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Each turkey hunting season in the spring is triggered by one thing; when the species begins to breed. As part of your hunting itinerary, it’s necessary to know about your prey with as much vigor as you enjoy grand slamming during the hunt. But when do turkeys mate?
Wild turkeys mate when there is an increase in the length of days as winter turns into spring. The rise in temperatures prompts a hormonal response in the bodies of sexually mature birds. As such, turkeys that have faced longer or unseasonably cold months will fall behind in their breeding cycle.
Turkeys all over the country mate between February and June. To better understand when these versatile birds are breeding, read on as I break down approximate mating times according to the region and breed of turkey subspecies.
Various Breeding Orientations within the Wild Turkey Society
It’s said that Benjamin Franklin was all for the turkey, even wanting it as the national bird of America. They voted him out and chose the bald eagle instead, which is baffling, as turkeys are more common, hunt-worthy, and offer delicious table fare. These birds start breeding depending on the climatic conditions of their region, as well as subspecies.
Adult turkey males, called toms or gobblers, can weigh between 18 and 20 pounds when entering the strutting phase. You’ll readily notice them by the red, white, and blue coloration of their heads when they’re in a non-gobbling mode. Their head takes on a bright white, snowball appearance during the strut, spreading long hair-like feathers known as beards.
Female turkeys, known as hens, are smaller, weighing approximately 9 to 12 pounds. They have a rusty brown color on their bodies while their heads are blue-gray. A young hen coming into her first spring mating phase is known as a Jenny.
Poult is a term that refers to a young turkey that hasn’t reached its first spring. The lack of flying feathers can identify these youngsters since they don’t roost like their adult counterparts. Until they can develop roosting capabilities, poults and some jakes live touch-and-go lives seeing as they’re prey to various predators in the woods.
Jakes are young males, adolescents not fully mature, and they have similar markings with toms. You can quickly identify one by the immature tail fan that has protrusions of center feathers. Although they also sport beards, theirs are no longer than 4 inches.
What Are the General Time Frames for Turkey Mating?
Wild turkeys begin to breed from February through to March, April, May, and June in the northernmost regions. The increase in daylight hours triggers an urge to mate by stimulating the tom’s sexual hormones. When there’s been cold, wet weather in early spring, it can delay turkey mating.
Conversely, warmer-than-usual weather can speed up the onset of turkey breeding rituals. Early spring and in southern regions, a late winter, will see the birds flocking by sex. Younger toms and mature gobblers congregate while hens run together with their poults or the young.
Since the previous breeding season and through the autumn, these flocks established hierarchical pecking orders. Early mating occurs when the mature hens become receptive, accepting the dominant toms.
Courtship starts when the days begin to elongate, and the sun causes the temperatures to rise. Hens will then break into small formations, dispersing widely over the home range in search of prime nesting real estate. The toms, prompted by these cues, will follow their mates around these areas, all the while gobbling with lust.
In turkey society, the toms are polygamous and territorial. They will strut to attract as many hens as possible, often resulting in protracted rivalries. This period of hen-gathering is the first of two gobbling peaks and can last from several days to a couple of weeks.
When the weather has been typical and predictable, this period occurs between mid-march and early April. In the more western and northern states, you can see hen-gathering toms at work in mid to late April.
When Do Turkeys Mate By Subsequent Region and Breed?
When you’re scouting the woods in the early season, you’ll know where to find turkeys, depending on how much gobbling you hear. That means the strutting has started, as toms face each other up for dominance, or the hens are coming into season.
If hunting in a region that experiences a more prolonged winter, the chances are that you’ll find gobblers in bachelor groups. As such, your call strategy must change suitably, unlike when they’ve split up, and gobbling calls are used. For instance, a late spring will have gobblers running together, and a Jake call results in toms coming out to fight a supposed territory-intruding male.
The main types of turkey breed you’re bound to encounter in the woods include:
These turkeys are prevalent in the eastern and southern states and the entire eastern half of the US from Maine to Missouri. Mating starts from March, and while dependent on the weather, they will have completed breeding and hatching poults by the middle of summer, around late June.
Sometimes, you’ll catch re-nesters coming out in late August as a result of their tom’s second gobbling peak. As one of the largest turkey subspecies, eastern were first encountered by the puritan settlers who founded Jamestown and the New York Dutch. This bird is also the most hunted wild turkey within the ranges where it’s found.
Osceola’s are prolific in the south, especially Florida, where it’s warmer in the winter. They will mate in mid-February, but you can hear gobbling from as early as January. Mating occurs about two to four weeks later, and their hens will have laid a clutch of eggs by late March and early April. Expect to see poults hatchlings running with their mothers sometimes from the mid of May.
