By Pete Rogers
I am one of the few who enjoy winter. The fourth season is full of cool air to breath, barren landscape that reveals all the foliage hides. Migrating flocks filling the sky with their music. Drifts of snow, or frost covered fields brighten every sunrise. As the bite of winter carries on, I realize that many are so ready for spring. The budding of trees, tulips pushing up through cold covered soil. Daffodils seeking the first warm days to emerge for their short stint at glory. For those looking to escape the prison of winter, the late winter and early spring woods are some of the best times to be afield. Warmer weather starts to build excitement from the long days of winter. The trees haven’t begun to bud, but they are tempted to, and the woods are clear and unobstructed. This is the perfect time to scout for spring gobblers.
It is interesting how dedicated hunters spend time afield searching for the right locations tend to scout more for deer and elk than they do for turkeys. I have spoken with several dedicated turkey hunters who believe the reason people don’t scout for turkeys aggressively is because of the vocal nature of the hunt. “Why scout when I am going to move in to where he gobbles?” one hunter stated. Another, who chooses to remain anonymous says similarly: “If I am running and gunning, I don’t need to scout. I will just move to where he is.”
Scouting The Landscape
This kind of thinking has led to many empty game bags and frustrated hunters. Scouting for turkeys does two things that are essential for successful hunting. First and foremost, it lets you know exactly where the birds are roosting, and feeding. This can help establish ambush spots. Secondly, it helps to learn the lay of the land. When calling turkeys, most hunters know that old birds are reluctant to cross topographical obstacles. They do not like to cross creeks, rivers, and even fences. Nothing frustrates a hunter more than to have a willing bird working and at eighty yards, and he hangs up because you didn’t know about the old fence, stream, or thicket between you and the gobbler.
Scouting will help you know the land and where to set up to prevent this situation from occurring. On more than one occasion, knowing the lay of the land has put a bird in my sights. When a gobbler leaves and heads in a direction, I have skedaddled around him and set up ahead of his route. By knowing the lay of the land, I knew how he would travel, and where to intercept him. Then settling in, I have made a soft purr and within minutes, been standing over a bird that fifteen minutes before escaped me. Without the knowledge of scouting the landscape, I could have never circled around and intercepted these birds.
Using Game Cameras
Another tactic for scouting turkeys includes the use of game cameras. Contrary to common belief, these cameras can be used for more than whitetail deer. In fact, their use for turkeys is one of my most favored tactics. Using game cameras to locate and identify specific long beards is a great tactic to employ when scouting for turkeys. Not only will it tell you how many mature birds you have, it will also help you identify specific birds. I have used this for years to identify specific Tom’s and judge their age class by studying the pictures. Typically a two year old bird will have spurs in the 1” to 1 1/8” inch class. While a three year old bird will be in the 1.5 inch to 1.75 inch and the four year old is around one and three quarter inch and above.
By looking at the pictures from the game cameras I can identify specific age classes of turkeys on my property. This helps with the birds are coming in to know if I have a disproportionate number of two year olds or if I am heavy in mature birds. This helps me identify how many birds my property can handle removing. Some years, I have fewer mature birds than other years. When the numbers are low, I reduce the number of birds we kill off of the property. Even to eliminating the killing all together to protect future harvest. Fortunately, I have other lands I can hunt.
Scouting For Signs Of Turkey
Scouting for turkeys involves looking for sign of the birds and for the actual birds themselves. A lot of scouting from open country can be done from a long way from where the actual hunting will take place.
Several years ago, I was doing some last minute scouting after work about two hours before sunset. Parking along a dirt road, I hopped a fence and started wandering through a pasture. When I topped a hill, I saw a flock of birds some three hundred yards out. There were three long beards, and a few jakes with a dozen or so hens. I laid on the ground and watched the birds for over an hour until they wandered into the woods. Mentally marking the location where the birds entered the woods. I returned to that tree on opening morning. As the sun began to rise, a gobble echoed some fifty yards away. Three soft clucks and the old bird pitched down to within twenty yards of me and immediately went into full strut. After enjoying the show for a few moments, I sent a load of Winchester Long Beard no. 5’s into him. Within minutes after opening morning, I had my bird. Scouting this bird ahead of season provided the opportunity to make a perfect set up and kill him.
Hunting turkeys is one of the most addictive types of hunting. For those who have evolved into more than turkey killers and into turkey hunters, we do not just pass on jakes. We also pass on two year old birds. Looking for the more mature three and four year old birds. Just as it has been written that hunting a mature whitetail is like hunting a different animal all together. So too is hunting a three year old or four year old turkey. These birds are so wary and elusive that killing them is a threat and a feat that few can muster on a regular basis.
Scouting Pays Off
Good effective scouting results in more successful hunts. Scouting has paid off so often, I still cannot understand why more turkey hunters do not spend the time to get afield. David Catoe of Lugoff, SC is a very accomplished turkey hunter. Catoe says he spends as much time scouting before season as he does hunting during season: “Turkeys move for seemingly no reason. They are literally here today and gone tomorrow.” Without knowing where they are you are shooting in the dark to find the birds. You may think they are on this ridge or bottom, only to find out when you arrive opening day, they are three quarters of a mile away.
Scouting involves a lot of boot leather and a lot of listening. Listening for hens, gobblers and looking for roosting sites and feeding areas. But time spent now looking and scouting, is time saved when the season begins.