I've always felt that the more you know about the biology of the animal you are hunting, the better you will be at understanding when and where to find it, and that will make you a better hunter. So let's talk turkey. Sight is a main means of defense against predators for turkeys, so they often use open fields and meadows as feeding and strutting sites; and wooded areas as mid-day loafing and roosting sites.
In the southern states turkey roosting sites are often located over or near water. In western areas turkeys use fir, pine, spruce, cottonwood and large aspen trees as roosts. Eastern birds often roost in pines, elm, maple, box elder, large oak, and cottonwood. Mature toms often choose pines because the pines can reduce wind speeds by 50-70 percent. Eastern turkeys generally have several roost sites in their home range, and they may use different sites on successive nights. In limited and poor habitat, Merriam's turkeys often roost in the same trees on a regular basis.
Scientific studies have shown that turkeys often roost on an east or south-facing slope, about a third of the way down the slope where the winds are calm. East and south facing slopes also receive the earliest sunlight, allowing the birds to warm-up and be able to see early in the morning. In one study roost sites were often within one half mile of water, and five hundred yards of a meadow. This could be attributed to the fact that turkeys often feed before going to roost in the evening, and they don't travel far at dusk. The preferred roosts in the study were mature trees with open crowns giving the turkeys room to fly into the trees and move around. They also preferred trees with large horizontal limbs to roost on.
Because turkey are a prey species their eyes are located on the sides of their heads, giving them a wide field of vision. But, because of their wide spaced eyes, turkeys sacrifice depth perception; they see very little in front of them with both eyes at the same time. As turkeys walk, their heads move back and forth, giving them two different angles of an object, which helps them determine the distance of the object. Because of their poor depth perception, turkeys have difficulty determining the relative size of objects.
This makes it clear why prey species (like turkeys) with widely spaced eyes and ears give an alarm signal first, often try to verify the danger with both their eyes and ears, and then flee. If they don't know which direction the danger came from they need to verify the danger, and the direction, before trying to avoid danger; or they may actually flee into, rather than away from it.
I've seen a wintering flock of turkeys spend four hours in a cornfield in early spring, prior to the breeding season. However, the normal amount of time spent by large flocks or groups feeding in open areas is about an hour to an hour and a half. Then they move to a new opening, or into the woods. During mid-day the turkeys may loaf in wooded areas and fly up to roost. They generally begin to feed again in the late afternoon, and fly back up to roost about ahalf hour before dusk.
Reaction to Environmental Conditions
According to noted waterfowl biologist, Dr. Jim Cooper, birds have numerous air sacs in their bodies and are able to detect slight changes in barometric pressure, which may allow them to feel approaching storms. Many hunters believe birds, including turkeys, feed heavily up to two days before a storm because they feel it is coming. This would allow the birds to wait out a storm and begin feeding after it passes.
During my studies I found that the normal pattern of the turkeys was disrupted the day after a storm, particularly if the storm began in the late afternoon, before the birds went up to roost. If the storm caused the birds to roost earlier than normal, they often did not make it to the trees they would usually roost in when they were in that particular area. Instead, they often roosted early and choose the first suitable trees they came to. They were often late getting to the nearest feeding/strutting area the morning after a storm.
Wind and Rain
Prevailing wind patterns may affect where turkeys roost. They often choose roost sites in ravines and on downwind sides of hills and wooded areas out of the wind. This may also affect their daily movement. Because turkeys prefer to take off and land into the wind they should leave the roost into prevailing winds, and land in suitable landing sites: open meadows or fields. Once they are on the ground they may continue moving in the same direction, until they reach protected areas. While prevailing wind patterns may influence traditional daily movement patterns, current conditions do prevail and determine to some extent the direction and location of turkey movement. The availability of suitable food sources at the time of the year greatly influences the direction of movement.
When strong winds or rain make it difficult for toms to hear other toms gobbling, they don't gobble in response as often as they normally do, consequently gobbling may be reduced on windy or rainy days. During my research I found that toms gobbled less than normal in the morning if it had rained within the last 12 hours.
T. R. Michels is nationally recognized for his action-packed, informative seminars based on his experience as a wildlife researcher and professional guide.