The Wild Turkey In Maryland - Maryland Department of Natural Resources

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The Wild Turkey In Maryland - Maryland Department of Natural Resources Powered By Docstoc
					The Wild Turkey In Maryland
              is published by the
  Maryland Wild Turkey Advisory Committee
           in cooperation with the
  Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Maryland Wild Turkey Advisory Committee
   Chairman: James Gilford, Outdoor Writers
      Robert Abraham, Frederick County
Robert Eichler, National Wild Turkey Federation
    Aelred Geis, Baltimore/Washington Area
Father William George, S.J., Southern Maryland
           Howard Janoske, At Large
     David Johnson, Lower Eastern Shore
        Buz Meyer, The Wildlife Society
         Frank Ryan, Central Maryland
        Stuart Sommers, Garrett County

        Steve Bittner and Bob Long,
  Maryland Department of Natural Resources

       Pubication Design and Illustration by
                  Wade Henry

              Cover Photograph by
Tom Evans/National Wild Turkey Federation (NTWF)

                 December, 2003


    The wild turkey
(Meleagris gallopavo silvestris)
and turkey hunting are a trea-
sured part of our Maryland
heritage. Although plentiful
and a valued source of food for
European settlers arriving in
Maryland, unrestricted hunting
and land use changes in the ensuing years eliminated all but a
remnant of the State’s once flourishing turkey flock which was
secluded in parts of Garrett and Allegany counties.
    Today, as a result of concerted efforts to protect the remain-
ing stock of wild birds and a 20-year effort to reintroduce
turkeys into suitable habitat, these magnificent birds are once
again established in all 23 Maryland counties; the resident flock
now numbers in excess of 30,000 birds.
    Wildlife watchers praise the beauty of the wild turkey. Since
they are somewhat shy birds, the average Marylander may not
see one of these birds in the wild, but anyone who has sur-
prised a flock of turkeys in an old field and watched the great
birds glide into the woods is impressed by their appearance
and grace.
    Wild turkeys are both challenging and thrilling to hunt and
an economic asset to the state. Based on Maryland hunting
license sales and national recreational surveys it is estimated

that the average turkey hunter spends more than $300 a year
for clothing, turkey calls, ammunition, guns, in-state travel,
food and lodging. With approximately 16,000 turkey hunters
in Maryland, a reasonable estimate of the economic benefit the
state receives from turkey hunting is about $4.8 million annu-
    The revenues derived from hunting, including Pittman-
Robertson Funds (a federal excise tax placed on the sale of
sporting arms and ammunition), has been the primary funding
source of wild turkey management. Without the revenue from
hunting, management efforts probably would not have oc-
curred and wild turkeys would not be as abundant and wide-
spread as they are today.
    More recently, wildlife watchers have joined hunters in their
appreciation of the wild turkey, and with turkeys now estab-
lished in every Maryland county, involvement in watching and
photographing wild turkeys is expected to increase. While
there is no way of placing an economic value on the rewards of
watching and photographing wild turkeys, they are, neverthe-
less, real. On average, each of the 1.5 million Maryland wild-
life watchers spends about $300 annually observing or photo-
graphing wildlife. It’s not possible to identify how much of that
is attributable to turkey watching, but if it is as little as 1%, the
economic benefit would amount to almost $4.5 million a year
spent on turkey watching.

                HISTORY       YLAND
   According to early accounts, wild turkeys were abundant
when European settlers arrived in Maryland in 1634 and
welcomed as food; “... the Turkey, whom I have seen in whole
hundreds in flights in the Woods of Mary-Land, being an
extraordinary fat Fowl, whose flesh is very pleasant and
sweet”, wrote George Alsop in A Character of the Province of
Maryland (1666).
    Although Lord Baltimore opened land west of the Tidewater
area to settlement in 1732, the forest habitat of wild turkeys
remained relatively undisturbed until the late 1700s when
major expanses of forest were clear-cut to produce charcoal to
fire iron furnaces. Later, with the invention of the steam en-
gine and the development of railroads in the early 1800s,
previously inaccessible forests in western Maryland were
opened to timbering. In the decades that followed, under the
growing demand for wood and wood products, much of
Maryland’s timber was cleared.

