Well, it is that time of year for some of us. It is almost like clockwork. Once New Year’s hits, a switch flips in us die hard turkey hunters. I really notice it on social media. What once was a timeline filled with deer hunting or western hunting pursuits, has been replaced by endless questions about shotguns, chokes, shells, decoys, calls, vests, and “not looking for honey holes, but…” posts.
Yes, it’s getting close to turkey season. The most wonderful time of year for those of us who are members of the Tenth Legion. YouTube hunting channels fire up the leftover spring videos from last season and leave our mouths watering for more each week. Luckily, I follow enough turkey hunters that I can feed my addiction almost daily.
However, while all this is great to scroll through mindlessly, there’s work to be done.
Where am I hunting? How will I find birds on this new property? When should I start scouting? How do I even scout?
Hopefully, this will get you started on finding a place to hunt as well as locating turkeys when you get there.
Where to go?
Turkeys love diverse habitat like many other animals. They need a variety of landscapes to have successful nesting, food, water, roosts, and areas for toms to display for hens. So, when choosing a piece of property to explore, look for different habitats in the same vicinity. These can be almost any change in terrain: fields, cutovers, open timber, creek/river bottoms, ridges, agriculture, cattle pastures, grown up patches. All of these serve a purpose to a turkey. It’s like the different rooms of your house. You could not live properly if all you had was a bedroom or all you had was a kitchen. You need different areas to feel at home. Turkeys do too.
It also does not hurt to make a call to property managers of public areas and straight up ask them how the turkey population is there. They’re usually more than happy to give out good information.
Also, stay away from public areas within an hour of a major city. I live close to one and it gets absolutely hammered every spring. You’ll do well to make the drive to outlying areas to get away from the crowds.
When Should I Scout?
Turkeys are in large “winter flocks” from the end of summer until spring. They also occupy different areas during this time. For this reason, I do not like to get out scouting much until a few weeks before opening day. Sure, you can go ahead and explore the area you plan to hunt. Excellent idea to get the lay of the land and learn the terrain as much as possible. But for listening and searching for turkey sign, I want some that will benefit me most on opening day.
Make Sure your Ears are Clean…
While you’re doing your cyber scouting on the area you plan to hunt, fire up the topo feature. This may be my favorite feature on OnX. Using this, you’ll want to find the highest point on that property, even if it’s just a hill. You’re looking for a location to listen from, and you can hear a heck of a lot better from up high than you can down in a bottom. Pick out a few or several of these “listening knobs” and drop some pins.
From these spots, you’ll hopefully be able to hear hundreds of acres at a time. Get to these locations well before daylight before season and just wait. Closer to daylight, hopefully you’ll start hearing gobbles. If you do, drop pins on those gobbles. What you’re doing is creating an inventory of turkeys to target.
There are also sounds to listen for other than gobbles. Hens yelping, jakes “cawking” (jakes “cawk” at toms that are spitting and drumming), the sound of leaves scratching and wing flaps. Turkeys are naturally noisy critters and can give away their locations easily on a calm, clear day. It’s been said that a blind man would kill a turkey before a deaf man simply because of how important it is to hear turkeys.
In year’s past, I’ve legit gone to the clinic to have my ears properly cleaned a couple weeks before season so I can hear those distant sounds. My wife would argue that I still can’t hear her across the room though…
Lace up the Boots!
If you go to a few spots, and don’t hear any gobbles, there’s a plan B for finding them. Some toms just might not be tuned up enough to gobble that morning and will remain silent on the roost. That doesn’t mean they won’t cover some ground and look for food and do their daily routines.
Start looking around the creek bottoms first, as that’s where the newest plants will green up first. Hens will work their way through here foraging. Look for tracks, droppings, and scratching areas in the leaves. Scratching will almost look like a deer scrape but there will be several of them in an area if there are a few or more turkeys. The bare dirt will be exposed about the size of a dinner plate or a little larger and the leaves will be bunched up to one side.
If you come across a good-sized tree that has a lot of droppings and feathers around it, it very well might be a roost tree. Drop a pin on that too. While our eastern turkeys don’t use the same roost every night, they’ll more than likely come visit that spot again to roost another time.
Dusting areas are another great find while scouting. Turkeys like to flop around in some scratched up dry dirt to keep the mites and other pests at bay. They’ll frequent these often especially when the weather warms up.
Well hopefully you now have a plan on how to locate some birds for opening day this season. This shouldn’t be a one and done type of scouting. Get out to the area as much as possible to become more familiar with the terrain, learn which toms are more vocal than others, learn how you’d approach the gobbling birds without being detected, and keep practicing on tuning your ears to hear those non-gobbling turkey sounds.
There really is nothing that beats waiting in the dark on a ridgetop on a cool, clear morning and hearing one of those long, rattle can like gobbles coming from the distance.
Consider this your reminder to schedule an appointment with your local clinic to get those cobwebs and dirt dobber nests cleaned out of your ears…