It was still dark as I turned the Suburban off the gravel road onto the field access road that ended at oak woods a half mile away. Not wanting to alert the turkeys, I turned off the engine and got out, quietly closing the door behind me. I reached into my turkey vest, pulled out my Lohman owl hooter and blew eight notes, imitating te call of a Barred Owl. A thundering gobble answered my call, followed by two more gobbles. Good, the birds were right where I expected them, roosted on the died of a southeast facing ridge about two hundred yards from the picked cornfield where I had seen them feeding before sunset last night.
If the birds did what they normally did , they would fly down about 15 minutes before sunrise, spend a little time looking for food in the woods, and ten would work there way along the bottom of the ravine until they came out of the woods into the cornfield.
Whether I am scouting for whitetails, mulies, elk, or turkeys I use four different techniques; scouting (looking for the animals, and looking for sign), observing (watching where the animals come from and go to, and how they act), recording (writing in a journal where and when you saw the animals, and marking on a map where you saw them) and patterning (determining where an dwhen you wcwill find the animals on a regular basis). The more time and effort you spend scouting and observing turkeys, and recording where and when you saw them, the less time will have to be spend patterning and hunting them. Once you know which areas the turkeys regularly use by scouting; and know the sex, size, and time to expect them in certain areas (based on observing, writing in a journal, and marking on a map), it is a matter of determining the right spot at the right time to hunt them.
While you are field scouting (looking for sign) you should also learn the land. You want to know where the food sources are, and what time of the year they are used. Find the roosting areas, watering sites, strutting areas and the travel routes the bird use. You want to know where the ravines, gullies, streams and fences are; obstacles that a turkey will detour around or not cross. You also want to know where the openings and fields are so you will be able to choose the best places to set up, and be able to estimate how long it will take a bird to come to your call. You want to know the topography, the elevation of hills and valleys, so you know if the birds are above or below you. (When you are calling try to be above the bird. Turkeys prefer to come uphill to a call rather than down).
You should know the land as thoroughly as the turkeys, so you know where to find them under current conditions and time of year. If you know the land you will know where the birds are if you hear, but can’t see them. If you see them, you will know the route either you or the bird will travel, and approximately how long it will take. But, unless you watch the birds on a regular basis, you won’t know how many there are, their size, sex, beard length of the toms, or when they use specific areas.
Observing is not accidentally running into or spooking animals. Observing is watching (undetected) to learn more about the animals and have a better understanding of them. An observation site should be a high point with a good view of much of the land, far enough away that you will not disturb the animals during their normal routine. A protected area or a blind at the edge of a field or a hill is are good sites for watching turkeys. It you choose the right the right spot you should be able to see how the animals react to each other, the weather, hunting pressure, and other predators. You may also have a chance to hear the animals calling and see the body posture and movement associated with their different calls.
While you are scouting and observing you should also put your findings in a journal. Keep notes on the date, time, sky conditions (amount of light), wind direction and speed, temperature, dewpoint, wind-chill, and precipitation. You should also write down what breeding phase it is and the type and availability of food; make note of the number of animals you see, and their sex, direction of travel, activity and size; and any other factors that might help you better understand the animals. You should down You should also mark the trails, resting, feeding, breeding and watering areas on a map. You should also mark down the areas where you saw the animals. The more information you keep in a journal, and the more information you have on your map, the easier it will be to understand the animals and pattern them.
Most animals have a semi-regular routine they use. Turkeys in particular have preferred roosting sites, feeding sites and strutting areas. The semi-normal routine of a flock of turkeys is often governed by where they roost at night, which is in turn governed by where they end up feeding in the late afternoon/early evening. After years of using the same habitat turkeys know where the best roost sites are. So, when they are feeding in the evening, and they end up near a roost site they have used n the past, they will probably use that same site again, provided nothing happens to keep them from getting their before it is too dark. Then, when the birds fly down the next morning, they will usually go to one of the nearest feeding areas. If you spend enough time observing the birds you will know where their preferred roost sites are, and where they are most likely to go, and the routes they are most likely to take when they fly down the next morning. One you know their routine, and you know where the birds have roosted by putting them to bed at night, or seeing or hearing them in the morning, you will have a pretty good idea of where they are likely to end up feeding and strutting. Patterning can not be done in a few hours, it may take days or even weeks. But, the more time and effort you spend observing the animals, the clearer their daily patterns will become, and the more you will learn and understand the animals.
