ChufasThe Turkey Mag-Nut': Part 1

While the seed dealer rang up my order, I read the ad again. No doubt written with the turkey-hunting addict in mind, it stated: In November, when your chufa tops have died down, turn over a few clumps for your first-time turkeys to find, or disk up the edges of your plot so that they can begin to enjoy their fall and winter food. After they have located the plot, they will scratch it up, test it for flavor, and notify the next of kin, with the end result looking like a cratered lunar landscape or a Viet Nam mortar attack. It will continue into spring. This is the look you're paying for!

Whether you turkey hunt or desire turkeys just to observe, who could resist plunking down the cash for a sack of seed guaranteed to pull turkeys like metal to a magnet? Not me!

Ask a turkey hunter south of the Mason-Dixon line what food source consistently attracts wild turkeys during fall, winter and spring. Odds are you will see a confident grin and hear one word. Chufas (pronounced CHOO-fuhs). Or more likely, chufers, as a southern drawl is applied. Then get ready for an, If I'm lyin', I'm dyin', testimonial on the wonders of chufas and their ability to attract turkeys from far and near.

If you aren't from the South you may be wondering what the heck is a chufa and what's so great about them? Read on as we explore chufa, its history and uses as well as where to find them, how to grow them, and most importantly, their role in sound wild turkey management. Take it from this Southern turkey hunting addict, if you want to attract and keep turkeys on your land and enhance your hunting adventures, give chufas a try.

Where Did They Come From?

Chufa, Cyperus esculentus var. sativus, is an African variety of the native nutsedge, which is a warm season perennial plant. Native nutsedge can be a problem weed in some areas. However, chufa is not aggressive like the native nutsedges and will not create problems when other crops are planted after it.

Chufa is a Spanish word meaning ground almond. As the name implies, the edible tuber has a sweet almond-like flavor. Other names include earth almond, groundnut, tiger nut, duck potato, and edible rush.

Why Plant Chufas For Wild Turkeys?

Chufa is a perennial, which means it grows back from seed each year. Above ground, chufa grows bright green, with three-sided stems that grow 1 feet to 3 feet in height and turn pale as the plant matures. Underground, chufa produces small nut-like tubers. These are savored by wild turkeys, deer, raccoon, squirrels, ducks, crows and other wildlife. Each plant may produce 15 to 75 small, fingernail-sized nuts an inch or so under the soil.

Long regarded as a Southern crop, experiments show chufa can grow in more northern climes given favorable weather. Chufa nuts take 90 days to 110 days to mature. Each plant produces 15 to 75 nuts which turkeys find irresistible.

The nuts are extremely high in protein, oil and carbohydrates, which explains the natural attraction to wildlife. Studies have proven that wildlife is instinctively drawn to the most nutritious food sources available. This characteristic makes planting chufa for wild turkeys a logical option.

The National Wild Turkey Federation's recommended growing range of chufa includes the entire southern region of the United States from Florida to California, and northward to Pennsylvania, Ohio and Iowa.

The Federation's private lands' manager, Brian Burhans, reports that chufa will grow in many other states as well, but two factors may limit their use in more northern climes. One, chufa nuts require 90 days to 110 days to grow and mature. Growing seasons are generally shorter due to later warm up of soil temperatures required for planting.

Chufa: Works in Some Northern States

With northern states in mind, the NWTF is currently conducting tests to determine the lowest optimum soil temperature at which chufa can be planted. The second factor is harsh winters. Turkeys can't perform the necessary scratching to dig up chufa nuts trapped in frozen ground.

Happily, Burhans is quick to confirm growing successes by members in Iowa, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. Landowners to the north have been growing test plots of chufas. Careful planning and favorable weather conditions have yielded successful crops giving turkeys nutritional benefits in the fall well before the ground freezes.

Though the chufas may not be utilized until the next spring as in the South, the highly nutritional food is a sound wildlife management tool for northern landowners.

Providing a supplemental food source helps wild turkeys face the upcoming rigors of harsh winters and short food supplies. Of course many northern states have fall turkey hunting seasons as well. That's another good reason to plant even if use is limited to fall and early winter.

Notable camouflage designer, friend and dedicated turkey hunter, Jim Crumley, was told 6 years ago by a southern hunting buddy that chufa would not grow on his mountainous Virginia hunting land. Always one who enjoys a challenge, Crumley researched soil requirements and planting guidelines carefully then found several areas to plant test plots. He experimented with small plots and used the recommended lime and fertilizer. Today he has six chufa plots and credits chufas with holding more birds on his land. Chufas are a permanent part of his turkey management program. Fortunately, success has come with less than optimal soil types. However, Crumley adds that adequate rainfall is critical for chufa nut development.

Please read more in Part 2 including a look at some tips for growing chufa from the National Wild Turkey Federation, some sources of chufa seed, and how to best hunt turkeys using chufa as a food source.

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