Because I am posting this column on Friday night, I obviously have no idea what will transpire on the opening day of the spring turkey season, which, of course, was Saturday.
I also just returned from my last preseason scouting foray earlier in the afternoon. The primary purpose of that mission was to make my final decision regarding my hunting spot for the first day. Once that detail was settled, I could then stash my portable blind there and pick out where I would place my decoys.
The area I hunt is traversed by a small network of old logging roads. These make ideal pathways for quietly traveling around the property and minimizing possible disturbance to the resident turkeys. I planned to make a couple of loops around the area and enjoy a few hours in the spring woods as I decided where to stake my hopes to start the turkey season. I was pleasantly surprised to discover fresh turkey scratchings at several places along the trail. While turkey sign doesn't always equate to turkey sightings, it was a welcome confidence builder nonetheless.
About halfway through my trek, I noticed a small tree full of delicate white flowers a few yards off the trail. As I walked over to investigate the blooms, some movement a little farther away caught my eye, and I looked over just in time to see a large hen turkey take flight and sail away across the ridge. Wondering if she had a nest nearby, I headed toward her takeoff point. Sure enough, just a few steps later, I saw a clutch of four buff-colored turkey eggs in a shallow leaf nest at the base of an oak tree. I snapped a few quick photos of the scene, then quietly retreated and left the area to allow the hen to return to her maternal duties.
A wild turkey typically lays 8 to 12 eggs at the rate of about one a day. Younger birds produce smaller clutches, older birds more. The hen doesn't incubate the eggs continuously until the entire clutch is laid. Just about everything in the woods, except turkeys themselves, will prey on turkey eggs. Raccoons, opossums, crows, skunks, snakes and even squirrels will raid a turkey nest.
Once the hen begins incubating her eggs, hatching takes about 28 days, and remarkably, all hatch within hours of one another. During the four weeks she nests, the hen becomes vulnerable to predation from the likes of coyotes, foxes, great horned owls and fishers. Such a wide range of predators is one of the reasons why only 30 to 45 percent of turkey nests are successful.
And for those young turkey poults that do hatch, the odds aren't much better. Fifty percent or more of newly hatched turkey poults are gone within the first two weeks, either from predation or weather-related issues. Cold wet spring weather can be devastating to young turkeys. After two weeks, young turkeyscan fly, which allows them to roost in trees and away from the ground where they are vulnerable.
But in spite of that slight advantage, a wild turkey that makes it past those critical first two weeks only has an average life expectancy of one and a half years.
But those seemingly dismal odds for survival are nature's way of selecting only the best of the best, and as a result, the wild turkey is one of the most successful creatures in the forest.