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Deep Snow Hurts More than Cold Temps

by Brian Lovett, editorWinter-weary Northern turkey hunters might be wondering how much their birds can stand.

Turkeys are resilient, of course, but record snowfalls and weeks of frigid temperatures have many folks concerned about bird survival in the Northeast and Upper Midwest.

Here’s what Lovett E. Williams Jr., noted turkey biologist and contributing editor to Turkey & Turkey Hunting, had to say.

“Prolonged deep snow the turkeys can’t scratch through is much worse than cold temperatures,” he said. “If they can get enough to eat, turkeys can stand extreme cold indefinitely. It’s when they can’t get to any carbohydrate foods that they die. Icy, crusty snow might prevent them from scratching through to the ground. In deep snow, turkeys sometimes congregate around spring seeps, if they can find one.

“(Biologist) Wayne Bailey, when he was in West Virginia, was of the opinion that turkeys can endure four or five weeks of deep snow if they are able to obtain some food.”

In agricultural areas of the Midwest and prairie states, turkeys often key on crops during winter.

“Ag practices can help turkeys in deep snow, depending on what the practices are,” Williams said. “Grain farming and cattle — with grain coming through their feces — would be helpful.”

Some research indicates how much turkeys can tolerate before they start to die.
“There was a study … about starvation of game-farm turkeys,” Williams said. “Two birds, at 0 degrees with the wind at 5.8 mph, survived seven and nine days without food. They lost 25.75 percent of their body weight. Two other birds in a calm atmosphere at 0 degrees survived 11 and 16 days. Their loss of weight was 67.8 percent. The conclusion was that a turkey can endure a week of severely cold weather without food.

“It points up the effect of wind. Evidently, the wind and cold had an independent effect that killed the turkeys before they actually starved to death.”

Time will tell how Winter 2008-’09 affects Northern turkey populations. Hunters can take solace in the fact that the birds are tougher than most people believe. They just don’t want to see turkeys pushed to the limit.

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