When hunters gather to discuss food plots, the conversation typically revolves around white-tailed deer, considering that they are pursued by 80 percent of hunters. Food plots are known to increase the chances of success and promote the growth of healthier and larger deer. However, it’s important to note that food plots aren’t just beneficial for whitetails – they can also greatly support turkeys and turkey hunters.
Turkeys are resourceful feeders that rely on a diverse range of food sources throughout the year. Renowned turkey biologist Lovett E. Williams Jr., author of “Wild Turkey Hunting and Management,” explains that turkeys consume a wide variety of insects, small animals, and plant parts, including almost everything edible and even some things that aren’t. Turkeys rarely face food availability issues due to their adaptable nature. This, coupled with the fact that planting food plots won’t produce a “Boone & Crockett” turkey, explains why many turkey hunters haven’t prioritized food plots. However, food plots can serve as crucial food sources during critical times of the year, provide ideal habitat for brood-rearing and bugging, and even offer delightful strutting areas for gobblers.
Best Mixes for Turkey Food Plots
Chufa: The Irresistible Nut-Like Tubers
Chufa, a perennial sedge from Africa and Southern Europe, is one of the most frequently discussed food plot species for turkeys, particularly in the southern regions. Interestingly, it’s not the above-ground portion of the plant that attracts turkeys, but the nut-like tubers that grow beneath the surface. Late spring to early summer is the ideal time for planting chufa, following a rate of 30 to 40 lbs./acre. While sandy soils are best suited for chufa, it can grow in areas where corn thrives. Thorough plot preparation and potential herbicide weed control are crucial for success. Note that turkeys may take some time to discover the tubers, so light disking or scratching the field may be necessary initially to help them find this irresistible source of sustenance.
Cereal Grains: A Year-Round Option
Cereal grains like wheat, rye, and oats are excellent choices for a wild turkey food plot. They are relatively easy to grow, cost-effective, and provide turkeys with food throughout the year. Turkeys find the lush green growth of cereal grains particularly attractive during the fall, winter, and spring. Once the plants seed out in the late spring and summer, they become a valuable seed source that can sustain turkeys well into the winter. Late summer or fall is the recommended planting time for cereal grains, following a rate of 90 to 150 lbs./acre for broadcasting and 60 to 90 lbs./acre for drilling. It’s essential to follow up broadcasting with light disking or cultipacking for optimal results. Combining cereal grains with clover further enhances the food plot, providing turkeys and deer with a year-round source of forage.
Clover: A Turkey’s Delight
Clover is undoubtedly one of the best choices for a turkey food plot. Not only does it offer an abundant food source, but as a legume, it also attracts numerous insects, benefiting both young poults and adult turkeys. The low growth of clover provides an excellent setting for gobblers to strut and poults to forage. If clover is your preferred turkey plot, consider initially mixing it with wheat or oats. The cereal grains will ensure rapid growth and act as a weed suppressant while the clover establishes itself. A preferable mix for both turkeys and deer consists of 50 pounds of wheat, 5 pounds of Ladino or Durana clover, and 5 pounds of red clover per acre. Prior to planting clover seed, it’s essential to inoculate it with the correct strain of Rhizobium bacteria or use pre-inoculated seed. Planting clover seed no deeper than 1/4-inch is crucial for successful germination. Lightly dragging or cultipacking the seed after broadcasting ensures the correct seeding depth. When planting clover in a mix with cereal grains, it’s recommended to first broadcast the cereal grain, then lightly disk or cultipack, and finally, plant the clover seed.
Grain Sorghum: A Delightful Option
Grain sorghum, also known as milo, is a warm-season annual that originated in Africa, similar to corn. It is well-known for its drought tolerance and large seed heads, which are favored by turkeys, deer, doves, and various other wildlife species. For turkeys, the Wild Game Feed (WGF) variety, which only grows to approximately 3-feet tall, is an excellent choice as it ensures easier access to the seed heads. Plant grain sorghum from April to June, based on your region, following a rate of 5 to 6 lbs./acre for drilling or 8 to 10 lbs./acre for broadcasting.
Millet: A Valuable Summer and Fall Food Source
Millet, another warm-season annual grass, produces seed heads highly favored by turkeys. There are various varieties available, including browntop, dove proso, pearl, and Japanese millet, each with differing heights and maturity periods. By planting different varieties at varying times, you can provide turkeys with a valuable food source throughout the summer and fall. Plant millet from April to August, at a rate of 12 to 30 lbs./acre, depending on your location, variety choice, and whether you choose to broadcast or drill the seed. Like clover, millet has small seeds, so planting them at the appropriate depth is essential for successful germination.
Food Plot Considerations
When selecting a food plot mix for turkeys, it’s crucial to consider the deer density on the property, as certain species withstand heavy browsing pressure better than others. If deer are a problem in your turkey hunting area and you have small plots, sticking with chufa or a wheat/clover or oats/clover mix might be the best option. Keep in mind that wheat or oats may not produce viable seed heads if continuously browsed to the ground by deer. However, planting wheat or oats can help alleviate browsing pressure on the clover, giving it a better chance to establish. If hogs are an issue in your area, chufa may not be the most suitable choice, as they enjoy rooting up the tender tubers of chufa plants. Regardless of the species you choose, it’s essential to conduct a soil test and follow up with lime and fertilizer application based on the test results. Starting with a well-prepared seedbed or treating the field with herbicide for no-till planting is vital for success. Adequate planning and preparation will help prevent most food plot failures.
While planting food plots for turkeys may not be as popular as doing so for deer, it should not be overlooked as a means of enhancing turkey habitat and improving hunting opportunities. When you finally have the chance to take down that wise, old longbeard strutting along the edge of your plot, you will truly understand the rewards of working the land to benefit more than just deer.