    With unrestricted hunting and timber cutting, turkeys de-
clined along with other forest wildlife species that shared their
habitat. By the turn of the 20th Century, only a remnant of
Maryland’s once abundant wild turkey flock remained, leading
State Game Warden F Lee LeCompte in 1919 to conclude
“Wild turkeys, outside of a few sections in the Western counties
of our State, are practically extinct.”
    Concern over low turkey populations resulted in a prohibi-
tion on turkey hunting in Garrett County from 1920 to 1933.
In 1925, Maryland initiated a program to restore wild turkeys
by buying and releasing pen-raised turkeys into the wild. In
1930, the State established its own turkey farm, raising and
releasing nearly 33,000 turkeys into the wild between 1930
and 1971.
    Various techniques were tried in hopes of producing
pen-reared birds that exhibited all the characteristics of a truly
wild turkey. Wild stock was obtained from several states and
the Woodmont Rod and Gun Club, near Hancock, to improve
the genetic quality of the game farm turkeys. Wing clipped
hens were mated with wild gobblers in an effort to instill more
wild qualities in the offspring. Despite these and other efforts,
game farm releases were not successful in establishing wild
turkey flocks in Maryland. Expensive and not effective, the
game farm program was abandoned in 1971 in favor of the
trap and transplant approach.


   The success of the trap and transplant program depended
on the rocket net, a device invented and perfected in the
1950s. It consists of a large net that is shot over feeding tur-
keys by means of explosive charges that are contained in metal
projectiles attached to the net. The explosive charges propel
the net over the feeding turkeys. Birds trapped by the net are
removed, tagged, and transported to a designated release site.
   The rocket net made it possible over a period of time to
obtain wild birds in sufficient numbers to reintroduce turkeys
into every county in the state. When the trap and transfer

            Rocket net being fired over baited wild turkeys.
program began, wild turkeys were found only in Garrett,
Allegany and Washington counties. By the late 1960s, wild
turkeys, probably expanding from populations in northern
Virginia, also had become established in southeastern Frederick
County and western Montgomery County.
   The rocket net was used for the first time in Maryland in
1967 to capture wild turkeys in Garrett County for release in
Frederick County. This original transplant was successful in
establishing a wild turkey population in northwestern Frederick
County. But for unknown reasons, similar releases of small
numbers of turkeys during the late 1960s and early 1970s in
eastern and southern Maryland failed.
   A more intensive effort to reestablish wild turkey populations
throughout Maryland began in 1979 in Calvert County with
releases of wild birds captured at sites in Western Maryland.
Following the successful introduction in Calvert County, a total
of 1,129 wild turkeys captured by rocket nets were released on
63 sites around the state between 1979 and 2001. With
self-sustaining turkey populations established in all counties of

Maryland, trapping and release operations were suspended at
the end of 2001. The restoration effort was funded entirely
with revenue from hunting license sales and Pittman Robertson
   The wild turkey population in Maryland now numbers about
28,000 - 32,000 birds. Turkey populations in western Mary-
land have stabilized, but continue to increase throughout
eastern and southern Maryland as turkeys move into unoccu-
pied habitats. State biologists expect wild turkey numbers to
keep growing until the birds have occupied most of the suitable
habitat in Maryland. It is estimated that Maryland may soon
see a turkey population of about 40,000 birds statewide.

               WILD TURKEY BIOLOGY
    The wild turkey is a member of the pheasant, quail and
grouse family, all of which spend the majority of their time on
the ground, but are capable of strong, short distance flights.
Five subspecies of wild turkey are found in North America,
separated geographically for the most part and distinguished
generally by color patterns and certain other characteristics. Of
the five, the most widespread is the eastern subspecies, the one
that resides in Maryland.
    Wild turkeys are dark brown to black in color. Many of the
feathers are iridescent and exhibit a metallic-like green and
bronze color. Females, or hens, are generally duller than the
males. Often, the hen is brownish in color, due to the chestnut
tipped feathers along the breast and back. The male, or gob-
bler, appears to be almost black, with breast and back feathers
black tipped and more iridescent than those of the hen. The
sex of the poults, the young of the year, often cannot be distin-
guished by coloration. Jakes, young males, and jennies, young
females, are very similar in coloration until about six months of
age, when feather patterns begin to resemble adult characteris-
   Adult gobblers may weigh over 25 pounds, but average
between 18-20 pounds. Males stand taller than females, and
have fewer feathers on their heads. During the breeding
season, the males’ head will often show various shades of red,
blue and white. The males also have beards, hair like append-
ages that project from the upper breast area, and spurs project-
ing from the back of their legs above their feet.
   Hen turkeys are smaller than males. Adult hens weigh
about 10-12 pounds. They are buff colored in appearance,
and have partially feathered heads that are blue gray in color.
While beards and spurs usually are absent, bearded hens are
occasionally seen in Maryland.

   A wild turkey’s home range, the area used during the course
of a year to meet daily needs, varies depending on the avail-
ability of food, water and cover. When food is scarce, turkeys
will feed over a larger area. Gobbler’s home ranges are some-
what larger than those of hens. And during the poult-rearing
period the home range of hens is especially small, often no
more than 250 acres, usually close to quality brood habitat.
   Most turkeys spend their entire lives within two square miles
of their birthplaces. They roost in trees at night for protection.
In the winter, when heavy snow and winter winds bury food
supplies, making it difficult for turkeys to find food, roost trees
provide thermal protection, which aids the turkeys in maintain-
ing their body warmth. Good roost habitat is the key to turkey
survival during this harshest time of the year and they will
travel long distances to find high-quality winter roost sites.

