Outdoor Articles

Pre-Season Turkey Scouting, Part 2

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

Two of the main factors contributing to poor hunter success are not being familiar with the property, and not observing the game to understand it, and help locate and pattern it. The more time and effort you spend on the property, getting to know the land and observing the animals, the more you will learn, and the better hunter you will be. There are no shortcuts to knowledge; the best teacher is experience.

Choosing A Hunting Area

To be successful as a hunter you need to find areas that offer a sufficient number of animals to hunt; areas with high success rates; or areas where trophies are known to occur, or have come from, in the past. If you are interested in a particular species or subspecies you need to find the areas where it occurs. Once you have determined the general area you wish to hunt, a state for instance, the next step is to determine the county or unit to hunt, then the property, and finally you will want to locate the best places to hunt for the animal on the property.

The first part of locating game, determining the right area to hunt, is what I call research. The second part, the actual location, consists of understanding the animal, and personal experience in knowing the areas to look for the animals or signs of them. I refer to this as scouting. All of these “keys;” research, understanding, personal experience and scouting are necessary to successfully locate the animal and their “high use areas. Without all four “keys” locating is difficult, if not frustrating.


The act of 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 seen, the less time you will have to be spend patterning and hunting. Once you know where the animals are through scouting; and knowing 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 at the right time to hunt. While you are 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. You should also look for the roosting areas, watering sites, breeding areas and travel routes.


When you are scouting for turkeys you want to know where the ravines, gullies, streams and fences are; obstacles that a turkey will detour around or maybe not cross. If you know where the openings and fields 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 also 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 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 when you hear but can’t see them. If you see them you will know the route either you or the birds will travel, and approximately how long it will take. 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.


One of the best ways to understand an animal is to observe it under natural conditions. 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. 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.

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.


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.


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 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 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.

Reading Sign

While you are scouting look for tracks, particularly tracks in the 2 ΒΌ 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 was facing. Turkeys scratch when they are 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 it’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. 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.

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