Maybe you’re already dreaming about Thanksgiving: turkey, stuffing, all the pies. And maybe you thought you knew everything about turkeys. Think again.
Wild turkeys are not hard to find – if you look in the right place. National wildlife refuges, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are great places to view wild turkeys or find the perfect hunt. Refuge trails generally are open sunrise to sunset, many even on Thanksgiving Day when refuge visitor centers will be closed. Free trail maps are often available outside a visitor center or at a refuge entrance kiosk. Find your trail online.
Here are some more facts that could add to the lively talk around your holiday table.
- Thought the only turkey sound is gobble, gobble? In fact, turkeys make all kinds of sounds: fly-down or fly-up cackle; kee kee run; excited yelp and more. Hear them all, thanks to the National Wild Turkey Federation.
- Turkey droppings tell a bird’s sex and age. Male droppings are j-shaped; female droppings are spiral-shaped. The larger the diameter, the older the bird.
- An adult turkey has 5,000 to 6,000 feathers – count them! – on its body.
- Turkeys may look off-kilter – tilting their heads and staring at the sky – yet they’re fast. In a poultry race, they can clock more than 12 miles per hour, beating chickens by three miles per hour. The eastern cottontail leaves them both in the dust as it zig zags away from danger at 18 miles per hour.
- Tom turkeys aren’t the only ones that swagger and fan their tail feathers to woo mates and ward off rivals. Some hens strut, too.
- Young turkeys – poults – scarf down insects like candy. They develop more of a taste for plants after they’re four weeks old.
- Move over, American bald eagle. Ben Franklin called the wild turkey a “bird of courage” and thought it would make a better national symbol.
When you are ready to head outdoors, use our online National Wildlife Refuge System hunting guide to find the ultimate turkey hunt. Be sure to check federal and state regulations for licenses, seasons and special permitting. You can also brush up your photography skills or just enjoy a variety of scenic trails. Here are some favorite turkey hideouts:
Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge
Some of the best birding in the state can be found at this refuge. You can drive along an eight-mile Wildlife Drive that meanders through a variety of upland and wetland habitats, or you also can hike and bike. Along the auto route, a wildlife viewing platform and observation tower allow visitors increased opportunities to view wildlife. Look in the open fields for northern bobwhites and wild turkeys. The best time to spot turkeys is early in the morning when they find water to drink.
Wild turkeys are often seen across the refuge in early morning and late afternoon. You can sometimes glimpse them crossing the Lighthouse Road on the way to the visitor center or along wooded administrative roads. Bring your bicycles! Entrance: $5/fee per vehicle on the Lighthouse Road unit of the refuge. Hunters may apply for quota permits to hunt turkeys on the refuge during archery and gun seasons as well as during special youth turkey and spring gobbler hunts. Check the refuge website for specific dates and application instructions.
Look for turkeys along 50 miles of gravel road, including the five-mile-long Wildlife Drive. You might also see them off Round Oak Juliette Road, a scenic (and paved) byway. Or try one of the refuge’s five hiking trails. No entrance fee. The refuge has set dates for the spring 2018 turkey hunting season: March 27-31; April 10-14; April 24-28.
The best chance to see wild turkeys is the 6-mile Wildlife Drive, where they are often feeding in the open fields alongside the road. An easy to moderate 1.7- mile Wild Turkey Trail leads through forests and offers another chance of seeing wild turkeys. For more of a challenge, take the connecting 2.2-mile Rocky Bluff Trail. Entrance fee: $2 per vehicle. The refuge is open for turkey hunting each fall (October) and spring (April-May).
Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
You are most likely to see wild turkeys along the 6.5-mile-long Wildlife Drive. Make sure to look in the fields that surround that area. Early mornings and evenings are the best times to catch a glimpse. Entrance fee: $5 per vehicle.
Starting from the Bloomington visitor center, the half-mile Hillside Trail connects to the Long Meadow Lake Trail. Follow it around the floodplain wetland, keeping your eyes out for wild turkeys. No entrance fee. Select units of the refuge are open to spring and/or fall turkey hunting in accordance with federal and state regulations.
Renowned for its population of breeding sandhill cranes, the refuge also has a thriving population of wild turkeys. Look for them along 7.5-mile Wildlife Drive, two refuge hiking trails, and in prairie fields beside county roads that run through the refuge. No entrance fee. The refuge offers a spring turkey hunt for youth only.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
The North Auto Tour Loop is a great place to spot some of the hundreds of native Rio Grande turkeys. An even better place is the Intermittent Auto Tour Road. Or try your luck on any of the refuge foot trails. Entrance fee: $5 per vehicle. Youth turkey hunts are available through an online application and drawing system. Apply in February 2018; the hunts will take place on select weekends in April and May 2018 (exact dates not yet set).
Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge
Take the scenic Feeder Road, which you can drive for about two miles, in your quest to see wild turkeys. A parking lot makes it easy to leave your car and see the refuge on foot. Hikers can walk the road or sample three other hiking trails. No entrance fee. The refuge is open to turkey hunting in the spring. The refuge also offers a turkey hunt geared toward youthful hunters April 21-22, 2018, in accordance with New York State’s youth hunt days.
You can see turkeys mainly in the upland habitat that is associated with sandhills in the southern portion of the refuge. To hunt turkeys, you must apply through the lottery managed by the North Dakota Game and Fish, and you must have a state-issued spring or fall turkey hunting permit. Turkey hunting is open on the refuge south of Upham-Willow City Road in McHenry County.
You can often see turkeys along the Souris River and Lake Darling. Wooded coulees and prairie uplands are great turkey habitat. The refuge offers a variety of trails, including two canoe trails and an auto tour route. The refuge will open its first spring turkey hunt in 2018. You must apply through the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s turkey hunting permit lottery and have a state-issued spring or fall turkey hunting permit.
Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge
The nine-mile Wildlife Drive passes many woods and fields where you might spot turkeys, especially in mornings and late afternoons. Or lose the wheels and walk any of five hiking trails along the drive. No entrance fee. The refuge is open during designated seasons for wild turkey hunts.
Look out for wild turkeys crossing Refuge Road as you drive in the main entrance. Pick from five refuge hiking trails: Raasch Trail is a good bet for seeing wild turkeys. There’s also the approximately three-mile-long Wildlife Drive. No entrance fee. Apply January 2-31, 2018, for the refuge’s turkey hunt, which will take place April 20-22, 2018. There is a one-gobbler-per-hunt bag limit.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit www.fws.gov, or connect with us through any of these social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.
Photo: Wild turkeys at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Credit: Bill Powell / USFWS Volunteer