Turkey season only comes around twice a year, once in the Spring and once in the Fall. Every season I go through the same steps that have helped me to get my limits during both seasons.
I have learned to hunt turkeys through my own failures and successes. My Dad was not a turkey hunter and I did not have a mentor so it has been 30 years of hard knocks training and getting busted by that elusive turkey. Today, I have a solid understanding of what is vitally important to having a successful turkey hunt. It's simple . . . the most important thing is SCOUTING. To scout wild turkey you need to observe their movements and know their habits. Also be on the lookout for that great ambush spot. Many of my successful hunts were done without the use of a turkey call or the use of a decoy. When I first started hunting, I didn't have extra money for the bells and whistles; I had money for gas and shot gun shells. I was forced to learn the bird’s habits, where they wanted to go and why. So I became a bird watcher taking in everything, the landscape, the feeding sources, the weather, time of day, movement patterns. My passion is the outdoors, and I hope that you are able to gain at least one useful tip whether you are the new hunter or you have been doing it for a while. Because even if you only pick up one thing out of this, sometimes that one thing can be the difference of you going home successful or going home empty handed.
Scouting Before the Hunt
Scouting before the season should give you an excellent idea of their current patterns and allow you to choose an area for your turkey hunt and best blind locations. My hunt starts long before the season starts. First I start gathering information on where I want to hunt. This should not be done just days before your hunt. This needs to happen MONTHS BEFORE your hunt, if not longer. Here are a couple of ways to scout.
Spend some time on theoutdoorsforum.com reading every post anyone has ever commented on about turkeys. Read about their hunts, look at their pictures, and most importantly look behind the person in the picture. I am talking about the terrain behind them. Most of us take our pictures where we shot our birds. Some take pictures of the ground blind they used, whether it is a pop up turkey blind or made out of what the land provides called a natural ground blind. A lot of people will say what area they are hunting in, what state they are in or what county they are in. I typically ask questions like: did you see them in the middle of the day; in open fields or do you see them just outside of the cover; how close to a creek beds. But a lot of the times their pictures tell me most of what I need to know and I keep notes on all of it. Not that I plan on hunting in that exact area, but often you will see most of the same lay of the land in other areas. There is no substitute for just getting out and hiking the area in the off season that you are planning to hunt. Your ability to get comfortable with that area, locate potential patterns, know the terrain, water sources, types of trees, and main food sources. This should all be done well in advance of the actual turkey season and make sure you have a few days of scouting worked into your hunt plan. I always like to have at least 3 days before my hunt.
When I know what kind of terrain I am looking for I will spend hours on Google Earth and other topo maps looking for where I could find water, creek beds, opening in fields, meadows and where they might be going for food, and also where I think they may be roosting. The reason I spend all this time ahead of the hunt is so that when I step foot on the ground in the area I am going to be hunting, I already have a good plan. I see a lot of guys get to a place and just start walking around and they don’t even know anything about the game in the area or the lay of the land. There have been many hunts that I had to work a lot harder because I was not patient in the beginning. I would have to let my binoculars do my walking and stay in camp on the glass all day to find the birds and watch them from a distance.
Upon arrival to the property, if possible drive around the area. It’s a great way to cover distance and with the use of a good pair of binoculars will allow you to find birds and determine how many gobblers, jakes and hens are in the flock. Get to a good high spot, so you can HEAR the largest part of a property. The higher you are, the more you will hear. Use an owl call and make a few calls, then just listen if that does not work try a crow/raven call a little later and see if you get any response, if that does not work try a lonesome hen call. All you want is to hear is them gobble, so you can get a direction and a location. Then use your spotting scope to pinpoint them, remember keep your distance turkeys can see very well and if you can see them they have already seen you, so if you stay far away as you can, and don’t make fast movements, you will not make them change their habits. Remember, toms quite often like to associate in smaller bachelor groups, so if you see a big bunch of birds and then off in the distance you see a few birds together those are normally going to the bigger toms. I have also seen jakes do this as well but normally they are with the hens and in bigger flocks. Now in breading season the toms will run the jakes off. As dusk falls in the woods you should be keep an eye open for birds coming in from an unexpected angle. If they are on the ground and you can see them, then more than likely they can see you if you make any movement, so stay still and wait for dark before leaving. You may also listen for gobblers, yelps, purrs and all other turkey sounds coming from a particular spot seemingly without changing distance. Once it’s dark, it’s a good bet they are in the roost for the night. This is known as putting the turkeys to bed.
