Outdoor Articles

Pre-season Turkey Scouting

by Pursue The Outdoors on June 25th, 2005 in Turkey Hunting

As with all other hunting, the best strategy in turkey hunting is to be in the right place at the right time. The number one key to successful hunting is “location, location, location.” Locating game animals consists of two primary techniques, scouting and observing. The more time and effort you spend scouting and observing the animals, and recording what you have learned, the less time you will have to be spend patterning and hunting the animals. Once you know where the animals are through scouting; and know the sex, size, and time to expect them in certain areas (based on observing and recording in a journal and marking on a map), it’s a matter of determining the right spot to hunt at the right time.

Scouting

When you are scouting for turkeys you should learn the lay of the land. You want to know where the ravines, gullies, streams and fences are; obstacles that a turkey may detour around or may not cross. You also want to know the topography of the land; the elevation of hills and valleys, so you know if the birds are above or below you when you hear them. When you are calling turkeys try to be above the birds; turkeys prefer to come uphill to a call rather than down.

You want to know where the food sources are, and what time of the year they are used. You should also look for the roosting areas, watering sites, breeding areas and travel routes of the birds. If you know where the openings and feeding areas are, you will be able to choose the best places to set up, and you will be able to estimate how long it will take a bird to come to your call.

You should know the land as thoroughly as the animals do, so you know where to find them under the current conditions and time of year. If you know the land, you will know where the birds are when you hear them, even if you can’t see them. If you see them you will know the route either you or the birds will probably travel, and approximately how long it will take for you or them to get to specific areas. But, you won’t know the number of birds, their size and sex, interesting characteristics, or when they use specific areas unless you observe them.

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Observing

One of the best ways to understand an animal is to observe it under natural conditions. Observing is watching, undetected, to learn more about the animals and have a better understanding of them. Observing is not accidentally running into or spooking animals. The only way to know the numbers, size, sex, characteristics, and the time to expect the animals in particular locations is by spending some time and effort observing them. Scouting is learning the land and finding areas used frequently by the animals.

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 tree stand at the edge of field, or a hill, is a good site. By choosing the right spot to watch from you are able to see how the animals react to weather, light, 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 the call.

Recording

While you are scouting and observing you should also put your findings in a journal. Mark the places where you see the animals on a map, and mark the trails, resting, feeding, breeding and watering areas 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. Keep notes on date, day, time, sky conditions (amount of light), wind direction and speed, temperature, dewpoint, wind-chill, precipitation, breeding phase, food availability, number of animals, sex, direction of travel, activity, size and any other factors that might help you better understand the animals.

Patterning

While observing the animals you may be able to determine regular travel routes and times they use, which will help you pattern the animals and make it easier to choose the right time and place to hunt them. Patterning cannot be done in a few hours, it may take days or even weeks. The more time and effort you spend observing the animals, the clearer the pattern will become, and the more you will learn and understand the animals.

High Use Areas

To locate turkeys it is helpful to have 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 a 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.

Don’t Scout Too Early

The dates of the turkey season where you plan to hunt, and the dates you actually plan to hunt, dictate why and when you scout. If your reason for scouting is to learn more about turkeys (to understand them), or more about the numbers, sex and physical characteristics of the birds (their size, beard length/number, body color), you can scout anytime of the year. But, if your reason for scouting is to pattern the birds in preparation for a hunt, you should plan on a final scouting session not more than a week before the hunt.

The reason I say this is because turkeys often migrate from winter to spring home ranges, and this migration may occur just before or during your hunt. If you scout too far in advance of your hunt, and locate the birds on their winter range, and then hunt after they have moved to their spring home range, you may find fewer birds in the area than you expected, or no birds at all.

When there is a late spring I’ve watched turkeys migrate as late as the last week of April in southern Minnesota. I’ve also watched turkeys leave their wintering area, and then return to their wintering grounds a couple of days later if conditions weren’t right on their spring home ranges. If the birds aren’t where you expect to find them during your hunt when you hunt, the best thing to do is spend the first few days of the hunt scouting to find out where they went.

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