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Do Turkeys Drive Down Deer Populations?

by Ben Sobieck, T&TH online editor

Would a high number of wild turkeys drive down deer populations? Three factors might make folks believe this is true.

First, deer and turkeys eat many of the same food types, such as mast. This makes them natural competitors.

Second, turkeys can fly to food sources. They are at least as mobile as deer.

Last, turkeys travel in flocks. A large flock may leave nothing for deer at a food source.

Given this, a hunter may think more turkeys equal fewer deer. That's what some in Maine have concluded. For years, the deer herd declined while turkey numbers boomed.

However, a recent article in the Portland Press Herald disputes this conclusion. Correlation does not equal causation, writes Bob Humphrey.

Circumstantial evidence alone is insufficient for assigning cause and
effect. From 1952 to 1976, when the American League won the World
Series, the next president elected was a Republican. If the National
League won, the election went to the Democrat.About five years ago, I asked Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist Keel Kemper about the issue.

"If turkeys were negatively impacting deer, as alleged, diet quality
for deer would be substantially reduced. A reduction in diet quality
would naturally lead to a reduction in deer weights and deer density on
the landscape," was his response. He added, "There are no indications
that diet quality for deer has been reduced. We examine thousands of
deer each year and this empirical data has consistently shown no overall
reduction in weight or density of deer at the statewide level."

Traditional factors continue to offer challenges to deer populations.

Numbers have gone down, but that's more a result of severe winters,
larger predator populations and generous any-deer permit allotments.

Click here to read the entire article.

That's just Maine, though. What about the rest of the country? T&TH Editor Brian Lovett has hunted just about everywhere there are turkeys.

"Turkeys have absolutely zero effect on deer numbers," Lovett said. "Nothing would out-compete a whitetail for limited food resources.

"Further, although deer and turkeys share some food preferences — waste grain and hard mast — a turkey will pretty much eat anything it can fit in its mouth and throat."

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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