How Do Turkeys Mate? What Hunters Need to Know about Turkey Mating, and Why it’s Important

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When you are in the fields for turkeys, understanding their mating behavior can mean filling your tag or finishing the spring with zero for your efforts. Every hunter knows the strut when they see gobblers chasing after hens, but how do turkeys mate?

An intricate and fascinating mating dance ritual takes place, designed to convince a hen to mate with the tom. As the gobbler advances, the receptive female will lay down on her underside, exposing her dorsal aspect. Once the tom mounts on her back, she offers the vent by lifting her tail, and copulation occurs.

For the discerning turkey hunter, it means that both tom and hen are preoccupied, and mating time offers the chance to optimize your gobbling, spitting fully, or drumming calls. Let’s dive into a more conclusive description of how turkeys mate and how you can turn this breeding behavior to your advantage.

How Do Turkeys Get Down and Outright Frisky?

Turkey’s breeding season spans from late spring to early summer, a period full of wild mating rituals and lots of puffing up. Before a hen can become impressed enough to sit and let her gallivanting mate climb on board, gobblers must put on an earnest display known as strutting.

At this point, amorous toms are fully focused on sex, unaware of anything else except to occasionally ward off rival males from sneaking into his harem of hens. The mating ritual begins with loud gobbling, usually from their early morning roost. Afterward, once grounded, toms will swagger and gobble furiously, chests puffed up, and tail feathers fanned out.

An erectile fleshy appendage that dangles from their beaks, known as the snood, also engorges blood. According to ornithologists, the snood’s length acts as a signal of the bird’s dominance.

During this springtime rut, dominant toms want to mate with as many hens as they can. Turkeys don’t practice monogamy, and the gobbling only dies down when the tom is in the company of willing hens. Long-range roost gobbles are then replaced with close-range strutting, including drumming, puffing, and tons of spitting.

A hen uses her suitor’s sperm to fertilize her egg clutch, which she lays one a day for a couple of weeks. Sperm is stored in the oviduct, and it can stay there for over 50 days. When she’s laid about a dozen eggs, the female turkey becomes antisocial and reclusive in readiness for nesting.

How Do Toms Balance Themselves on Top of Hens to Mate?

You’ve seen gobblers strutting, large toms that spread their fans while taking choppy, short steps to pirouette after hens. Mighty toms puff themselves up to incredible sizes, dragging their primary wing feathers and reflecting the iridescent sunlight of spring. Every turkey hunter has also heard the drumming vocalization, a sort of spit and vroom that resonates from the aroused male’s chest.

This circling dance around one spot is designed to entice hens into mating. The tom’s head, which is completely bare of feathers, has fleshy baubles and nobs that change color during breeding. These caruncles, nodules, and bumps droop over his neck, while dewlaps or wattle are attached to his throat.

When a big gobbler has caught the attention of a receptive hen, he’s unaware of everything else. A tom that locks into a sexual ballet with a female will pursue her, circle, and fan until she lies down in front of him. This act gets the gobbler extremely excited, and you can see the blood rushing into his snood while he puffs up even larger.

The hen initiates copulation as she fans her tail invitingly for the gobbler to wiggle on top of her. Once the tom is on her back, she lifts her tail to let him access her cloaca, where he deposits sperm. Afterward, the gobbler will step off while the female shakes her feathers. She’ll walk around and then return to lay in front of him for another round.

How Do Turkey Toms Inseminate Their Hens?

When engaged in sexual activity, trophy gobblers are difficult to call. Whether you are using gobbling calls or hen purrs, it’ll be long before a genuine longbeard can show for a shot. Understanding turkey mating will help develop a strategy since sometimes you can get as close as touching the tail feathers.

The fundamental organ of turkey copulation, as with most birds, is the cloaca. It’s the single posterior vent on a turkey’s digestive tract used for feces ejection, laying eggs, and sex. Located in the extreme lower abdomen, this opening is used by both male and female turkeys to store and transfer sperm.

When the tom is ready to mate, he mounts the hen, and his cloaca swells to protrude outside his body. The female positions herself so that her cloaca touches her yearning mate, a split-second touch called the cloacal kiss. This brief connection stimulated the transfer of sperms into the hen’s vent, and in one mating, they can exchange several kisses.

Turkey hens store the sperm for several weeks in their oviduct, where eggs are fertilized and later hatched. The fallopian tube is where the egg’s albumen passes and the shell is added. After the breeding season ends, the tom takes off and has no part in the nesting, incubation, and hatching of the eggs.

