. Which they sure should be at this point.
If you are seeing lone hens during the middle of the day that usually is an indication they are nesting. They may be tougher to find once they break up and start nesting so that may also be what you are seeing. I was in Nebraska a few weeks ago and saw lots of lone hens. Here in Colo I've seen a few lone hens but still groups of hens in mid day. We've had a late spring with several snow storms that may have delayed nesting. I haven't seen any toms here in Colo running around solo or in bachelor groups. I have a feeling predation has to do with some of the high hen to tom ratios. Toms are likely easy prey if vocal around here with so many coyotes, mtn lions, bears, and bobcats.
As mentioned above weather (winterkill, cold/wet weather during nesting, etc) likely have a lot to do with poult success/failure. Predators and disease are a couple other factors.
You may want to start a post on the oldgobbler.com website. There may be a few NY guys that can help out with what is going on in your particular area.
Do you have now what is called "Buffalo Nat's"?? .... they showed up here in the mid west about 10+ years ago. They are bad early spring till the weather turns HOT! People (farmers) here loose duck and chickens and turkeys do to the "Nat" ....they get in the bills/nose holes/beaks .... they are a pest to humans and other animals as well! I think deer and especially fawns suffer greatly from them also...and may even cause death in them too.
On another note we now have a abundance of Bobcats and coyotes that prey on turkey and other species. And raccoons and skunks and opossum, etc. are hard on EGGS!
Looking for toms? Find your favorite hunting spots, arrive before light, and listen for gobbles before flydown or in the evening, after flyup.
Use an owl hooter, a crow call, a goose flute on coyote yelper to stimulate a gobble.
This may help you determine how many toms are around in any one area.
my best, Paul
Joe I live in NY, just south of the Capital. The problem here is that by the time our season opens the Toms are henned up and breeding is already going on, then the hens start to sit a bit later in our season. Early season here it is best to pattern the Toms movement from a distance and then move in and set up and kill them. I rarely call a bird in during the early season. About the 21st of May or so the Toms usually become much easier to call onto a set up as the hens are all sitting and they are out looking for any that may be left over and not bred. It would make our hunting a lot better if NY got with the program and opened much earlier or at least mid-april. I killed a good bird yesterday morning at 10 am. as the hens had come off the nests and fed a bit then went back to the nests, the Toms were worked up and out looking. Paul is correct, find a roosting area and even slamming your truck door will get a shock gobble a lot of times. Shawn
Thanks all for the advice. I am pretty sure we dont have buffalo nats- never heard of them (and thankful for that)! Havent had any luck roosting birds either. I went again Sunday morning to find strong winds and light snow, no luck but that wasnt a surprise even given the weather. Later that day about 11AM I checked out a new location-30 miles from our lease and found... a lone hen out eating, this one was with a couple of deer out in a poweline opening. Didnt see anything out in fields on way there.
Shawn thanks for the perspective- sounds like this pattern isnt that strange to you which is encouraging. Also- there is hope, just need to wait a bit longer and hopefully it picks up. Ill post up how my future outings go, let you know if anything picks up (even sightings). Thanks
Speaking from over 30 years of turkey hunting upstate myself, I do not think there is any shortage of birds this year. Actually there seems to be a slight upward trend in pop numbers compared to about 5 years ago. With that said I have driven around my hunting area many times this year and have had great sightings(numbers) and poor sightings and there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it other than the unusually cold and rainy weather pattern since the season opened. I too have seen many single hens and I would say that is due to the early warm pattern (April) that we experienced. Many people assume that if we had an earlier season hunting would be better, and that might be true for a year or two until they kill off so many "easy" gobblers there would be a downward spike in the gobbler pop. In my opinion the season is in a good spot on the calendar to have a good balance for the nesting population and for the hunter. Obviously, it can vary a little from year to year due to weather, but it's pretty consistent through the years. Also, most of the initial breeding is done in winter flocks through out March and April. Now, as with most years, you see the secondary breeding of the hens who lost their nest due to predation or exposure. There might be a lot of that this year due to the weather, so late season could be good
I'm no expert but it sounds to me like your population is down.
I experienced the same thing last spring at my most favorite spot........ they just weren't there last year, or even this year. Heck, I didn't even try to hunt there since my good landowner friend keeps me up-to-date on the turkey since I live an hour away.
I mean this spot had a ton of birds but no more. I hope it rebounds in the next few years cause I love going there. Until then, I hunt closer to home which isn't a bad thing this year as most of my spots have good #'s.
You can tell from listening to longbeard that he knows of what he speaks.
Most of the breeding does take place while still in winter flocks. Because a goobler can breed a hen one time and it fertilizes all the eggs she will lay. Multiple times are not needed. Albeit, I'm sure that some hens partake. And, I'm sure in skewed populations hens do their own thing. Meaning the more hens per gobbler you have, the more stretched out the breeding is. Which means less likely hood to find a willing gobbler.
God Bless men
Saw a hen this afternoon with at least 8 little ones, the Toms should be easier now! Shawn