   Wild turkeys are very social animals. They usually travel in
flocks, which vary in composition. Some are made up of only
adult gobblers; some contain a mix of young and adult gob-
blers; others consist of hens without poults; and others are
made up of hens with broods. There is a social hierarchy in
both sexes. Dominance in males is established by fighting and

results in one gobbler doing most, if not all, of the breeding in a
particular area during a given year. This “boss” gobbler breeds
as many females as possible; subadult gobblers and jakes do
little breeding. If something happens to the head gobbler, then
the second ranking gobbler assumes his role.
     Hens also exhibit dominance hierarchy; the pecking order
among hens is as strong as that of the gobblers, if not more so.
The dominant hen leads the flock and claims the better nest
sites. Social dominance is even seen among flocks as they
commingle at feeding areas.

   Breeding activity begins soon after winter flocks break up,
when turkeys move to spring breeding areas. Increasing day
length stimulates production of sex hormones, awakening
sexual behavior. Gobblers spar for dominance and hens roost
with or near gobblers. Gobblers strut, drum and gobble to
attract hens. A receptive hen will allow the gobbler to breed
her. The gobbler stands on the back of the hen as she

crouches down, and then copulates. One insemination is
usually sufficient to fertilize all the eggs.
   In Maryland, flock breakup occurs in mid to late March.
Gobbling activity usually starts about that time, although
turkeys have been known to gobble during warm days in
January. It’s believed there are two peaks of gobbling; one
when gobblers actively seek hens, and one shortly after the
peak of incubation when most hens are sitting on nests. In
Maryland, gobbler surveys have shown the first peak to occur
about the first two weeks of April. The second peak is not as
well defined in part because spring turkey hunting may alter
spring gobbling patterns.
   Gobbling activity may vary because of a number of factors.
Weather conditions can affect gobbling patterns; cold weather
in early spring can suppress gobbling. The age of a turkey can
also be a factor, with older birds generally gobbling more.
More gobbling occurs when hens are absent than when they
are with the gobbler. Breeding may begin as early as March,
but usually occurs in Maryland in early to mid April and ex-
tends into May.

   After the winter flocks break up, hens disperse to breeding
areas, often returning to areas where they have successfully
nested before. Juvenile hens may return to their rearing areas,
but more often they move to new areas, frequently miles away.
The dispersal of juvenile hens to new habitats expands ranges
and leads to genetic diversity within the population.
   Once bred, the hen searches for a suitable nesting site. The
nest is nothing more than a shallow depression in the ground;
usually located in an area of moderately dense, woody under-
story that helps conceal the nest. Nests often are located
within 100-200 yards of water and usually a short distance
from some sort of edge, such as a forest road or opening,
which serves as a travel lane to a feeding area.
   The average clutch contains 10 eggs, laid at the rate of one
a day. The hen covers the eggs whenever she leaves the nest

during the egg laying period. Incubation begins immediately
once egg laying is complete. It takes 26 - 28 days of incuba-
tion for the eggs to hatch. All of the eggs hatch within one day
but the poults may need another day before they are ready to
leave the nest.
   Nest success varies with the age of the hen; on average, 30-
40% of the hens will successfully hatch their nest. The survival
instinct of older females enables them to be more successful
nesters than juvenile hens. Re-nesting may occur if a hen loses
her first nest, and is more likely to occur if a nest is destroyed
early in the incubation process. Second nests generally have
fewer eggs, and often contribute little to the overall addition of
young turkeys to the population.

    Turkeys are precocial. The newly hatched poults are able to
walk, feed themselves, and run for cover upon leaving the nest
with the hen. They actively hunt insects, exhibiting behavior
common to adult turkeys. The newly hatched poults imprint
on the hen, forming a strong social bond. They depend on her
for survival, following the hen and learning the necessary skills
to survive in their environment. The first three weeks of life are
critical for turkey poults. While they still are relatively small
and feathers are only beginning to form, the poults are covered
with down and are susceptible to cold, damp weather. The
hens brood their poults at night and during inclement weather,
tucking them under her to protect them from the elements.

   Very young poults can make short flights, but they do not fly
well enough to be able to roost in trees at night. Instead, they
roost on the ground at night with the hen until about three
weeks of age. Mortality among poults is greatest at this age.
Once they are capable of flying, they are able to avoid ground
predators by roosting in trees at night and as their feathers
develop, they become less susceptible to cool, wet weather.
Poults that survive the first three to four weeks of life stand a
good chance of surviving to the upcoming winter. A survival
rate of 40-50% to four weeks of age is considered good to
   Although poult survival is highly variable from one year to
another, the size of a turkey population is closely related to
poult survival. Several good years of poult survival can result
in high turkey populations. Turkey populations expand more
quickly into unoccupied habitats when populations increase as
a result of excellent poult survival. Wet weather can have an
adverse impact on turkey poult survival, with heavy rainfall
causing young turkey poults to die from exposure. These
unfavorable weather patterns can vary across Maryland, result-
ing in regional differences in poult survival.

