Some of the most successful deer hunters in the world will tell you that scouting plays a huge role in their success in the field. Turkey hunting should be no different. In fact, pre-season scouting for turkeys will oftentimes put you right in their lap on opening day. Here are a few things to key in on and do prior to the opener that will put you in the driver’s seat.
In my opinion, the single most beneficial thing that you can do for pre-season scouting is to get up at :00 dark thirty and be in the woods at daybreak to listen. Turkeys are creatures of habit and will oftentimes roost in the same tree, day in and day out. By bouncing from spot to spot in the pre-season, and listening at daylight, a hunter can learn where the turkeys are roosting. It will also give you a rough idea of how many birds are gobbling on that property, to get an informal inventory and head count. Knowing that there are birds on your hunting property ahead of time makes it much easier to have confidence during times when gobblers are quiet. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of early morning listening prior to the season starting.
With that said, you are just on a scouting mission. You want to be ghostly. Do not let the birds know that you are there. Get in the woods; listen and then leave. DO NOT bring calls with you and start talking turkey prior to the season. All you will do is educate the birds. Let them gobble on their own, give themselves away, and make a mental note of where they are.
Turkeys love to roost over top of any water. They love roosting on pond edges, or over creeks where they can feel secure. Look for these bodies of water on your property and you will likely find a roosting area.
Another sign to look for are turkey feathers. In particular, wing feathers on the ground. As turkeys fly up into trees, they oftentimes lose a wing feather or other body feathers. Look for these feathers on the ground and look for ones that appear to have been there awhile. This indicates a well-used roosting area where birds fly up and down regularly. In any terrain where there may be a slight hill or hillside, turkeys will often use these high spots to launch into the trees.
I have seen just a small mound in the woods act like a NASA shuttle launch for dozens of turkeys. It doesn’t take much of a hill before the birds want to use it to their advantage and take flight into the trees. Remember this as you walk through the woods this spring.
Just as terrain features can predict roost areas, you cannot ignore tell-tale turkey sign left by the feathery fiends themselves. Turkeys are constantly on the move feeding as they go. As they feed along, they are scratching the leaves and leaving little circles of dirt. Feeding areas are very easy to identify as the ground literally looks torn up. The leaves are all kicked around, there are bare dirt spots all over and there will more than likely be turkey tracks and/or turkey droppings. Hen droppings are kind of like a pile or a ball, whereas a gobbler’s droppings are much larger and J-shaped. Look for these signs as you trek through the landscape.
Lastly, look for strutting areas that turkeys prefer. Gobblers love to strut in open areas, where they can be seen and display for the hens. Plowed fields, logging roads etc. are all great places to look for strutting birds. You can often tell a bird’s strut zone by seeing larger gobbler tracks and on each side of the tracks you will see drag marks, where his wing tips were dragging on the ground as he strutted. A sure sign that there is a gobbler in the area.
Surely, you can blindly go into the woods on opening day and kill a bird. However, the chances of filling a tag are much greater for those folks that have taken the time to do a little homework. The knowledge gained during this time can prove invaluable when birds do not want to cooperate, or are tight lipped. Those hunters that put in the time ahead of time are often rewarded, while those seeking to play it day to day often chase birds until time runs out.
Good luck this spring!.
- Bruce Wilds