Does the Snood Determine How Lucky With the Ladies a Gobbler Is?

Although male turkeys appear to do all the chasing, it’s the hens that decide if any sexual activity will occur. When toms are horny, their fleshy snood will swell and pucker into a several-inch-long noodle. A tom uses his beautiful feathers and colorful facial appendages to woo his mates.

Despite wild turkey tom sizes, plus the self-puffing up, they’ll stand on top of a hen as though on a surfboard. Rubbing together the cloaca is what impregnates the female. It happens by transfer of sperm, and he can fertilize up to 10 hens in a session.

Biologists have also noted that hens care about the snood’s length when it comes to selecting mates. The difference of a few inches is enough to sway the hen’s decision in favor of the tom. Researchers found that males with long snoods had a major histocompatibility complex that gave them healthier genetic traits.

Such findings suggest that female turkeys observe the energetic struts and snood length at the time of mating.

How Far Will Gobblers Travel To Mate with Turkey Hens?

It’s common for animals and birds to cover long ranges in search of sexual partners. However, it’s all circumstantial and reliant on the availability of lovesick males to the receptive females in any given spread. Male turkeys are telemetry when they’re dominant and have a well-staffed harem of hens; otherwise, their movements can cover several square miles during the spring rut.

A gobbler with control of all hens in a 3000 square feet area won’t leave the vicinity all spring. Other males, despite the season, have a general movement routine that they keep to, except fully immersed in copulation. It’s also common to see less dominant males moving from one area to another in a group, calling out females and trying their luck when the flock male is otherwise engaged.

Due to the hen’s capacity to store sperm, it’s therefore hard to peg the breeding results on the dominant male. That’s unless the female has been a member of a tightly secured harem, and even then, it’s inaccurate to assume that the head gobbler fathers all offspring. A single mating’s enough to fertilize the hen’s entire clutch, and she’ll lay between eight and 15 eggs which she incubates for approximately 28 days.           

How Can a Hunter Capitalize On How Turkeys Mate?

Supply and demand determine whether you will see a long beard in your sight this turkey season or not. Simply put, gobblers have an unquenchable thirst for receptive hens when the breeding season begins. By the time nesting starts, and makes females unresponsive. However, the scales get precariously tilted.

This accounts for the second gobbling peak, where toms call on any available hen and are gullible to hunter’s calls. Tom turkeys display exceptional vulnerability in these instances, seeing as they are hard up for hens and will run out in sheer desperation to mate. By observing and listening to vocalizations, you can utilize your gobbles or hen clucks to leverage the male turkey’s urge to breed.

An opportunity can arise where you’ll spot a group of gobblers squabbling or chasing a hen. If you’ve set up well in their direction, hen purrs will bring a couple of them within shot range. Fights or spurs are common among such fringe outliers, as so are those protracted against a dominant tom by would-be suitors. Mature gobblers, especially those hunted before and probably henned in, will be more difficult to call out than curious jakes and harem-less bachelors.

How to Fool Mating and Henned-Up Turkeys

Several ways to outsmart henned-up gobblers require determining the way they’re going so you can head them off. Begin by putting away any decoys or calls; as if you get in front of the pair, you’ll harvest your lifetime bird with little calling involved. You can ambush a tom by setting up an ambush directly in his path if your approach is stealthy and hens don’t spot you.

To harvest the biggest gobbler, whether in mating mode or alert, get superior camouflage. The excellent eyesight of wild turkeys has foiled many a hunter’s shot. When birds move your way, you’ll need to remain motionless and make sure you conceal your turkey hunting firearm or bow. If spotted, a hunt-smart gobbler will vanish from sight by using obstacles like brush and terrain to block your view.

In my opinion, if you get the attention of hens during the mating season, chances are a primo gobbler is close by. Use your gobbling calls or hen purrs when turkeys mate since these only serve to distract the already otherwise engaged mating couples.


Your spring turkey hunt can either be productive or chaotic, depending on how you use breeding call tactics. Since you want the prize tom with an impressive beard, there’s a lot of distraction, such as hens and young gobblers to get out of the way. Other times, you’ll set your sight on a harvestable male, only to see young sexually entranced hens that never leave his side.

Your call strategy will be to get a long beard away from the hens with knowledge of turkey mating rituals. While gobblers will ignore all else than the pursuit of hot sex, females are vigilant. A hen that spots you or suspects your call will give the alarm, dispersing the entire flock. The gobbler you’ve been eyeing will snap out of his romantic reverie, start with alertness and follow the hens into deeper cover.

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