   Wild turkeys eat a variety of foods. The primary food of
poults for their first weeks of life is insects, which are rich in
proteins critical to development. As poults get older, their diet
becomes similar to that of the hen. The diet of adult turkeys
varies depending on food availability. Plant materials generally
comprise the majority of an adult turkey’s diet. Acorns are a
preferred fall food but, when they are unavailable, other foods
are readily eaten, including various nuts and fruits and other
mast, such as beechnuts, crabapples, pine seeds, cherries and
grapes, as well as grasses, buds and leaves.
   Adult turkeys will also eat insects, often gorging themselves
on grasshoppers and crickets. Turkeys eat waste grains such as
corn and soybeans left after the harvest and they will pick

through manure that is spread on fields, removing any grains
or eating insects that may be present.
   In some states, scarce food supplies can limit turkey popula-
tions. This is especially true in the more northern states where
heavy winter snows are common and food remains covered for
long periods. Deep, powdery snow restricts turkey move-
ments. In this situation turkeys may remain on the roost,
selectively eating buds from the trees. However, Maryland’s
winters are relatively mild. While occasional deep snows in
Garrett County can cause temporary food shortages, they
generally don’t last long enough to cause starvation.
   White-tailed deer can compete with turkeys for acorns and
other foods. In areas where deer densities are high, turkey
populations may be low or nonexistent.

    Wild turkeys are susceptible to various diseases and para-
sites and fall prey to many predators, some of which can have
a major impact on local turkey populations.
    Predators are the primary cause of mortality in wild turkeys.
In Maryland, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, great horned owls and
hawks prey on the young and adults. Skunks, opossums,
snakes and especially raccoons prey on the eggs. Feral dogs
and cats also kill turkeys on occasion and can harm local
turkey populations.
    Very young poults are particularly susceptible to predators
because they are easily captured. But once they are able to fly,
they are more adept at escaping predators.
    Hunting is another source of mortality. Turkey hunting is
controlled through structured fall and spring hunting seasons.
               On an annual basis, about 3,000 wild turkeys are
                     legally harvested in Maryland. Since both
                           spring and fall hunting are allowed in
                               the western counties, hunting
                                mortality is higher in that part of
                                 the state.

   Unfortunately, there are also unscrupulous people who kill
turkeys outside the hunting seasons. The amount of this
activity is unknown, but arrests are made annually by the
Natural Resources Police. Although poaching of turkeys is not
believed to be serious across the state, localized poaching can
reduce the turkey population.
   Disease outbreaks are very rare in Maryland turkeys. Avian
pox, blackhead and infectious sinusitis are some of the more
common diseases while tracheal and intestinal worms, tape-
worms and lice are among the more common parasites of wild
turkeys. While parasites and disease might possibly cause a
localized problem, they don’t seem to be a major source of
mortality statewide in the turkey population.

               WILD TURKEY HABITAT
   The wild turkey is a highly adaptable creature, which is why
reintroduction of wild turkeys in Maryland and elsewhere in the
country has been so successful. While use of the rocket net,
protection from illegal kills, and limited hunting seasons facili-
tated the introduction and expansion of wild turkeys into
unoccupied habitat throughout Maryland, it was their adapt-
ability that enabled them to become established and to spread
in all 23 counties.
   Contrary to the widespread belief of the past, large stands of
forest and minimal contact with humans are no longer consid-
ered to be essential elements of suitable turkey habitat. Biolo-
gists have only recently appreciated and understood the extent
of the wild turkey’s adaptability. Notions about what consti-
tuted good turkey habitat evolved in the late 1940s at a time
when wild turkeys existed mainly in extensive tracts of forest-
lands. The physical features of these areas and lack of access
kept legal and illegal hunting to a minimum. Turkey habitat of
the 1940s had remained forested because the topography
made the land undesirable for farming. And so the concept

