As turkey season nears, it’s time to begin scouting. Scouting is essential for several reasons: It helps you understand turkey habits, identify good hunting locations and create better strategies for your hunt.
As you search for turkeys, be sure to keep a record of places where they appear annually. This will help you decide whether or not it’s worthwhile exploring new areas.
When hunting turkeys, it’s essential to scout for them before you have the best chance at success. That means starting early in the morning when birds rouse from their roost or return home after foraging in the afternoon.
Scouting for turkeys is a breeze because they leave behind many tell-tale signs of their whereabouts. Tracks, strut marks, scats and upturned leaves from scratching can all be identified on muddy, sandy or snowy ground; tracks tend to stand out more in these conditions due to their variety of colors. Strut marks also appear on muddy, sandy or snowy grounds.
In addition to these obvious cues, you should also look for other indicators that a particular area might be attractive to turkeys. These could include:
Roost Trees – Turkeys are nighttime birds and must roost in trees. Ideally, they’ll choose an older tree with plenty of lateral and horizontal branches like oaks, pines or cottonwoods; you can often spot these trees on aerial maps as well as along trails, log landings or forest openings/clearcuts.
Scratching Sites – Turkeys scratch in leaves and soil to find acorns and insects. These sites can be located anywhere turkeys roost or forage, but are most often near roosting trees or dirt roads. You’ll often spot turkeys scratching at the same spots, creating depressions in the ground.
Dusting Sites – Turkeys take dust baths just like other animals do. Look for areas on the ground where their strut marks appear and in grasses where they roost.
Turkeys often congregate around the edges of woods and fields, foraging in open fields before returning to roost nearby. These transition zones between forest and field provide ideal scouting opportunities, making them a prime location to set up your blind.
Hens & Gobblers – Turkeys typically congregate into three distinct groups: Toms (mature males), Jakes (young males), and Hens. It’s important to scout for turkeys at various hours of day, since they tend to congregate around certain locations.
Scouting is essential for any traditional turkey hunter or bowhunter, regardless of their preferred method. Scouting early in the season gives you an advantage to refine your strategies and identify productive areas while also determining what gear and clothing works best in certain conditions. Scouting also gives you insight into potential threats to safety during hunting trips.
Preseason scouting is essential for successful hunting. Make several trips to your hunting area beforehand to become familiar with terrain features like creeks, log roads, fencerows and pastures so that you can better anticipate where animals might hide during their hunts. This will increase the likelihood of finding success during actual hunts.
As you walk your scouting areas, look for turkey signs such as tracks, droppings, strut marks and upturned leaves from scratching. This will give you a good indication of where to set up and expect turkeys throughout the day.
It is wise to listen for birds roosting at night, in order to identify likely spots when hunting. Doing this allows you to set up in the right spot without frightening away turkeys as they fly down from their perches at night.
Once you’ve identified several areas, try walking them in daylight. This will enable you to identify roost trees, dusting zones and travel corridors.
On a typical spring foray, turkeys will make a circuitous route from roost to fields and back again, sometimes stopping briefly for scratching at bugs or acorns. While their movements may appear random on sunny days, you’ll soon realize they usually follow an organized pattern when traveling from their nests back home.
When scouting for turkeys, it is always best to set up in areas with minimal hunting pressure. This is especially true if you are hunting on private land and your neighbors pressure the birds into coming down so that they can be harvested.
On hot days, birds often seek shade in mountain or waterside locations and keep cool while searching, strutting and searching for hens. It is wise to keep your ears open and give a few yelps to see if a turkey replies.
Temperature plays an important role in turkey behavior. Wild turkeys tend to be most vocal when temperatures are between 60-69degF (18-27degC), while cold days or those with strong winds will slow them down considerably.
Cloud cover can also hinder gobbling. A study by Tom Coggins demonstrated that gobbling typically begins about 20 minutes later on days when the sky is cloudy than on clear ones.
Wind can also impact how turkeys gobble. Strong winds will slow them down and make it more difficult for them to hear their calls.
To combat this, hunters should adjust their thermostats before leaving home for a day of turkey hunting. The goal is to raise it by about 8 degrees when you leave the house; this will save money and allow hunters to hunt in warmer temperatures.
Another helpful scouting tip for turkey hunting is to listen for roost talk and the sound of turkeys taking flight. This tactic works best early in the morning, before sunlight has fully come up.
Crow calls or owl hoots can help locate a gobbler, but it is best not to overcall as this will teach turkeys that you are a threat and they won’t respond. If you do hear a gobbler, make note of its location on a map so that you can return in the spring when conditions are ideal for hunting.
Additionally, keep an ear out for strutting areas, glassing fields or roost trees that appear to be covered in feathers and droppings. If you come across a tree covered in these signs, place a pin on it immediately.
Other scouting tips for turkeys include searching dusting areas where they bathe themselves to remove mites and other pests. You might also spot them flapping around in scratched-up dry dirt, which is an indication of a roost area.
As spring approaches, turkeys will begin to sharpen their hearing and become much more responsive to loud sounds. This presents hunters with an ideal opportunity to try their luck at getting a shock gobble.
Hunters should also search for mast crops – oak, cherry and beech trees producing nuts – which will be a prime target for fall turkeys. In some cases, turkeys may move from one mast crop to the next as they search for food sources.
Turkeys require a range of habitats, from nesting and brooding areas to food plots. Maintaining cover for both types is key in order to sustain high populations of turkeys, pheasants and bobwhites.
Nesting and brooding cover are essential for both hen turkeys, bobwhite quail, and pheasants during their first few weeks of life when poults require more protein than plant material alone can supply. In addition to vegetation, brooding cover must have enough insects for poults or upland chicks to capture in order to meet their protein requirements.
Quality brooding cover should be tall enough to conceal a hen and her brood, yet short enough that she has a clear view when she raises her head. Furthermore, the cover height should correspond to the species using the area; for instance, bobwhite quail don’t need as high of protection as hen turkeys do.
Brooding cover can be found in many places, from old fields and logging debris piles to grassy or brushy areas within recently managed forests and pastures. However, the ideal habitat will include both native warm season bunch grasses as well as other vegetation that provides insect cover during May and June for hen turkeys.
In the spring and summer, young turkeys often traverse grassy areas, stripping seed heads as they go in search of larger insects such as protein-rich grasshoppers and crickets. To ensure these insects remain a part of the turkey’s early nutrition, it is important to designate “no mow” zones along edges of a food plot with grasses such as bahia that produce seed heads in late spring and throughout the growing season.
A well-managed perennial clover food plot can provide both nesting and brooding cover for both hens and poults, but it should be planted in the fall or spring and not mow it until later in the season. A suitable food plot should measure at least 1/2 to 2 acres in size and should be prepared by tilling in soil or disking away existing vegetation before planting.