Encourage Turkey Brooding Habitat on Your Property This time of year is one that may slip many turkey hunters’ minds. Turkey season is a thing of the past, and attentions have shifted to summer fishing or even planning for waterfowl season. However, hard core hunters know that developing their property into a turkey hunter’s paradise means first making it optimal for turkey broods. After all, if your land doesn’t have enough food and cover for hens to raise poults this summer, why should you expect great turkey hunting next year? Mature turkeys require different habitat types than that needed by poults. Mature turkeys need older age class mast-producing hardwood stands and mixed pine forests. But turkey broods need more open habitat (grasses and forbs) adjacent to woody cover. Poults feed heavily on insects during their first few months because they are high in protein the poults need to grow. Open areas with grasses and forbs are rich with this food base. However, there’s a fine line between too much herbaceous cover and not enough. It should be dense enough to hold insect life, but not so thick that poults can’t navigate through it. They are also vulnerable to predation in open areas, so it is recommended to locate these areas adjacent to woody escape cover. Forest edges adjacent to openings provide an ideal mix for turkey broods where hens will feel safe as well. Let’s look through several other examples of how you can improve or add turkey brood habitat to your property. Locate existing openings on your land, whether they’re linear (e.g., trails, log landings, right-of-ways, etc.) or not (e.g., food plots, pastures, hay fields, etc.). These are the simplest places to start implementing your new turkey habitat management plan as they do not require substantial land-clearing efforts first. Brush hog and mow these sites at first to start with a clean slate. Keep a few small piles of brush and debris scattered across the site to add some woody cover. Then you can either let the existing plants grow back or plant the area with some beneficial species such as clover, oats, ryegrass, or native warm season grasses (bluestem, switchgrass, etc.). If you plant typical food plot species, also be sure to do a soil test and use the correct amount of fertilizer and lime for best results. The species you plant may require different maintenance practices in the future. For example, clovers should be mowed once or twice a year no lower than six inches, while native prairie grasses respond very well to prescribed burns every couple years. Similarly, cutting periodically will set back woody species and broadleaf weeds, but you may need a grass-specific herbicide if grass species start to get too thick. Don’t eliminate all nearby trees either, because hens need to feel safe as well. Keep some mature trees adjacent to or scattered within your plots. If you don’t have many existing openings on your property, you can also clear openings using nothing more than a chainsaw and some hand tools. These plots don’t need to be huge. In fact, multiple small plots offer opportunities for more turkey broods to be located in proximity to quality nesting habitat. Plus it gives you an opportunity to try out different seed mixes and find the right mix of woody to herbaceous cover. Monitor your turkey population by placing trail cameras in the openings. You’ll probably be surprised. Being a good land manager and steward of the land means caring for the animals you’ll be hunting. But it also means lovingly creating the ideal landscape for wildlife. Look at it as you would a craftsman creating a work of art. It takes time and patience to build a masterpiece. But you’ll never get the results you want if you don’t pick up your paintbrush. Or chainsaw, as it were.