   evolved that wild turkeys need large tracts of forestland and
   little human intervention. Turkey management became based
   on this concept and many areas that could have supported
   wild turkeys were written off as unsuitable.
        By the late 1960s, trap and transplant programs in a num-
   ber of states had introduced turkeys into what was then consid-
   ered all of the good turkey range in their respective states. Yet,
   in a number of instances, the introduced turkey populations
   spread beyond the areas thought to be good habitat. Turkeys
   colonized lands that did not conform to the prevailing concept
   of turkey habitat, including agricultural areas adjacent to forest
   cover. This occurred so often that it became apparent that wild
   turkeys are able to flourish in widely diverse habitat. Today,
   the wild turkey is no longer viewed as a wilderness species.
                                             Regardless of the envi-
                                         ronment, trees and grasses
                                         appear to be the two key
                                         elements common to
                                         habitat that will sustain wild
                                         turkeys. Trees provide food
                                         in the form of nuts and
                                         fruits, cover for daytime
                                         resting, and roosting sites at
                                         night. Open areas of
                                         grasses and legumes pro-
                                         vide food for adults and
                                         places where poults can
                                         efficiently forage for insects.
                                             A balance between open
                                         land and forest and the
                                         spatial relationships be-
                                         tween the two are impor-
                                         tant factors in determining
                                         the number of turkeys a
                                         given area can support.
                                         Ideally, an area suitable for

                                         turkeys is several thousand

                              acres in size and consists of 30-60 %
                               mature hardwood forest, 10-30 %
                                scattered pastures or grassy open-
                                ings, 10-30 % old fields or brushy
                               land, and 10-30 % grain crops.
                              But turkeys in Maryland and else-
                            where have also been found thriving
                          in habitat that varies from that formula.
                            Wild turkeys nest in areas as dissimilar
                       as mature oak forests and alfalfa fields.
                     Even so, nest sites generally share one
                    feature in common: lateral cover. Turkey
                   hens nest primarily among bushes, vines and
                  small trees that obscure horizontal vision in the
                 area immediately surrounding them. Some-
                times, they nest in small openings in forests and
               along forest roads and edges between woods and
              open fields. Occasionally, nests are found in power
line right-of-ways through woods and in fields of herbaceous
growth (grasses, weeds, wild flowers, etc.). All of these sites
have well-developed standing vegetation.
   Habitat used for raising broods tends to be a savannah or
park-like environment with herbaceous vegetation scattered
within forestland. Insect production is high in these areas,
providing high quality food for poults. The standing vegetation
allows the hen to see predators from a distance, yet it provides
hiding cover for the poults. The mixed tree cover offers shade
from the sun and shelter from the rain, as well as escape and
roosting sites.
   Features of primary importance in fall and winter habitat for
turkeys are food and roosting cover. In the fall, food is critical
to the continued growth of young turkeys hatched the preced-
ing spring. Increased fat deposits in young and old birds at this
time of year help them survive the winter, particularly in the
colder snow-prone areas of the state. In winter, food is equally
important but generally in much shorter supply. Nuts, fruit and
seeds are the principal, though not the only food available

during fall and winter. This is consistent with the general
tendency for turkeys to increase their use of woodlands during
the fall and winter and decrease their use of open areas. The
greater the proportion of mature, mast-producing trees in an
area, the greater the chance turkeys will settle in that habitat
come fall and winter.
   Roost habitat, while necessary throughout the year, does not
appear to be highly specific. In the western counties of Mary-
land where temperatures frequently drop below freezing, winter
roosts tend to be on northeast facing slopes in trees sheltered
from prevailing winds. Elsewhere in the state, roost habitat
generally consists of stands of mature trees.
   The major threat to wild turkey populations in Maryland is
the loss of suitable habitat associated with land use changes,
highway construction and urban development. Continued
encroachment on existing forest, woodlands and agricultural
land will decrease the habitat available to turkeys and lead to a
decrease in wild turkey populations.

    The primary focus of turkey management in Maryland is 1)
to ensure that healthy turkey populations are maintained
statewide, and 2) to maintain high-quality hunting opportuni-
ties for those who are interested in hunting turkeys. In step
with the wild turkey population expansion comes a greater
demand for turkey hunting opportunities. Wildlife research has
shown that wild turkeys can be hunted without adversely
affecting the population if hunting is closely regulated.
    Excessive fall hunting has been shown to have a negative
impact on turkey populations. A large harvest of hens in the
fall can cause population declines while spring turkey hunting,
in which gobblers are harvested, has little impact overall. For
these reasons, Maryland permits a limited fall season in West-
ern Maryland while it allows a liberal statewide spring season.

   DNR biologists use gobbler surveys, brood surveys, and
biological information collected at checking stations to monitor
the status of the wild turkey population. Gobbler surveys
conducted from March through May track gobbling patterns
and determine range expansion. Annual brood surveys deter-
mine reproductive success across Maryland. Checking station
operators record sex, weight, and certain feather characteristics
from turkeys checked in by hunters. Age, sex ratios and per-
centage of juveniles in the harvest as well as the previous
years’ hatch and reproductive success can be determined from
these data.