Locating High Use Areas
To locate turkeys you need a good topographical map of the area, or a good aerial photo. These visual aids will help determine where the “high use areas” of security cover, roosting sites, water, food, strutting, and travel areas are before you are even on the property. Then it’s time to get on the property and scout for sign left by turkeys. Two prime areas you want to locate are the food sources (which often serve as strutting areas) and the roosting sites. These are the areas where turkeys spend the majority of their time and leave the most sign. They are also the areas where turkeys are the most predictable, where you have the best chance of ambushing or getting them to come to you. Find these areas and you will find the birds.
While you are scouting, look for tracks, particularly tracks of toms in the 2 1/4 inch and larger range, with a deep or clear imprint of the middle toe with the scales showing. This indicates a large heavy bird, usually a tom. Tracks can be found along trails, in feeding and strutting areas (where wing drag marks may also occur), near roosting sites, and near wet areas.
Droppings are frequent in high use areas of trails, feeding, watering, strutting and roosting sites and can tell you if a tom is in the area. Large straight or “J” shaped droppings are those of a tom. Bulbous or spiral droppings are those of a hen. Piles of droppings under large trees are a good indication of a roosting site.
Feathers are often found along trails, under roosts, in feeding areas and in or near dusting bowls (small depressions in the dirt) where the birds cover themselves with dust to help eliminate pests. Breast feathers with square black tips are those of toms, while rounded brown tipped feathers are those of a hen. Light tipped tail and rump feathers are those of a jake or tom.
Scratching is another sign of turkey use. Scratches appear as claw marks in the dirt, or large torn up areas in grass or leaves. When a turkey scratches it uses each foot several times, leaving a “V” pattern, with the point of the “V” showing the way the bird traveled. Turkeys scratch when searching for left over seeds and acorns, or new succulent green growth and insects. A sure sign of a turkey feeding area is torn up leaf litter with exposed forbes bitten off.
Once you have found the high use areas itâ€™s a matter of more time and effort observing the birds to determine if there are toms or jakes, how many birds there are, the size of the birds, length or number of beards, and other interesting features. The only way to be sure of the sex, size and special features is by observing the bird. Observing on a regular basis will help you determine when the birds fly down, which direction they go, the route they take, where they feed, and where they go to strut, water and roost. You need to record all this information in your journal and mark it on a map which, will help you pattern the birds so you know where and when to hunt.
If you are interested in more turkey hunting tips, or more turkey biology and behavior, click on Trinity Mountain Outdoor News and T.R.’s Hunting Tips at www.TRMichels.com. If you have questions about deer, elk, turkey or waterfowl log on to the T.R.’s Tips message board. To find out when peak turkey gobbling occurs in your area click on Turkey Gobbling Dates Chart.
This article is an excerpt from the Turkey Addict’s Manual ($19.95 + $5.00 S&H;), by T.R. Michels, available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products catalog.
T.R. Michels is a nationally recognized game researcher/wildlife behaviorist, outdoor writer and speaker. He is the author of the Whitetail, Elk, Duck & Goose, and Turkey Addict’s Manuals. His latest products are Hunting the Whitetail Rut Phases, the Complete Whitetail Addict’s Manual, the 2006 Revised Edition of the Elk Addict’s Manual; and the 2006 Revised Edition of the Duck & Goose Addict’s Manual.
For a catalog of books and other hunting products; or for information on a wide variety of Natural History Eco-Tours, viewing and photographing regional and national scenic areas, songbirds, big game animals, elk bugling, wolf howling, sandhill crane, swan, prairie chicken, sharp-tailed grouse, swan tours or other trips with T.R. Michels contact: T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors, E-mail: TRMichels@yahoo.com, Web Site: www.TRMichels.com.