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Hunting & FishingOwning Land

Improving Turkey Populations: What Can Landowners and Hunters Do?

May 22, 2024

While many people may only think of turkeys around Thanksgiving time, this American symbol means much more to landowners and hunters all over the United States. In recent years, turkey populations across the country have seen significant decline with no obvious cause. As such, many conservation efforts are being made on the part of groups like Turkeys For Tomorrow to identify ways that landowners and hunters alike can help protect and preserve turkey populations.

During his recent appearance on the National Land Podcast, Director of Business Operations and Partnerships for Turkeys For Tomorrow, Jason Lupardus spoke to the decline seen across the U.S., their mission, and a few ways that hunters and landowners can improve habitats for turkeys on their land.

Turkey Populations Across the U.S. Are Declining

As noted above, many regions across the United States have seen declining turkey populations in recent years. While many factors likely contribute to this decline, such as urban sprawl encroaching on turkey habitats and forcing them into areas with higher predator counts, there is no singular cause for conservationists to point to.

Speaking to this decline, Lupardus stated, “In some places, you do still see some bird numbers that are very stable, but not everywhere. So what we have is what I call an isolated decline across the United States. We look at the regression curve for the turkey population, it’s headed down; it’s not good. We don’t know what it is, there are some theories that maybe we just haven’t come off the high from when birds got restored and it hasn’t balanced yet. Some theories say that maybe it’s balanced in a few states and it’s just circulating up and down, but numbers don’t lie. If you look at regression curves for almost every state, they’re still showing decline.” 

What Can We Do to Improve Populations?

As a result of this decline, many have begun to ask the question, “How can we improve turkey habitats and protect turkey populations?” Fortunately, the steps that landowners can take to protect budding turkey populations on their property are also beneficial for creating supportive habitats for other game species. Two of the largest ways landowners can improve turkey habitats are trapping predators and selective timber thinning.

Trapping to Improve Turkey Populations

Trapping predators is a great way for a landowner to take a hands-on approach to creating a safer environment for young game species to grow and develop. As Lupardus illustrated during his conversation, increased predator numbers are likely a large reason for the decline seen in turkey populations. By removing these predators from the area, landowners can reduce the chances of young poults being killed before they can mature, reproduce, and maintain the overall population.

Lupardus spoke about the importance of trapping predators, stating, “We do know that a lot of our ‘predator numbers’ are higher than they’ve ever been. We know we’re having some areas across the US where we’re seeing nest success well below the threshold needed to keep a stable population and that’s helping with the decline. So we know if we can trap effectively 2-3 weeks out of the year before the next initiation, we can really start turning back the numbers [of predators]. This has been well-proven with waterfowl and bobwhite quail, which is most closely related to turkeys as far as what they need. In the quail arena, we’ve seen a 10-15% bump in the population in just one year by doing the right kind of trapping.”

Selective Thinning to Improve Habitats

Another way to improve turkey habitats is by creating more available sources of food, and selective thinning is one means of accomplishing this. By selectively thinning the trees in a forest, a landowner can allow more sunlight to reach the forest floor which promotes new plant growth that turkeys and other types of game can use for nutrition.

Effectively managing timber stands is an important aspect of creating a haven for turkeys on a property, as Lupardus highlighted: “Pine stands grow very fast from the get-go and then they kind of slow down and then they’ll grow again. Hardwood stands are different; they have slow growth and this is the time when you have to do something or you won’t get accelerated growth. For the next 20-25 years, if you’re thinning that stand, you get accelerated growth so it’s a key time to do that. This is good for forest health, it’s good for lumber value down the road, and it’s good for producing more mast since you’ve got more sunlight hitting the ground. It’s a win, win, win. I think a lot of folks don’t just don’t know it’s that important to do it, so we’re trying to drive a campaign around that to get more work done on the ground with private landowners.”

The Role of Landowners and Hunters in Conservation

While large-scale legislative change could help to improve turkey populations, at the end of the day the kind of environmental change necessary to revitalize these game populations and habitats requires boots-on-the-ground collaboration between hunters and landowners. By employing some of the techniques illustrated above and making a coordinated plan with their neighbors, landowners can improve habitats on their property for not only turkeys but other types of wildlife and game as well.

The role of the average hunter or landowner in aiding turkey populations can’t be overstated, as Lupardus explained, stating the following:

“The guys who hunt are out on their properties every single day. They’re the most dedicated and passionate people about the land, and I’m one of them. So even though I’m a turkey hunter, I’m a conservationist; ultimately all hunters are conservationists and a lot of people don’t understand that. Hunters are some of the folks who really pushed the whole conservation movement. 

The number one group of people we’re working with are turkey hunters because they’re willing to give up things now to have turkeys down the road. These are people willing to say, ‘I know I could harvest three turkeys, but I’m only going to take one because I care.’ I’m willing to go and do more property management to make sure there are more [turkeys] down the road for my friends, family, kids, and future generations. That’s the kind of passionate people we’re working with.”

If you’re interested in working with Turkeys For Tomorrow and improving turkey habitats on your property, contact them here. For any of your other land-related questions or needs, get in touch with your local Land Professional!

About the Author
Bryce Berglund is National Land Realty’s Content Marketing Specialist. He is currently residing in Minnesota, where he attended the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Bryce is an appreciator of all things artistic, and likes to spend time at his cabin with his dog and family.