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January Turkeys

I am always about learning new things in Nebraska’s outdoor scene. I believe it makes you a better, more knowledgeable, well-rounded outdoor enthusiast.

So, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to hunt in a variety of habitat and hopefully harvest a wild turkey (or two) in January, the last month of the fall season, which I have never done.

JanuaryTurkeyHunting

I know, I know. What kind of crazed hunter goes after wild turkeys in the frigid, snow-covered landscape of a Nebraska January, huh? After all, the birds are in their larger winter flocks and can be pretty tough to get near.

turkeyswinter

After all, a big, cold-weather flock of wild turkeys holds a lot of wary, vigilant eyes and acute hearing capabilities. Some of these birds have either been spooked by humans or experienced some fall hunting pressure. Whatever the case may be, wild turkey flocks present fun challenges for a January hunt!

There are many positives for hunting North America’s largest upland game bird this time of year.

A turkey hunter may be able to get access to private lands that have not been available in the fall because of other hunters pursuing game. Public hunting lands are also not seeing much traffic. There is virtually nobody else hunting wild turkeys in January. That quite possibly could be because of the sometimes brutal cold and snowy weather, or it simply might be because hunters have yet to discover this opportunity. The birds are also much easier to spot and hear from a distance due to snow cover blanketing the ground and lack of foliage.

What’s also interesting is that the turkeys tend to lower their guard to avoid danger in January, and become very predictable.

Wild turkeys in winter typically roost in the same woodlands, follow the same travel paths and use the same food sources around the same time each day. Variable weather conditions normally have little impact on their routine. Finding roost sites, fresh tracks or droppings offer great clues to these locations.

Hen turkey in roost.
Hen turkey in roost tree.
Fresh turkey droppings and tracks in snow.
Fresh turkey droppings and tracks in snow.
JanuaryTurkeyHunting
Wild turkey tracks along a woodland edge.
JanuaryTurkeyHunting
A travel path of wild turkeys on a game trail in woods.
JanuaryTurkeyHunting
Wild turkey tracks coming out of a woodland expanse onto an open field.
JanuaryTurkeyHunting
A feeding area of wild turkeys along a woodland edge.

January turkey hunters will discover that the birds generally segregate by sex, and they will be bunched together when they’re at a common food source. Wild turkeys gather in wintering flocks that range from a couple hundred birds or more to less than a dozen.

turkeyswinter

Watching these winter flocks up close is remarkable and really gets the heart pounding!

JanuaryTurkeyHunting

JanuaryTurkeyHunting

JanuaryTurkeyHunting

Believe it or not, wild turkeys in January are highly vocal. I have heard a fair amount of tree yelps, fly-down cackles, clucks, yelps and feeding purrs. I have noticed once on the ground, however, few calls are made.

I think a good rule of thumb is to call infrequently or at times not at all during this final month of turkey hunting. During the daytime on my hunts I did have success using periodic soft yelps and feeding purrs with my slate call that brought inquisitive hens close to me.

turkeyslatecall

JanuaryTurkeyHunting

The exception to calling sparingly in winter, wildlife biologists say, appears to be a massive group of gobblers. They can be extremely vocal when they are flocked up and battling for dominance. Hunters experiencing these flocks are encouraged to be aggressive with calls (gobbler yelps, gobbles, etc.).

Regarding decoys, even though I didn’t use any on this January hunt, I had one packed. The roll-up artificial turkey decoy I have doesn’t weigh much and was easily put in my backpack. It resembles a real hen. I was prepared to set it out to represent a lost turkey looking for a flock, if need be.

When it comes to wild turkey hunting in the Cornhusker State, there is no need to wait until spring! Go now during “the month of the wolf.” As a matter of fact, most hunters already own the gear they need to take to the woods and use. There is an abundance of birds in the countryside and still time on the calendar to buy a (fall) turkey permit (good for two birds of any sex) and habitat stamp for a unique late season hunt. Don’t forget that youth turkey permits are reduced in price and a bargain!

In Nebraska, time spent on a January turkey hunt is indeed time well spent!

JanuaryTurkeyHunting

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Public Information Officer and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media sites, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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