Scouting for Turkeys
Editor’s Note: For the most success this upcoming turkey season, which starts mid-March in many southern states, you need to scout for turkeys now. What images come to mind when someone starts talking about scouting for turkey? Most of us probably imagine long walks through the woods looking for tracks, feathers or signs. This is one of the most-popular methods, but it’s also one of the most time consuming.
Aerial Photos and Topo Maps:
A more-productive technique is to scout from the air. Your first reaction to this may be, “I neither like airplanes, nor do I have the money to rent a plane to look for a turkey.” But you can do aerial reconnaissance without ever leaving the ground. The U.S. Geological Survey has aerial photos of most of the land in every state. If you can describe the region you want to hunt, chances are good that they can provide you with an aerial map of the area. If you’re serious about your turkey hunting and don’t want to waste time, buy aerial photo maps, or go to Google Earth.
When you first study these maps, look for access points to the property you intend to hunt. If the roads or right-of-ways are dimly marked, highlight them with a yellow marker. Use a red highlighter to specify power lines and firebreaks, and a blue highlighter to denote trails. An aerial photo is also important when you locate a turkey. Use different-colored pens to mark the areas where you find birds. Then if you strike out on one bird, you can always try another. Besides noting access to the woods, an aerial photo can tell you where the turkey should be. These photos show fields, creek bottoms, pine plantations and clear-cuts.
However, an aerial photo doesn’t show you the elevation changes of the area. For this reason, buy a topographic map as well, also available from the U.S. Geological Survey. From the information on a topographic map, you’ll be able to see the gradients of draws and valleys. In addition to seeing what type of terrain the gobblers will favor, you can see which swamps or cliffs you should avoid.
Once you’ve studied the maps, divide each region into specific areas where you think the birds should be into two categories, the easy gobblers and the tough toms. The easy gobblers are found close to roads. The tough toms live away from the roads. Your only access to the tough toms may be by walking along creek bottoms or firebreaks. Once you’ve done as much scouting as you can, take to the woods.
Scouting the Woods:
When scouting for turkeys, the first place to look for sign is on roads and trails. Search for tracks, droppings and places where gobblers may have strutted. The second-easiest place to look is at the edge of a field. If gobblers are using a field, there should be droppings or tracks around that field. Next, search for feathers. Turkey molt, and always seem to be breaking off and losing feathers. Also, check for places where turkey have been scratching for feed. On these scouting excursions, go with the expectation that you will find turkey sign. This anticipation is an important key to a successful hunt. If two hunters enter the woods and on hunter says, “I’m going to look for turkey, but I don’t think that I’ll be able to find any,” odds are, he won’t. He may look at a spot 200-yards away and think, “I bet a turkey wouldn’t use that area, travel that path or feed in that region.” So he doesn’t investigate. Nor does he find any promising turkey sign. The other hunter, meanwhile, goes into the woods expecting to find turkeys. He tells himself: “Although I don’t really believe a turkey would use that area, I’ll go over there and look just in case.” This hunter is more likely to find turkey sign. The attitude and mindset will determine what you discover.
Once you locate a place that the birds are using, learn all you can about what they are doing. Search for roost trees. These are easy to pick out because there will be lots of turkey droppings underneath. Hunt for strut areas where a gobbler has drug his winds as he strutted. Look for dusting sites where a turkey has rolled in the dust to clean his feathers. If you’re hunting in the desert, find places where a gobbler may feed, water, strut, loaf, walk or stay in the shade. Then it’s on to the next phase of scouting.
Tomorrow: Scouting the Early Morning and Hunting Strut Zones