   Part of any successful wildlife management program is
receiving input from concerned citizens. Wild turkey manage-
ment in Maryland has been closely monitored by the Wild
Turkey Advisory Committee, a 12-member “Ad Hoc” commit-
tee established in 1978 by Bernard Halla, then Director of the
Maryland Wildlife Administration. The group was charged with
reviewing and commenting on a proposed plan to redirect wild
turkey management in Maryland. The committee included
representatives of the Maryland Wildlife Federation, the Na-
tional Wild Turkey Federation, sportsmen’s clubs from Central
and Western Maryland, media representatives and members of
Halla’s staff.
   After reviewing DNR’s management proposal, the commit-
tee recommended developing a long-range management plan
based on the fact that turkeys could adapt to a variety of
habitats. The plan’s primary goal was to establish wild turkeys
throughout the state. To this end, the committee recom-
mended creating a database for recording turkey management
activities; establishing an advisory committee to review the
management plan annually; and improving communications
between the turkey program staff and users of the wild turkey
   Following through on its recommendations, the committee
worked with DNR’s Wildlife & Heritage Division to develop an
aggressive trap and transplant program. They achieved their
goal of having turkeys in each of Maryland’s 23 counties.
Today, the committee continues to advocate the wise use of the
state’s wild turkey resource. Through its membership, the
committee’s advice on turkey management issues represents
the interests and views of turkey hunters and wildlife watchers
across the state.

   In Maryland, unrestricted hunting of wild turkeys continued
from colonial times well into the late 19th century. Concerned
with the decline in turkey numbers, turkey hunting eventually
was allowed only in the fall and only in portions of Western
Maryland, under tightly regulated and restricted seasons and
bag limits.
   Even then high fall harvests, coupled with poor reproduc-
tion, led to sharp declines in turkey numbers during the mid to
late 1970s. Fall hunting seasons were further restricted as a
protective measure, even to the closing of the fall season in
1978. Only recently, as wild turkeys numbers have rebounded,
has the fall season been extended to include seven hunting
   Research demonstrated that male turkeys could be hunted
during the spring after mating had occurred. Spring hunting,
with the season structured to begin shortly after the peak of
breeding, allows turkey hunters to pursue gobblers without
having a detrimental affect on turkey populations.
   Based on that background, Maryland held its first spring
gobbler season in 1970. As turkey populations introduced into
other counties became established, those counties were gradu-
ally opened to spring hunting, and by 1995, the entire state
was opened for spring turkey hunting. The length of the spring
hunt was increased from six-days in 1970 to 24 days in 1984,
and has remained at 24 days since then. Spring bag limits have
also increased, from one to two birds per season.
   Spring turkey hunting provides an opportunity to hunt
during a nontraditional time of year. As turkey populations
have become established across Maryland, spring hunting
opportunities have increased accordingly, and the sport has
grown in popularity. In 1970, there were only 3,131 hunters.
Now, as a result of the increased opportunities, there are
approximately 14,600 spring turkey hunters in Maryland, an
increase of 427%.

   Some risk is inherent in hunting wild turkeys. By far the
most common turkey hunting-related accident is one in which
a hunter is shot when mistaken for a turkey. Whether this
happens because of the excitement of the hunt or failure to
clearly identify the object being targeted, such mistakes can
prove fatal. Fortunately, turkey hunting accidents are rare in
   Individuals who hunt turkeys for the first time should seek
assistance from someone who is an experienced turkey hunter.
To help reduce the incidence of accidents, the National Wild
Turkey Federation has developed the following Code of Con-
duct which every turkey hunter should follow: A responsible
turkey hunter should -
   1. Not let peer pressure or the excitement of the hunt
        cloud his/her judgment;
   2. Learn and practice safe hunting techniques;
   3. Hunt the wild turkey fairly;
   4. Know the capabilities and limitations of his/her firearms
        and use them safely;
   5. Obey and support all wildlife laws and report all viola-
   6. Respect the land and the landowner and always obtain
        permission before hunting;
   7. Avoid knowingly interfering with another hunter and
        respect the right of others to lawfully share the outdoors;
   8. Value the hunting experience and appreciate the beauty
        of the wild turkey;
   9. Positively identify his/her target as a legal bird and insist
        on a good shot; and
   10. Share responsible turkey hunting with others and work
        for turkey conservation.

   Although not a legal requirement, DNR encourages turkey
hunters to wear fluorescent orange. Other safety tips include
not wearing clothes with the colors red, black, white or blue
which are the colors seen on wild turkeys. Never stalk a turkey
or a turkey sound, as it may in reality be another hunter.
Should you see another hunter approaching in the woods,
shout to the hunter to let him or her know where you are. Do
not wave your arms or make turkey noises. You might be
mistaken for a turkey. Also, protect your back by sitting against
a large tree or rock. Remember, practicing a few simple safety
techniques may prevent a tragedy.

