Yamaha Outdoors Tips — Winter Turkey Hunting

Roost to food; food to roost. Such is the winter turkey’s life. These big birds, like this snowbound hen, are highly omnivorous and eat anything from hard and soft mast to a range of other dietary choices. (NWTF media photo)

By Steve Hickoff

You heard right: winter turkey hunting.

Nope, you can’t hunt winter wild turkeys everywhere. Some states—such as Virginia, Kentucky Wisconsin, Florida and Montana to name a handful—offer extended and special seasons though. Check yours to see if one is available.

Sure enough, winter wild turkeys have seen some hunting pressure. A cold-weather flock holds a bunch of wary eyes. Nearly duped by our calling early on, or spooked in error, they’ve survived. This challenge is part of the fun. 

Warm winter thaws after the New Year might generate more intense gobbling from male birds. On the other hand, female turkeys are relying on a changing increase of daylight to indicate the approach of milder days, and to bring on the true breeding phase.

Find the food and you locate the primary destination of a winter turkey’s daytime activity. Preferred flock roosts naturally hold their fly-up, nighttime, and fly-down attention.

Family flocks composed of either-sex birds of the year (born that previous spring or summer), and their brood hen(s), are highly visible in autumn; a transition takes place toward the year’s end. There’s a window of time when fall jakes (juvenile gobblers) leave that flock. 

Why? Male turkeys of the year will sometimes cause pecking-order unrest in the once stable group, and move off in bands of fall jakes, leaving the young hens of the year and their brood hen(s) in a group. 

These jake gangs are fun to hunt. They kee-kee-run and often throw a gobble on the end. They frequently make a big racket on the morning roost, from squawky gobbler yelps to that “gobble in progress.” 

While the remaining all-hen flocks are perfectly legal to hunt in many fall/winter turkey states (always check current regulations), you can choose now to either target the jake groups or that remaining family flock. You can also focus on gobbler gangs composed of “super jakes” (1-1/2 yr. old males), and pure longbeards (2+ yrs. of age). 

This window of flock-variation opportunity might shift from day to day. There comes that time too, in winter, when all turkeys in a particular area regroup. Males might display together, off to the side, while hens show no interest. In terms of deer hunting, one might make a “pre-rut” analogy here. That big group of birds might form in an area due to limited food sources as well.

Get lucky? Every turkey hunter should open the crop of a killed bird to reveal what it has been eating. This is information for the current season (tags providing), and for future reference.

Seasons come and go. Your Yamaha ATV or Side-by-Side can put you into areas where turkeys haven’t felt the pressure of previous months. Get out there and enjoy the outdoors.