As I turned onto the gravel road, an entire flock of turkeys jaywalked in front of me to the opposite side, where a large stand of mature white pines covered the landscape. It was late winter, so the flock consisted of a mixed bag of jakes, longbeards, and hens. There were enough dangling ropes in the bunch to spark my interest, causing my heart rate to climb and my eyes to pop out like Rodney Dangerfield. I put my truck in park and lifted my binoculars, gazing at the birds, which by now had completed their journey to the pines.
Driving slowly past the private property, with “No Trespassing” signs placed around the perimeter, was a large section of woods that had been clear-cut, and all that was left was a gnarly mess of sticks, brush piles, and stumps. A light bulb went off in my head. It was obvious the stand of pines I had just driven by was the only available roosting location for turkeys in the surrounding area. It was time to secure permission to hunt on this piece of property.
After speaking with the landowners and getting the green light, I was free to roam the forty-acre parcel. Shortly after my scouting mission commenced, my suspicions were quickly confirmed by discovering numerous piles of turkey droppings, tracks, and feathers on the ground beneath the towering stand of pines. I also spotted broken branches from failed attempts of a bird to find a proper resting place for the night. It was a no-brainer. Unless their pattern drastically changed, I planned on hunting near this roost location come opening day of the spring turkey season.
Shooting a gobbler in its bedroom at daylight is one of the most effective ways to fill your spring tag, and putting one to bed the night before a hunt or, in my case, locating a consistent roost before the season opener is a turkey hunter’s dream. After all, most gobblers laid to rest occur in roosting locations each spring. It’s where birds are most vocal as they greet the new day and prepare for a day filled with feeding and breeding. However, this doesn’t guarantee the hunt will be a slam dunk. Action can be fast and action-packed or leave you wondering, “What just happened?” With that said, many factors must be considered before hunting a roost setup.
Remaining undetected while approaching a roost is half the battle. Without a quiet entrance, you risk bumping the roosted turkeys off the limb, ruining any chances of toting a gobbler out of the woods early. Having a game plan ahead of time will help you avoid wandering around in the dark, looking for the perfect setup. Before the hunt, pick out a few spots where you can put your back against a tree about sixty yards from the roost. This will provide different options depending on the turkeys’ travel patterns.
If you’re hunting with others, sometimes sitting side by side can lead to frustration. Last season my buddy and I hunted together in a ground blind on opening day, hoping to double up on a pair of gobblers. However, we quickly learned that the best tactic was to divide and conquer after the toms switched landing zones three mornings in a row. We figured our chances would increase by splitting up, and hopefully, one of us would be in their direction of travel.
Last spring, before the season opener, I used a leaf rake to remove pine cones and branches, creating a narrow path that led to my ground blind and to a spot I picked out for decoy placement. The landowner of the property had cleared trails throughout his property and used a york rake to remove any debris. As luck would have it, the trail led directly beneath the roosting area. This was the main path I took to access the spur that I raked, which finished off the remaining twenty yards to my setup location.
Once I discovered the perfect tree to set up against within fifty yards of their roost, I snuck into the area during midday when that was the only opportunity I had to clear out a place to sit while turkeys were going about their daily routine. It sounds excessive, but with ears overhead come early morning, it’s worth going the extra mile to ensure you don’t get busted.
There’s been a lot of discussion about how close one should get to the roost. If you do your homework and figure out where the birds are consistently putting down their landing gear, whether it’s an opening in timber or near a field edge, it’s okay to get in between fifty to seventy yards. It all depends on the terrain, how quietly you can make your approach, and whether or not you’ve gotten some intel ahead of time.
If you can put a gobbler to bed the night before you plan on hunting and picking out your tree, it will save you from aimlessly wandering around in the dark trying to find a place to set up. The evening before you hunt, use binoculars from afar to look for the silhouette of turkeys on the limb or use a locator such as a coyote or an owl call to get them to shock gobble. This will help you pinpoint their location.
The bad thing about setting up too close to the roost is the turkeys could fly over your position, moving out of range and causing you to walk back to your truck empty-handed. It’s better to err on the side of caution by taking the turkey’s temperature on the first approach to a roost from a setup further back.
Last spring, my dad and I could enter a ground blind undetected fifty yards from the roost. However, as the sun rose, I looked up and noticed the silhouettes of three hens perched in white pines only twenty yards away. This was way too close for comfort, I thought. My fear came true when the birds began flying down. First, some of the hens landed to our left, but my Dad was to the right of me. Then, one of the three gobblers we had heard put down his landing gear on our left. Fortunately, my Dad was able to take a fifteen-yard shot at the bird through a small gap in the door of the blind.
Because we hunted out of a ground blind close to the roost, I had taken extra precautions to soundproof the blind, which had a zipper. Instead of zipping it shut, I used some para cord to secure the door shut. A bungee cord can also be used to avoid the dreaded sound of a loud zipper during the early morning. Some blind windows utilize toggles instead of zippers. If not, I typically will leave my windows open the entire turkey season.
My typical calling scenario consists of a series of soft hen yelps to start, especially since I like to set up close to the roost. Once daylight grows and the gobblers start getting more fired up, I like to do a couple of cutting sequences and then give them the silent treatment. There’s a fine line between being overly aggressive and not calling enough. My rule of thumb is to listen to the hens on the limb. Imitating a hen’s cadence and rhythm on the roost and then interrupting her is also a tactic that will help your calls sound more natural and often will irritate her.
If you play your cards right and call in live hens to your decoy spread, there is a good chance a gobbler will, in turn, land within shooting range.
Many heartaches and celebrations begin at the roost. For most turkey hunters, a roost signals the beginning of their hunt and the last place they return to before shooting time ends. It’s the hub of turkey hunting where the highest percentage of hunters can either fill their tag or walk out of the woods wishing for another round with a gobbler.
Although these tips won’t always guarantee that you will walk out of the woods with a gobbler draped over your shoulder, they will greatly increase your chances of being successful during the wake-up call.