I was checking my mail this week and was happy to see that many of the non-resident Wild Turkey Hunting permits I applied for in other states had started to arrive. It got me thinking that Turkey Season is just around the corner and that I had better start getting my gear ready and making some calls to see what public and private land was available for me to hunt. I thought about how I had the benefit of some very experienced hunters teaching me how to scout these incredible birds, and how finding birds during hunting season is not always as easy as merely sitting under a tree in the early morning hours and having birds fly down in front of you.
It’s a lot easier these days to get a great lay of the land as the Internet and programs such as Google Earth can give you a great idea of possible hot spots where the Wild Turkey may want to roost, or even where they may want to go during various times of the day. This can be especially helpful if you are hunting public land and can see the probable entry points less experienced hunters who will invariably push many birds to where you can lie in wait. There is however no substitute for boots on the ground and the ability to read sign and deduce potential patterns. Get comfortable with that area if possible, knowing the terrain, water sources, types of trees and wind patterns for certain times of the year. This all should be done well in advance of the actual Wild Turkey season. Driving around the area, if possible is a great way to cover distance and with the use of a good pair of binoculars allow you to find birds and determine a ratio of Gobblers, Jakes and Hens in that flock. Remember that Jakes quite often like to associate in small bachelor groups.
Take your time and enjoy the day, as the area you are in may be showing dozens of birds at one time of the day while looking barren just an hour or two later. I once noticed group of Osceola Turkey in Florida showing up just before noon in a particular field just before the season opened. I created a brush blind and on opening day sat there for an hour until my very punctual friends showed up on the opposite site of the field and worked their way right to me. I didn’t use a Turkey decoy or Turkey call, I just waited and within 45 minutes noticing them, had a nice bird.
If you know you are in an area that has a flock of Turkey, spend some time patrolling the woods for sign. A sure sign of a tree that is popular for roosting will have Turkey droppings and feathers scattered below the branches of the tree. Mark this tree on your GPS so you can find it on an aerial map and be able to get stealthily near it when it comes time to hunt. Even before the season begins it’s a great idea to sit a few hundred yards away in the morning to hear any gobblers that may be vocalizing at first light. You may also hear them actually flying down as well. You can also do the same in the evening just before dark to hear or see birds that may be heading to those trees to roost. Just don’t get so close that the Turkey then may begin to see this area as dangerous.
Strolling through the woods you need to keep your eye out for areas that have been scratched by Turkey looking for food. An area that has leaves on the ground that have been pulled back by birds feeding on bugs and grubs is actually quite easy to spot and usually will have a good number of tracks as well. Remember that scouting in the summer when insects and corn, etc are plentiful may be a bit easier than scouting in early spring, but remember Turkeys are eating all year long, so adjust your scouting a little bit as needed for the time of year. Scouting a week or two before the season should give you an excellent idea of their current pattern and allow you choose an area for your Turkey Blind. Although Wild Turkey tend to use the same trails and patterns in the Spring as they do in the Fall, keep in mind any changes in food availability, water, construction and adjust accordingly.
Okay, we covered enough to give you a good idea about the habits and patterns of the elusive Wild Turkey, however there is one more tactic to employ and could quite possibly be the most important of all. The night before you are going to hunt it is a good idea to get to the woods an hour or so before dark and do a bit of watching and listening.
More than likely knowing where a flock of Turkeys are roosting for the evening will give you a great idea of where they will be at first light. “Putting the Birds to Bed” as it is most often called is the method that allows you to be set up in a blind or close proximity to where the birds will fly down in the morning. As dusk falls in the woods you should be listening for the beat of wings as the birds fly up into their roosting tree. This is a sound that once you hear it, you will never mistake it for anything else. Keep an eye open for birds coming in from an unexpected angle. If they are on the ground and you can see them, then more than likely they can see you too, so stay still and wait for dark before leaving. You may also listen for Gobbles, yelps, purrs and all other Turkey sounds coming from a particular spot seemingly without changing distance. Once it’s dark, it’s a good bet they are in the roost for the night.
Try and get to the Turkey woods about an hour before first light and slowly make your way to either your blind or another good spot to wait. If you plan on using decoys, make certain you set them out with as little motion or noise as possible. Try and walk to your blind in the shadows along a tree line as well. This is especially important if it’s a clear morning with a bright moon. Then listen and look, because if everything goes well, you’ll be at the diner about 30-60 minutes after sunup having a cup of coffee and telling tall tales about your Spring Turkey hunting adventure.