The bird is named after Osceola, the famous Seminole chief. It’s darker in appearance and smaller in stature compared to its eastern counterpart, while white bar markings are visible on the wing feathers. You’ll identify Osceola’s by the iridescent greenish-purple of their general body feathers. These are the smallest of the turkey subspecies, with mature toms weighing between 16 and 18 pounds.
Merriam’s turkeys prevail in the western regions of the US, particularly in the Rocky Mountains, where their populations are estimated at more than 330,000. Merriam turkeys thrive in high elevations and return to the lower foothills during winter. Between mid-March and early April, these turkeys are settling down to mate, which lasts two weeks.
This bird, which prefers ponderosa pine areas, was named after Clinton hart Merriam, ahead of the US Organic Survey in 1900. You’ll identify Merriam’s by their purple bronze feather reflections as well as the slight white intonations on their flight and tail feathers.
Rio Grande Turkeys
These birds are common in western Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, New México, and northeastern Arizona. They also favor home ranges in the US Great Plains from Oregon, Utah, and Colorado, with flocks appearing in western and central California.
In March, the Rio Grande turkeys start mating activities, culminating in a late April nesting peak. By mid-May to early June, the hens have incubated their eggs, and poults hatched. Rio’s have comparatively longer legs and sport body feathers with a coppery green sheen, while their tails and increased feathers appear of a mild tan to buff coloration.
This gregarious bird prefers bushy areas near water sources and mesquite, scrub oak, and pine forests. On introduction to the islands of Hawaii during the late 50s, now Rio Grande turkeys are estimated at around one million individuals.
These are native in the southernmost parts of New México, Arizona, and the northern Mexican mountains. While a controlled and protected species, Gould’s turkeys exist in small numbers within the country but are considerably populous in north México.
These birds are enormous turkey subspecies, with long legs, tail feathers, and feet. Gould’s appear greenish-gold and copper in feather coloration, while their toms are skittish and threatening temperaments.
What Happens After the Gobbling Phase?
The toms are now rimmed with their hen concubines, forming definable harems. Gobbling activity then goes on a decrease, and you’ll see turkeys gobble a few times early morning on the roost. Being ‘henned up’ is the term hunters use to refer to the tom’s behavior during this phase.
Toms will strut all morning, mating with hens and gobbling, and it takes a week or so to impregnate the hens. During this time, a hen will slip away from the gobblers to lay an egg a day. Egg-laying happens in the late morning hours.
Turkey hens will nest where there’s a dense cover. They form dirt mounds around fallen logs or at the bases of trees. They also prefer to keep near a water source. It takes female turkeys a fortnight to lay a clutch of between ten and a dozen speckled eggs.
Once their nests are filled, the hens leave the toms to sit on the eggs. On the other hand, the toms aren’t ready to cease breeding and will gobble around the woods, prowling with lovesickness for any receptive hens. That is the second gobbling peak, a prime turkey hunting time that can last from a few days to a couple of weeks.
Can You Still Call Out Turkeys After the Mating Period Ends?
Despite their considerable weight, wild turkeys are agile fliers, quick to fly beneath the cover or up into tree perches. While these birds have excellent eyesight during the daylight hours, their precision and imagination tend to fail when evening dusk approaches.
When the breeding season ends, gobbling turkey toms and mature hens go their separate ways. Due to safety in numbers and their gregarious nature, you’ll often find turkeys flocking together. Flocks will include hens with their hatchlings, as well as old brood-less females. The bachelors club consists of mature gobblers, and Jakeh gangs up with rowdy teens, many of them siblings, to hang out.
Until mating in February or March, turkeys will stay in the four distinct flock types. The chaotic gobbling will then restart another season of mating and subsequent breeding afresh. At these times, the heads of toms are in the clouds that decoys and mating calls will result in productive harvests.
Knowing when turkeys mate will give you a better chance at harvesting this handsome bird. Studying peak mating, breeding, and nesting activities of the turkeys in your area will provide you with an upper hand in spots where the birds are.
Each breeding phase will also require that you’re on-point with the type of call you employ. After finding out which turkeys are in your woods and studying weather patterns, you will thoroughly equip yourself for precise scouting, decoys, and calls.
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36 years old, been hunting and fishing my entire life – love the outdoors, family, and all kinds of hunting and fishing! I have spent thousands of hours hunting hogs and training hunting dogs, but I’m always learning new stuff and really happy to be sharing them with you! hit me up with an email in the contact form if you have any questions.