It’s that time of year again. Slowly the days start getting warmer and the chance of snow in the forecast grows less likely. Sure, we may get the occasional flurry this time of year, but by all rights, it’s almost spring. And around here, spring means turkey hunting.
Listening for Gobblers
We’re still about a month away from opening day, but it’s never too soon to start scouting for birds. In my neck of the woods, it’s common to see guys cruising the backroads every morning, pulling over here and there to listen for gobblers. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but I also know a few hunters who like to jump the gun and do a “test hunt” prior to opening day just to see if they can call in a bird. They don’t carry a gun, of course. They’re simply out there trying to call in birds to find out what’s in the area and get a taste of that incomparable thrill one gets when calling in a bird.
I understand the thrill, and I understand the restlessness that comes after a long winter of dreaming about spring, but I always wonder how many birds these people educate in the process. How many times can a gobbler come into a call and find no hen before he stops answering altogether? My guess is that they catch on very quickly!
Public vs. Private Land
Turkey hunting now is a whole different game than it used to be. Today’s birds seem much more reluctant to gobble once they fly down from the roost, let alone answer your calls on their way to your setup. I’ve experienced entire seasons without a vocal tom and every one of them snuck in under the radar, especially on public land.
Private land often provides much different results. If you’re serious about getting a gobbler this spring but you’re not a landowner, now is the time to start knocking on doors to get permissions. A little legwork and respect can pay big dividends with access to uneducated birds.
I’ve always found that success is easy if there’s no competition. Often, the only thing separating the average hunter from the truly gifted hunter is access to quality hunting territory. The most successful hunters typically spend a lot of time obtaining permissions from landowners and building relationships that will allow them access to prime habitat year after year.
Once I find a good place to hunt, I approach the area similar to how I’d approach it if I were scouting for whitetails. This time of year, that means low impact scouting. I drive around checking fields for activity, but I also hike back into more secluded areas. I use binoculars so that I only have to get as close as necessary to see if birds are present or strutting in the fields or woods openings. When I find an area that’s been relatively undisturbed, the last thing I want to do is go charging in, breaking up flocks every day, and sending every old gobbler for the next hollow, and I certainly don’t want to drive birds out of their strutting zones. With the whole season ahead of me, a light touch will always produce better results than a heavy handed approach.
Every turkey has its own tolerance level. Sometimes all it takes is busting up a flock once or twice and they’ll starting rerouting their travel patterns. For example, while trapping last fall I drove down an old farm lane at daybreak and about 30 birds took off from the trees overhead on my first morning there. The second morning I drove down that lane, only a handful of birds were in those same trees. By the third morning, no birds roosted there at all – but I did relocate them on the other end of the property that day. My trapline didn’t extend too far over that way, but I could hear them yelping every morning as I checked my traps. I ran the line for nine more days and the turkeys roosted in the new area every day.
(Photo: Low impact scouting will increase your chances of harvesting a turkey this spring.)
Locating Food Sources
When scouting a property for turkeys, I wait until at least mid-morning to walk around. By then, all turkeys are typically off the roost and into their daily routines. If you bump a flock, it’s not nearly as big of a deal as if you were chasing them off of the roost. As long as you don’t return the next day and bump them again, they usually won’t change their patterns.
One trip around a property should tell you everything you know to get started making a game plan. I take notes about where I find scratchings at food sources, woods openings or fields that could be potential strut zones, and roosting areas. With that information in hand, I can start making predictions about how turkeys will use the property. In other words, I can pattern them exactly as I would a whitetail.
Find Travel Routes
Here’s another trick of a successful hunter: the closer you are to where wildlife is already traveling, the easier they will be to call to your setup. After all, you’re not pulling them too far off of their normal route, which makes them more likely to investigate your setup.
Always have options, though. I always choose multiple stand locations on any given property so that I can make adjustments as needed. I prefer stands that are free of huge obstructions that could block my view of approaching turkeys, or potentially cause birds to hang up. My favorite woods stands are where old logging roads intersect creek bottoms or ridges. The old roads provide a natural travelway for birds through any area.
Field corners also make great stand locations, especially if you’re setting up a decoy spread. Only problem I’ve had with field corners is if there are other hunters on the property, they will also be eyeing up those areas, so there’s potential for competition. If I do my homework, though, I can usually intercept the birds on their way from the roost to the fields and avoid other hunters, which is why woods setups are my personal preference.
A little scouting can go a long way for turkeys. Like any other living creature, turkeys have the same needs – shelter, food, and water. Find where they roost and figure out how they move from the roost to the feeding and strutting areas and success will happen regardless of how many times they gobble or answer your calls. You’ll get them because you’re already setup where they’re traveling anyway.
Read Kyle Hey's article, "The Wanderlust Gobbler: Going to the Edge of the Map to Fill a Tag."