Knowing Where They Roost
I like to start at first light or in the evening. If I get to an area in the midafternoon, after I get to my camping area, I set up is my spotting scope, make some calls to see if I can get any game to sound back at me. This will give me a direction to start looking for the turkeys and hopefully locate the roost as it gets later in the afternoon or at first light. If I don’t get any call backs I go back to setting up camp and then wait for the sun to start to set or rise. While I am trying to locate turkeys I want no talking, NOTHING, but the sound of nature. Every morning and evening as they are getting to the roost or getting ready to leave the roost is when the birds are most talkative. It’s important to just listen for the sounds of a turkey gobble or some chirp. When a tom goes to his roost he will call for his lady friends to come bed down with him. They are always looking to recruit new ladies that may have gotten separated from other toms. Every opportunity, typically morning and evening, they will call out to them and that is all you need to locate the roost. It might be faint and far off, hence the need to be quiet. These typically happen more at first light and gray light in the morning. This is how you are going to find the roosting area.
When out in the field, if you know you are in an area that has a flock of turkey, spend some time patrolling the woods for signs. A sure sign of popular roosting area for turkeys are their scat, feathers scattered below the trees and on the limbs of the tree, and scratching under the trees. Mark the spot on your GPS then look for the best spot to set up a blind or make a quick natural ground blind. Back track the turkey trails and any spot that has good cover and mark on your GPS. Make sure to cover 360 degrees around the roosting tree, get to know every trail coming off of it, once again marking the ambush spots as you do this. Then get out of there and find yourself a spot at a safe distance and find those birds in the middle of the day in an open field. The blind cannot be closer than 200 to 300 yards to the roost. Make sure you have some distance, as you will find out the hard way if you get to close. You will hear a 747 taking off in the dark of the morning and once you hear the wing beet of a turkey you have been BUSTED. That one bird leaving the roost just put every bird around on high alert and there is NO WAY they are coming your way.
I am on my binoculars all the time looking to see if I can see them in the distance. Turkeys have very good eye site. If you can see them, then they have ALREADY seen you. At this point you want to back out of the area and go to a place where you can see both the roost and were you saw them in the field. I like using a spotting scope to watch what paths they take and look to see what time of day they are hitting those points, as they are creatures of habits and most of the time you can almost set your clock by them within a few minutes as long as no one has made them change their patterns. If that should happen don’t worry they will be back to that spot sometimes later in the day.
Please note, it is very important that you NEVER hunt the roost, or walk up to it either. You will blow the birds out of the roosting area and the next couple of days will be that much harder. They may go find a new area to roost in as they don’t feel it is safe anymore, and now you have just blown all of your progress. I cannot stress this enough: DO NOT GET TO CLOSE TO THE ROOST IN THE MORNING. If you do, you will scare the turkeys away from the roosting area and they may see the area as dangerous and not come back. They will go find another spot. I think you get it … DO NOT MESS WITH THE ROOST. If they see the roost as a safe place they will always come back to it, this means if you screw up in your hunt and get busted, you will have a chance to do it all over again tomorrow or the next day and get your bird. Once you push them off the roost it could take days before you find them again and then start to pattern their habits all over again. No one wants to start over!
What Do Wild Turkeys Eat?
When you are hiking through the woods remember to keep on the lookout for areas that have signs of turkeys’ scavengering for food. Here are some things to look for, if you don’t already know:
An area that has leaves on the ground, which has been pulled back by turkeys feeding on bugs and grubs. It should be easy to spot and usually will have a good number of tracks. Remember that turkeys are opportunists and being a omnivore they will eat anything from plants to insects, or even frogs, salamander, grasshoppers, caterpillars, snails, slugs or worms. They like to feast on seeds, grain, corn, wheat, berries wild grapes, crabapples, fresh buds, roots, bulbs, cacti, plant foliage, grass, tender young leaves and nuts of all sorts. Turkeys need sand and small gravel to process the grain, known as grits. So needless to say they can eat just about anywhere and typically the pickings are not lacking.
Learning the Turkey’s Movements
You’ve found their roosting spot, now it is time to learn their movements. I look for trails to learn the birds escape routes. They normally have two primary escape routes to account for danger coming from different directions. In the middle of the day, I will sometimes walk towards them just to see where they will go. A turkey’s ability to see is its biggest asset and is better than any other animal that you have hunted. This helps them detect a potential threat long before it becomes a threat and this is why the elusive turkey is a real thing.
It’s important to know how to find the trails and how to pattern their movements. Wild turkeys tend to use the same trails and patterns in the Spring as they do in the Fall, as long as they are left alone. The difference is you will see them broken up into smaller groups and more spread out. What you really need to pay attention to are the changes in their food availability, water, and environment. If you notice this, you will need to be ready to adjust your strategy and possibly have to move to a new location.
I set up were I think they should be and watch them either come in or go another direction. A lot of the time they will go another direction and typically it is because they saw me sneaking into my spot. How do I know? Well, the very next day when going back to glassing them and they go right back to the same route as before. That test will teach you two things: one they have more than one route to get to where they want to go, and two how important it is to be in your hunt spot in the dark before gray light. Not only do you need to do this without being seen but you also need to do it without being heard. So make sure if you have to do anything as far as setting up your blind that it is done before your hunt.
Some of My Hunting Strategies
By watching them for a few days you can start making patterns, so you know where to hunt.