    Fall turkey hunting has a rich tradition in Maryland and a
faithful, if modest, following. The key to fall turkey hunting is
locating the birds’ food supplies. At that time of year, turkeys
are feeding mainly on wild grapes, beechnuts, and acorns,
preferring acorns when available. They scratch the ground and
rake away leaves is search of food, creating V-shaped
scratchings; those left by a flock of turkeys are easily seen. The
point of the V-shaped scratch indicates the direction in which
the turkeys are moving. Often, a flock can be heard for quite a
distance scratching and moving through the woods, so it’s
possible to find turkeys that are feeding by listening and watch-
    Weather during the fall hunting season can vary from warm
sunny days to snow showers. Still-hunting works the best
when the woods are dry and it is possible to hear turkeys as
they walk through the dry leaves. When the woods and leaves
are wet, hunters are able to move about as silently as the
turkeys. It’s necessary to call louder when it is raining since
sound doesn’t travel as far. When there is snow cover, tracking
turkeys is a possibility even though the birds become very
    Turkeys use the terrain to their advantage. They prefer open
woodlands and tend to avoid thick areas and they will travel
along benches and saddles, old logging roads and game trails.

    The most common fall hunting
technique is to break up a turkey
flock by charging into a flock, yelling
and screaming, causing the flock to
scatter in all directions, then waiting
patiently for the turkeys to call to each
other and reassemble near the site. It may take
several hours for the scattered flock to reassemble. It is
also possible to call to individual birds trying to get back to
rejoin the flock. Young birds anxious to rejoin the hen are
particularly susceptible to this technique.
    Some prefer to hunt fall turkeys by remaining quietly in one
location, using topography to their advantage to avoid the
keen eyesight and hearing of turkeys. A hunter who is familiar
with the territory he is hunting has a much better chance at
bagging a potential Thanksgiving dinner.
    A hunter who is a skilled at imitating turkey calls may have
success calling in birds. In the fall, turkeys tend to gather in
larger groups and correct calling can be effective in attracting
groups of birds within shooting range. But because turkeys
only call for specific reasons in the fall, it can be very difficult to
call birds at this time of the year.
    Although rare in Maryland, dogs are used by some to hunt
fall turkeys. Trained dogs are used to locate turkey flocks,
scatter them, and remain at the scatter site, barking, until the
hunter finds the dog, gives him a “silence” command, and calls
to the scattered flock. The dog waits quietly at the hunter’s
side, and if a turkey is killed, retrieves it.
    A successful fall turkey hunt requires experience and pa-
tience, as hunting techniques are not quickly mastered. There
are always new and exciting challenges that occur during any
hunting experience, and the avid turkey hunter looks forward
to meeting these tests each fall.

   Spring turkey hunting is a challenging experience; even
those hunters who are not successful in bagging a bird enjoy

the challenge. The woods are alive with vibrant colors of
dogwoods and redbud and sounds of songbirds.
   Wild turkeys have sharp vision and are extremely wary, and
gobblers calling to hens are no exception. For that reason, it’s
common practice to dress from head to toe in camouflage
clothing in order to be less conspicuous. Some hunters use
blinds to conceal their movements, minimizing the chances of
spooking a gobbler.


   The accepted and best method of hunting turkeys in the
spring is to locate a gobbling bird and by imitating various
sounds made by turkeys, entice him to come within gun range.
Instruments used in calling include traditional box calls, slate
calls, diaphragm mouth calls, gobbling tubes and the uncom-
mon wing bone calls. Plastic hen decoys also can be used to
attract cagey gobblers within shooting range.
   By recognizing turkey sign, such as droppings, feathers and
tracks, it is possible to locate areas that are frequented by
turkeys. Once turkey signs have been found, listening at dawn
or dusk for gobbling activity at the same area is a good way to
locate a gobbler on his roost.

    If a roost site is located, it can be approached but with
caution to avoid flushing the gobbler which would all but end
the hunt for that bird. By taking a seat against a large tree and
carefully make a few calls, it is possible to bring the gobbler off
his roost in search of the caller. To assure a clean kill, the
gobbler should be within 20-30 yards; the chance of a clean kill
diminishes at longer distances. Ethical hunters will not risk
crippling a bird that escapes to die later.
    Bearded turkeys, including hens with beards, are legal
game. Experienced turkey hunters are able to tell the difference
between a gobbler and a bearded hen; ethical turkey hunters
pass up a shot at a bearded hen even though it is legal game.
Allowing the hen to survive and nest adds young birds to the
following year’s flock.

    Archery equipment and all firearms, except handguns, are
legal for hunting turkeys during the fall season. Most hunters
prefer to use shotguns, but in the hands of an excellent marks-
man, a small caliber rifle also can be used bag a turkey. The
ultimate test of woodsmanship, stealth and shooting skills can
be found in those hunters who try to bag a fall turkey by using
a bow and arrow.
    In the spring season, shotguns and archery equipment are
legal for hunting turkeys, while rifles and handguns are prohib-
ited in Maryland. Shot size is restricted to #’s 4, 5 and 6 in
shotguns that are 20 gauge or larger.

