I have often wondered if all the time and effort I spend scouting before turkey season is worth it, or if I should just stick to running and gunning. So, I decided to take a thorough look back at my hunting log books. I found that my preseason homework has definitely paid off.
In terms of scouted vs. run-and-gun turkeys, my total kill tallies are about equal, but the difference is in total time spent afield. Undoubtedly, scouting saves time—a valuable commodity. Like many other hunters, I have a very tight schedule in the spring. I travel to many states each year, and typically only have a week—at most—to hunt in each area. Let me share some of my most reliable, essential scouting tips and tactics to help you make the most of your turkey time.
Be An Early Bird
Whenever possible, I try to arrive at my hunting grounds a day early to scout and talk with the landowner and/or other hunters. When hunters are headed out of camp, most are willing to give up some information. If they can point me in a general direction of birds, that puts me one small step ahead. If they reveal details like known roost areas or strut zones—excellent.
Confidence Is Critical
The No. 1 edge you can gain from preseason scouting is the confidence that is needed to sit tight when it matters, and make the right decisions when it’s time to consider moving. I want the confidence of knowing where I can find gobblers, and when they’re likely to move from the roost to a strut zone or feeding area. When I first started turkey hunting, I remember thinking to myself, He’s not coming. I have to move. Then, all too often, PUTT PUTT PUTT. That bird will usually live another day. Knowing that turkeys are working a particular area helps me keep my butt planted.
Apply Minimal Pressure
Scouting is best done from afar, and with “low impact.” I don’t need to blow my hoot tube all night long and listen to birds gobble for 20 minutes. When they gobble back at me a few times, I shut up. It can be worthwhile to sit back and listen to the sounds of timber going to sleep, but it’s often best to be a silent observer.
Also, I don’t need to be very close. As long as I can get within 200-300 yards of a roost, I’ll find birds at daybreak. You don’t need to know what limb he’s on to call him in. If possible, I’ll try to roost turkeys from the road, only using locator calls—no turkey calls. Resist the unnecessary desire to hear him gobble “one more time.” Personally, I use an owl hooter at daybreak, a crow call after flydown, and when I’m putting them to bed I go back to the hoot tube. If calling from a road isn’t an option, I like to get to a place where I can see a long distance and hear turkeys from many directions, without them detecting me. Turkeys are funny that way—it seems like they can always sense when you get too close. I know it’s difficult to think that a bird with a peanut-sized brain can put two-and-two together, but how many times have they fooled us?
The primary goal of roosting is to get a good idea of where to find birds in the morning. It’s basic: I want to learn their movements and if they use more then one roost, which they often do. As hens start nesting, gobblers’ habits change a bit and they might start roosting with different groups of hens.
Being studious will undoubtedly help you pass the tag-filling test of turkey hunting. Patterning birds and understanding their habits will help you bag more birds faster, meaning more time for more hunts. There is definitely a time and place for running and gunning, but scout the king of the roost and you’ll be one step closer to dethroning him.
The author is a land and wildlife management expert, competitive turkey caller, Mossy Oak Pro Staffer and Life Member of the North American Hunting Club.