On one hunt, I noticed a group of turkeys that were showing up just before noon in a particular field. The next day, I watched them in the morning confirming their morning routes. And once they were out of site, I created a brush blind were they entered the creek bed the day before after crossing that wide open field at about noon. About 10:00 a.m. I snuck my way over there and got into position and waited. Sure enough, here they come, going under the same spot in the fence as the day before, crossing the same field in the same track that they took the day before. When turkeys are moving like this they take their time and eat on the way and they take their time to LOOK AT EVERYTHING all around. If they see movement at all they will not come to that spot. If you have great cover you can move behind it, but if you’re in light cover your movements need to be VERY SLOW, like a sloth and even slower. As the birds get closer NO movement is critical. Remember when they get close; you could have hens ten yards to ten feet away. If you don’t move they will go right by you and then towards the back of the pack, you will see the bigger toms. Now I am getting ahead of myself. So when they are far away in the field use your binoculars to see how many long beards you can find and what length their beards are. So when one comes in range you already know if you should or should not take the shot. The fun part of this hunt was looking at the clock and realizing it was just about noon, and here they were slowly but surely traveling the trail I had scouted the day before. The scout hen came up first and checks everything out and what seems like forever until she went by. Then another bird and then the middle of the pack continue to walk by. There are turkeys that go by with beards but I saw a lot bigger ones, so I wait. The birds are walking right by me at this point, and even my eyes blinking will get me busted. I have the brim of my hat down, so when I have to blink I can very, oh so slowly tilt it just a little, and hope that no turkey can see me blink. The time from when I saw the turkeys enter the field, to the time I have them literally on top of me took every bit of an hour. Keep in mind I did not use a turkey call, I did not use a decoy, all I did was wait were I saw them before and made sure I was covered up. I did end up getting a nice tom with over an 11” beard and 1-3/8” spears.
If you know where they want to go or if another hunter is hunting in the same area as you. You will find a lot of success by being at the back door and just wait for it to happen. Cover is the key, you have to be concealed as their back doors are normally in a low lying area and this is because they can see it from a very far distance and as they are running to it, and they can watch it the whole way. NO MOVEMENT is the key to hunting the back door. I have killed many turkeys doing this. If you are on a private ranch, this normally is not going to happen as you typically are the only threat and you cannot be in two places at one time. But if you have someone with you I would have one as the primary hunter and the other can be covering the backdoor just in case… you will also get doubles this way. As after your primary hunter shoots, where do you think the rest of the turkeys are going to run? I have done this with several hunters hunting at one time, and this is why it important to know the movements and escape routes of the birds.
Take your time do not be in a hurry, enjoy the day, listening and watching. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen birds go into a creek bed and then not see them for what seems like an hour, to only pick them up 500 yards further down the creek bed coming out in an open field . If I was not patient and spent all day doing this I would have missed them coming back out. If I only hung out for 45 minutes and then left, I would have missed them as they were hidden from my line of site in the creek bed. I have had experienced turkey hunters, hunt with me and question “Why are we still here? I have not seen anything! I don’t think they are here, let’s go.” And of course, the turkeys will walk-in plain view just 20 to 30 minutes later in another field. One hunt I had the a guy give up on his spot, mind you I scouted that spot for three days and knew the birds would go to the point I put him on. But he gave up about 30 minutes too early and walked out. Well he ran the birds into the other hunters that I set up on an escape route. If you do not have the ability to sit on a spot, because you have a little ADHA or something, like that you might want to look at jump shooting turkeys. This is good for a hyper type of personality. You will find this type of hunting way more fun and but really should only be done in the fall.
Time to Hunt
When making your way to the blind in the morning, try and get to the woods about an hour before first light and slowly make your way to your blind or another ambush spot and then be prepared to wait. Remember if you plan on using a decoy; make certain you set them out with as little motion or noise as possible. Try and walk to your blind in the shadows along a tree line as well. This is especially important if it’s a clear morning with a bright moon. You need to be stealth, ninja like. If you do this they will not know you are there, keep quiet and keep covered up and remember all they are doing form the roost tree is looking for any kind of movement and/or noise from movement. If they see any they go the other way. Just don’t get caught. I still get caught to this day, so trust me on this you, can never be too careful and it’s normally the outcast birds that catch me. The roost can be in a combination of trees and the ones on the outside edges have the job of finding the threat to the flock. Then listen and look, because if everything goes well, you’ll be at the breakfast table in about an hour or two after the sun comes up having a cup of coffee and telling tall tales about your turkey hunting adventure.
At this point you should have a very good understanding of our friend we like to meet, the thanksgiving turkey. I have guys tell me how lucky I am, but truly it is about being prepared. I put in the work before the hunt and then on hunt day it’s just me beind prepared for the opportunity. Thank you for the opportunity to help you and mentor you on your next outdoor adventure! Hopefully these tips and suggestions will help increase your opportunities in your next hunt.
Submitted by: Michael Dickerson, AllTheOutdoors.com
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