Turkey Scouting Tips and Tricks
If there’s one thing a hunter can do beforehand that dictates how a hunt might play out, it’s the amount of time they put into scouting. Whether it’s deer, turkeys, ducks, or elk, scouting is paramount to achieving success on a regular and repetitive basis. The key words there being regular and repetitive. Some hunters will get lucky from time to time, but the best hunters, those who find success year in and year out, spend far more time scouting than hunting. Scouting works because animals have patternable behaviors by nature. Patterns like where they prefer to sleep, where they feed, and where they travel are all behaviors hunters can hone in on. Of all the game animals, wild turkeys might just be the most patternable, which is a good thing for turkey hunters. Here are a few turkey scouting tips for before and during the season.
Timing Is Everything
Like most information, the more recent the better. Scouting for spring turkey hangouts in winter isn’t likely to yield the best results. As turkey seasons start to open around the country, turkeys are shifting their patterns weekly, if not on a daily basis as mating season ramps up. From winter flocks to lone gobblers, turkeys change patterns rapidly during the early parts of spring. Knowing where and what the turkeys are doing by the time season rolls around is critical for your success as a hunter. The best time to be scouting is the week/days leading up to a hunt. Even once the season opens, you should never stop scouting while you’re hunting.
One of the most important areas you’ll want to scout for and locate are turkey roost sites. Roosting sites are the areas turkeys tend to flock up and fly up to spend the night safely on the limb. Finding the roost site(s) is critical as it establishes the first move of the morning, which is also when turkeys are the most vulnerable and vocal. Popular roost sites can be anything from a single tree to a forest full of mature oaks. For the most part, any mature tree with stout limbs can serve as a popular roosting area for turkeys, mature pines and oaks especially. The biggest factor dictating whether an area is a suitable roost site often has to do with a turkey’s ability to fly up to the limb. Turkeys are big, clumsy birds when it comes to flying, which is exactly why they prefer an open hardwoods or a field to takeoff from and roost near. The same holds true for morning fly-downs.
You can identify and scout for roost sites several different ways. First, you can observe where turkeys are flying up during the evening from a distance, in other words, literally watching where they’re roosting. Second, you could use a locater call like an owl hoot, crow call, or even a coyote howl to try and spark a shock gobble from a tom after nightfall or prior to daybreak. This is a common tactic used by hunters who are looking to get a bead on a bird for the next morning’s hunt. Lastly, there will be plenty of turkey sign on the ground indicating a popular roost area such as wing or tail feathers, and plenty of scat. As a turkey hunter, roosting birds is one of those things you’ll always be doing as it’s the key for the next day’s hunt.
Using Trail Cameras to Find Strut Zones
Once the roost site(s) have been determined, the next key component of turkey scouting is to find the popular strutting zones. There’s no better tool for this than a trail camera. For whatever reason most deer hunters have their trail cameras stacked up on the basement shelf doing nothing but collecting dust during the spring months. But why? Most hunters already have the camera, so why not use them for turkey hunting?
It sounds crazy, but trail cameras might be more helpful to turkey hunters than deer hunters. With the features of modern trail cameras, specifically time-lapse mode, turkey scouting has never been easier. The main areas you’ll want to target and scout with a little help from your trail cameras are potential strut zones. Often, these strut zones are open, sunny areas like cut crop fields, food plots, open pasture, and logging roads. Knowing exactly what time of day and which corner of a field the turkeys prefer is extremely useful information.
This is where the setup of trail cameras plays a significant roll – both in terms of camera settings and the placement. First, the placement. You’ll want to place trail cameras in a manner such that the picture will cover a large portion of the field or area you want to scout. Often, this requires mounting the camera fairly high up in a tree, especially if it’s a rolling field. Remember, the goal for this setup is not to get close up photos triggered by strutters as they walk by, but rather to distinguish where and when they’re strutting in the field. Taking a tree step or ladder of some sort can help you get trail cameras higher up in a tree so you can get a full view of the field if there’s rolling hills. Plus, putting them up high is also a smart move for anyone scouting public land, as a means to prevent theft.
Before hanging the camera, turn on the time-lapse mode and adjust the settings appropriately. One picture every 5-10 minutes throughout the daylight hours should do the trick. As was mentioned before, using trail cameras for turkeys is a great way to scout before and during season. When it comes time to checking the SD Card, just flip through the photos until you see a flock of turkeys in the background. Compare photos to ones from other days to determine if there’s a distinct pattern on where they enter from, how long they are there, and during what time of day. The best thing about using trail cameras for turkey scouting is that you don’t need to get a clear and close-up picture of a big tom to know he’s a shooter. A simple strutter in the background is usually enough information to know if you should be hunting there.
Scouting from your truck or car is as easy as driving back and forth from work. It’s an overlooked method for sure, but there’s plenty of information you can gather during your daily commute. Local information is the best information, in other words, the turkeys down the street are probably behaving in a similar fashion on the property your hunting (if you hunt relatively close). Are the toms henned up? Strutting all alone? With other toms? All are observations that will dictate what decoys are best and what calls you should be using. Of course, if you have fields you can hunt that can be viewed from the road, you should be driving by those just before the season starts to see what’s going on.
Bring it All Together on a Map
Maps are the gameboard of all things hunting and scouting. They’re by far the most important tool a hunter can use to prepare for a successful outing. However, a map is only as good as the info it displays, which is why you should spend time marking up a map of your property this spring. Scribbling key details such as strut zones, roost sites, obstacles, feeding areas, etc. will paint a much clearer picture compared to a blank Google Earth aerial photo, and thus, allow for a much better game plan.
As you can see, scouting should never end. Whether you’re a seasoned turkey hunter or just getting your first taste, scouting teaches you an incredible amount about the animal you’re pursuing and how you should be hunting them. In the end, it’s important to remember scouting is the most important aspect to any hunt, aside from luck of course.