Good turkey hunters always make a point to check their harvested bird’s crop in order to see what it’s been eating. Not only is this educational, but it’s also entertaining. You might find predictable stuff in there, like alfalfa, grass, and dandelion buds, or you might find unexpected stuff, like mouse parts, grasshoppers, or anoles. Here’s something that turned up in a turkey crop that was killed in Colorado by a friend of MeatEater team member Janis Putelis. It’s the first I’ve seen of this, but I’m guessing some of you guys have encountered it before. We look forward to hearing about some of the things you’ve seen in your turkey crops. Pictures are quite welcome. -SR
In my time hiking and hunting here in Eagle County, Colorado I’ve always noticed bleached snail shells scattered on the ground. I never thought much about them other than the fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen a live one crawling around. I certainly never thought of them as turkey food.
This year I drew a spring turkey tag for the unit I live in. The turkeys are widely scattered and difficult to find on public land. Think elk hunting. On Monday I hit a spot at around 8000 feet near a small trout stream where I had seen some birds before the season opened. The landscape was aspen and oak brush country just below the current snow line. Around 7:30 am I heard a few quick gobbles and after a short move to close the distance, I sat down and hit the box call pretty aggressively. Immediately multiple gobbles rang out close by and several jakes moved into range. I picked one out, the side-by-side 20-gauge I normally use for grouse did its job, and I was happy to have my first true mountain Merriams killed just a few miles from home.
When I got home and set the bird down on the porch I noticed a weird rattling, grating sound and examined the jake. The crop was bulging and it felt like it was full of rocks. I moved on to skinning the bird since I already had a larger plucked tom I shot in Nebraska a week earlier. When I opened the crop, it was full of grass, a few night crawlers, and dozens of snails. I conservatively estimated at least 60. The week before, the Nebraska tom had nothing in its crop, perhaps because those birds were a little further along in their breeding cycle and busy with other things.
Apparently since they’re pretty easy to catch, snails make a fine meal for these mountain birds. The snails were still alive for the most part and hadn’t been in there longer than a couple hours, having been eaten during the short time the bird had been off the roost. Because there is gravel available near the stream and a not too distant road, I doubt the turkeys are using the snails to grind seeds and grass, although it may be a side benefit. I’m not sure if this a common food source for turkeys but apparently there is enough of them out there to make focusing on snails worthwhile.