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The Importance of a Wild Turkey’s Diet

Whether you restrict your spring gobbler hunting to your home state of Pennsylvania or travel to other states to pursue this great game bird, knowing what they like to eat in your hunting area can be critical to your success. Wherever you choose to hunt, learn and understand the local food sources and preferences of the turkeys in the area you are focusing on. During your initial spring scouting to locate birds, look for food sources in fields and woods where you hope to hunt. You will run into turkeys more quickly by spending time in locations where their preferred foods can be found. Once the season is underway, both hens and gobblers can often become less vocal, and when this happens, it is an excellent strategy to head to wherever preferred food is available to find an elusive gobbler.

Suppose your spring turkey hunting remains in Lycoming County or any adjacent counties. In that case, the food sources you should concentrate on can be divided into four categories: hard mast, soft mast, grasses, forbs, and invertebrates.

Hard Mast:

Here, acorns are king, but other sources of hard mast are also found throughout our area. Regarding the family of oak trees, there are generally red oak, white oak, and chestnut (or rock) oak growing in our nearby forests, with the preferred acorn being white oak. Each fall, the production of nuts varies in the amount dropped, and regardless, there are always some that remain in the springtime that have not been consumed by wildlife and thus provide a needed source of food in the spring. Beech trees are another preferred source of food. Although a beech bark disease is slowly killing off many of the beech trees in our area, some still produce beech nuts, a very sought-after food for a great variety of wildlife, including wild turkeys. Other sources of hard mast are chestnuts and the seeds of maple, ironwood, witch hazel, and flowering dogwood. Pay particular attention to spots with a concentration of oak or beech trees.

Soft Mast:

Soft mast includes all of the various fruits produced by woody plants such as trees, shrubs, and vines. In our area, look for old apple trees or abandoned apple orchards, wild black cherry trees, and wild grape vines scattered throughout the forests. The fruit from these various sources during last year’s growing season has dried up but still provides a valuable food source for wintering and early spring turkeys.

Grasses and Forbs:

Grasses are an essential part of a turkey’s diet, providing succulent green vegetation throughout the year, but are particularly important in the early spring before green-up has occurred. Thus, other food sources are not yet available. Turkeys will scratch for grass seeds and will peck at the newly emerging tender green shoots. Forbes is the term used to categorize broad-leaf plants that do not have a woody stem.

Often referred to simply as “weeds,” they do play an important part in a turkey’s diet. Nearby, they include numerous clovers, sunflowers, milkweed, and some ferns. While some can be found in a forest setting, they are concentrated more often in fields, particularly abandoned fields, at woods edges, and are the perfect location for the final category of food sources—invertebrates.


This grouping includes insects of all kinds, which are a critical part of any turkey’s diet—both poults and adults. Freshly hatched poults are trained by the Mother hen and eat primarily insects for the first few weeks of their lives. Insects are not only a source of protein but also of water.

Wild turkeys are definitely opportunistic and will gobble up just about any small creature that crawls by! The examination of the contents of a turkey crop can reveal grasshoppers, caterpillars, dragonflies, snails, beetles, worms, salamanders, tadpoles, and, yes, even frogs and toads!
As you are doing your spring pre-season scouting and during the season, as birds tend to go silent, think of food sources. It may just be the tip that leads to your success in the upcoming spring gobbler season, and GOOD LUCK!