   Wild turkeys are large yet they move with elegance and
quickness; seeing one is a wonderful experience. Wild turkeys
are believed to be more intelligent and elusive than their do-
mestic counterparts and this is reflected in their great survival
skills, which can make them difficult to find.
   Although turkey populations are at high levels across Mary-
land, sightings are relative few because of their secretive na-
ture. Many people don’t realize that turkeys may be close to

where they live. Hikers may wonder what that small dirt bowl
on a forest trail is, not knowing that turkeys recently dusted
there in an effort to rid themselves of mites and lice. Hikers
and bird watchers sometimes stumble across turkeys by acci-
    The thunderous gobble of a large male turkey courting in
the spring is something that people remember and talk about
for a long time. Those residing in the more rural areas of
Maryland tell stories of turkeys coming into their bird feeders
for sunflower seeds and other bird food. Occasionally residents
will see a hen and her brood comically chasing grasshoppers in
a field. Hikers often find turkey tracks in the snow and some-
times follow the tracks to observe the patterns of the birds.
    Wildlife watchers who are interested in observing turkeys
should get to know the birds, their biology and behavior.
Turkey watchers may learn a lot from experienced turkey
hunters, as well as naturalists and other outdoor enthusiasts.
The hunting section in this booklet offers many tips for finding
turkey sign.
    When looking for wild turkeys, locate an area that the birds
regularly frequent, such as a meadow or field edge where they
search for insects; hens and poults may visit such areas on a
daily basis. Although turkeys get most of their water from the
foods they eat, they will drink standing water at times, so it is
worth checking the banks of streams or small ponds for turkey
tracks, which will be quite evident in the moist soil.
    Care should be taken to minimize disturbances to nesting
turkeys. Incubating hens often flush from the nest when some-
one gets too close. If flushed later during the incubation pe-
riod, they will often return to the nest, but if disturbed several
times in a short period, they will most likely abandon that nest
site. So if a hen is flushed from her nest, it’s best to leave the
area immediately and avoid that site in the future.
    Binoculars are useful in observing turkeys, but remember,
when mounting binoculars to your eyes, turkeys may detect
the movement and leave. By remaining still when turkeys are
first sighted, you have a better chance of seeing this magnifi-
cent animal in its natural surroundings.
            MARYL AND
    Wild turkeys have come full cycle in Maryland. Once
abundant across the state during colonial times, turkeys
were nearly extirpated because of unregulated hunting
and habitat destruction. As a result of improving habi-
tat, increased protection, and sound scientific wildlife
management, turkey populations have rebounded.
Turkeys are once again a common sight across
Maryland’s landscape.
    Wildlife managers have learned from past mistakes.
No longer will turkeys be subjected to inordinately long
fall hunting seasons. Ethical hunters don’t want such
seasons, knowing that they can lead to population
declines. Turkey watchers also prefer high turkey popu-
lations, which leads to increased opportunities for
watching and photographing.
    The largest challenge facing turkey management will
be the future loss of forestland across the state. Increas-
ing demands on the land will lead to forestlands being
developed for homes, stores and industry. No one
knows exactly what future development pressures may
do to occupied turkey range, but the tide will be difficult
to stem.
    Continued interest on the part of resident turkey
hunters, wildlife enthusiasts and the National Wild
Turkey Federation and its Maryland affiliates, will pre-
serve the turkey heritage for Maryland citizens, Partner-
ships with these groups will provide wildlife managers
more tools to scientifically manage this species, ensuring
its future for many years to come.

                           State of Maryland
                     Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., Governor
                  Michael S. Steele, Lieutenant Governor

                  Department of Natural Resources
                       C. Ronald Franks, Secretary
                     W. P. Jensen, Deputy Secretary
                  Michael E. Slattery, Assistant Secretary
                      Paul A. Peditto, Director of the
                       Wildlife & Heritage Service

                        Wildlife & Heritage Service
                      Tawes State Office Building, E-1
                            580 Taylor Avenue
                          Annapolis, MD 21401
                            FAX 410-260-8596
                            TTY 410-260-8835

           The facilities of the Department of Natural Resources
              are available to all without regard to race, color,
           religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, national origin,
           or physical or mental disability. Accommodations for
             individuals with disabilities will be provided upon
             request. Seven days advance notice is requested.
           This document is available in alternative format upon
            request from a qualified individual with a disability.

     Questions or comments about this publication can be directed to:
      Bob Long, Wild Turkey & Upland Game Bird Project Manager
                      201 Baptist Street, Suite 22
                         Salisbury, MD 21801

         Survey and inventory results reported in this publication were
             funded by the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act.

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