Spring Turkey Hunting with Food Plots and Kids

Brian Lovett

Sometimes, doing the right thing produces fringe benefits. Consider food plots. When land managers get into the food plot game, they’re usually trying to improve the health and quality of wildlife on their property. Along the way, they might be paving the way for some great spring memories with younger hunters. If there’s a better combination than children, food plots and spring turkey hunting, I’ve yet to see it. They go together, as a great man once said, like peas and carrots.
The Advantages of Food Plots

It’s easy to understand why food plots benefit turkey hunters: They attract turkeys. 

Turkeys thrive in spots with a mix of timber and open areas. When those open areas produce nutritious clover and attract important summer insects, it’s even better.

A friend of mine and an expert turkey caller once said “The biggest fallacy I remember from when I started turkey hunting was that you had to hunt woods, You don’t have to hunt a lot of woods. You want to hunt where the agriculture is and where the fields are. That’s where turkeys like to hang out because it’s where many of their food sources are, especially in spring. They’re always out there picking or grabbing something, so that’s where you want to be.”

In early spring, before mast and agricultural food sources are available, birds hit food plots to munch on clover and other green vegetation. Gobblers also use these areas to strut and attract hens, and hens often nest in brushy areas on the edges of food plots. 

“Clover has always been a popular planting, especially in food plots,” said Andrea Mezera, assistant upland wildlife ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “It’s a good species to use in wildlife openings because it also helps control erosion. It’s also a very popular species for turkeys and other wildlife, such as deer, to feed on.”

The benefits don’t stop in spring. Food plots provide great nutrition for poults during summer.

“Clover attracts insects such as grasshoppers, which turkeys feed on,” Mezera said. “This is especially important for young poults, as insects provide food that is high in protein, which is good for developing poults.”

Because turkeys often roost on the edges of open spaces, food plots and similar openings can also concentrate birds, giving hunters a likely starting spot for morning outings. 

Food Plots and Kids

Turkey hunters with several seasons on their butt pads will tell you they’d rather shoot a turkey in the woods rather than a field. Why? Because the cover of the woods provides ideal setups where hunters can shoot a turkey the instant it’s in range. Further, experienced hunters can track turkey movements through gobbling, drumming and other sounds, so they don’t need to watch a turkey to know he’s coming.

Youngsters, however, are different. They don’t know what to expect, or how to deal with the many twists and turns inherent in turkey hunting. That’s where food plots provide invaluable advantages.

The first advantage is simple: Food plots allow a clear view of what’s happening. It’s one thing to tell a first-time turkey hunter what to expect. It’s quite another to have the neophyte experience it. A youngster hunting the edge of a food plot can see firsthand all the great stuff about which he’s heard, including flydown, strutting, gobbling, social interaction and, if things go well, a successful conclusion to the hunt.

Likewise, food plot setups are perfect for mentors to guide and hunt with first-timers. As the newbie watches turkeys do their thing in the food plot, the mentor can explain what’s happening and tell the youngster what to do next. That’s especially important at the moment of truth, when a gobbler comes within range and the intensity increases.

Food plots and other openings also make things easier on hunters and their mentors because it places their focus in one direction: straight ahead in the open field.

The thing about field hunting is you can block out your back side. That way, 90 percent of your concentration can be out in that clearing or field. 

Of course, because food plots only have cover around the edges, you might need some special gear for concealment. Modern portable blinds are perfect, and they actually provide another huge advantage for children: They let them move and be comfortable.

After all, if a young hunter can see a turkey, the bird can see the hunter, and one move will end the morning quickly. A blind lets youngsters stretch, move and, most important, position themselves for a shot. That helps them avoid boredom while learning one of turkey hunting’s biggest lessons: patience.

The down side to blinds is that they limit you to one spot. However, if you’re hunting a food plot, you’ve pretty much cast your lot there, anyway.

The Perfect Setup

I was treated to a classic food-plot turkey hunt several years ago during Wisconsin’s special youth weekend. The youngster who accompanied me had never hunted anything, let alone a sharp-spurred old gobbler, so I knew I’d have to offer guidance at every step. 

The second morning, we relocated from a large field to the edge of a logging-road food plot where we’d heard a bird gobble. A friend accompanied the youngster to the edge of the plot, and I stayed back 30 yards over a small rise to float-call to the bird. After my first series of yelps, the bird hammered back. Thirty seconds later, he hammered back 100 yards from where he’d been. He was coming.

I quickly switched to soft clucking and purring and watched the show unfold. With my buddy constantly whispering instructions, the young hunter eased his gun up and shifted to his right. Soon, drumming filled the air, and I could see the young hunter’s chest heave and fall in anticipation. 

It seemed like it took forever for the 12-gauge to bark, but when it did, I jumped up and was relieved to see a flopping longbeard 20-some steps from the youngster. 

The food plot setup had been perfect. The bird was obviously comfortable in that area and had no reservations about strutting up an old logging road into the small opening. Better yet, the first-timer had seen it all unfold and was officially hooked on turkey hunting. 

Here’s hoping every food-plotter can share a similar experience on their land this spring.