Scouting for spring turkeys should begin way in advance of the spring season. Late winter or early spring is not too early to begin your scouting. Locating clusters of flocked up wintering birds can give you an idea of how many birds are in the area, how they survived the winter and the ratio of hens to gobblers.
Where turkeys are in the winter is not exactly where they’ll be in the spring, but it gives you an idea if additional scouting is warranted. Turkeys are often drawn to dairy farms in the winter, where they can find waste grains in the surrounding cornfields and in the cow pies. Winter turkeys also love oak ridges, where they can use their powerful legs to move snow and leaves to find high-protein acorns. Bird feeders are a big attraction. If people report seeing a lot of turkeys at their feeders, it might be a good place to visit a little later in the year. If you’re not seeing many turkeys where you saw lots last year, scouting in advance will give you plenty of time to locate more birds.
Farmers are around in late winter and early spring before things get really busy, and it’s a good time to renew acquaintances with people who have given you permission to hunt in the past. Sometimes places change hands, and it’s better to find out about that sooner than later. Touching base with the farmer in advance can give you a heads up what he’s planting in the spring, boundaries that may have changed and the fact the big woods where you shot the monster tom last year was clear cut over the winter. Land management changes on neighboring properties can affect how turkeys behave and utilize the property you might have permission to hunt, too.
New apps like On-X give hunters insights into contacts for property owners, boundaries and topography that turkeys may utilize. River bottoms are always a big draw for turkeys, and these maps can give you a heads up on public lands that butt up to the river or private lands that you’ll need to get permission to hunt. You can never have too many backup spots.
Don’t overdo early season scouting. Keep it basic because turkeys move seasonally and where you saw them in early March is not where they’re likely to be come early April. Begin your scouting in earnest a couple of weeks before your season starts.
Many hunters have become very knowledgeable and proficient at using trail cameras. They can be an integral piece of equipment in your scouting repertoire, especially when birds aren’t talking yet. Using the time-lapse mode from an elevated position can provide positive Intel on where birds enter and exit a field and the location of their roost.
I’ve always said the best photography blind is your truck. I’ve taken many exceptional images from my truck. Wildlife don’t seem to pay much attention to vehicles – until they stop. Use your truck to observe turkeys at a distance. Patterning and locating from a distance will tell you if the birds are henned up, still in bachelor groups or individuals looking for love. A good pair of binoculars are essential, too.
Boots on the ground are the only way you’re going to gather the critical intelligence that will put you within range of a strutting gobbler the first morning of your hunt. More intimate details discovered only by first-hand observation are required to spring the trap. You need to see exactly where the birds eat, sleep and do their business- literally! Droppings are a sure sign that you’re on a turkey’s home turf. The shape of the dropping can tell whether you’re looking at a hen’s or gobbler’s excrement. A tom’s dodo will be J-shaped and longer than a hen’s, which is more like a popcorn kernel. The quantity, especially if found under a big tree, will tell you if found the bedroom or roost or the living room. Either is a good sign.
Dust bowls are a good sign that an area is a favorite midday loafing venue. Turkeys will dust to rid themselves of insects, and it’s definitely a sign of contentment and a safe zone they gravitate to. You’ll often find feathers, strut marks and tracks in the same area. Together they indicate you may have found the mother lode.
Use locator calls to keep tabs on turkeys and their location. Don’t call to turkeys during the pre-season with your regular calls. Reserve those for game time. All you’re doing then is educating them. By all means, continue to practice your calls before the season, but not within earshot of the turkeys. The first time the birds should hear your sultry purrs and seductive yelps is the first morning of your hunt.
Continue to scout right up until the day your hunt begins. Things can change. If you have a later hunt, the bird you’ve been targeting my not be there anymore. Excessive pressure from others may have changed the birds’ habits, spooked them onto adjacent property, or they may be wearing someone else’s tag. Farmers have to make hay while the sun shines, and the day they decide to plow or plant a field might not coincide with your hunting schedule.
Tom turkeys are a lot like a big trout in a stream. The biggest trout in the river will have the best lie because it offers protection, a prime feeding station and access to spawning gravel. A wise old tom turkey is no different. Kill a bird in a prime location, and another will take its place. Do your homework, and there’s a good chance
that history will repeat itself.