Nothing welcomes the reawakening of spring and generates a more convivial preamble to the upcoming hunting season better than the thundering rumble of a spring gobbler sounding off through the newly budding trees. It’s a time of year hunters wait for with almost drooling anticipation. The first chance to get into the woods. The first chance to shake off the doldrums of winter and start doing some serious hunting again. As the snow continues to melt, so many hunters’ eyes begin to turn to the hardwood ridges and open fields with hopes and dreams of bagging a bird. Yet, for many, that is all successful turkey hunting is—a fantasy. The idea of being successful in the turkey woods may seem altogether unachievable. Many only understand the general idea of turkey hunting: simply sitting in a field, calling in earnest, and hoping to get lucky. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right plan in place, turkey hunters can and should be successful every year. Just like any other big-game hunt, that success begins with scouting.
Turkeys should be scouted for in order for a hunter to increase their odds of success. Though turkeys’ behavior does vary throughout the year—depending on food sources and weather conditions—their general locations and habits remain the same, which allows hunters to pattern them to a certain degree. Early season gobblers do behave incredibly differently during the breeding season, but you can still count on them to shadow hens as they begin moving from their roosting trees to the areas where they feed. This movement is a consistent and predictable part of their daily life. No matter what time of year or day it is, turkeys are only doing one of two things: roosting and feeding. This predictability gives turkey hunters a place to start when they begin scouting.
What to look for
The first and most efficient way to locate birds is to head into an area you plan to hunt and begin looking for them. Start by walking slowly into hunting areas and scan for turkey sign. The easiest to find are large areas of torn-up ground where the birds move around to feed. They’ll scrape and scratch up the earth, turning over fallen leaves and tree branches in their search for grubs, worms, and acorns. The edges of corn fields and other agricultural fields are also good places to look for sign such as tracks and feathers. Try to find any sign of where they have been feeding; these make excellent places to start your hunt when the season begins.
Roosting trees are also vital for a hunter to find preseason. These are the trees the birds will return to almost every evening, flying up and into them to spend the night. Finding these trees can be challenging and often requires a hunter to put in a lot of time walking their chosen hunting area. Usually roosting trees will be located at the highest elevation or among the tallest, most branch-heavy trees within a mile or two of a turkey’s feeding area. These trees can be found in a couple ways. One is to hang back at a distance and start glassing potential roosts with binoculars, hoping to spot the birds as they return to the area in the evening. The second method is to simply hunt them down. Roosting trees will be surrounded by heavy scratches and scrapings made by the birds when they first land in the morning. They will also be surrounded by turkey feathers that have fallen off the birds during their brief flights and while resting in the tree’s branches.
Patterning your bird
Once you have found the areas in which the turkeys are feeding and roosting, the next step to planning your hunt is patterning your gobbler. Having located the two spots where the birds are spending most of their time, start working out how the birds got there. Find their travel routes, how and where they move up and down from their feeding and roosting areas. Admittedly, this can be a rather tedious task, as it involves getting into the woods at daylight and watching flocks/rafters of turkeys through binoculars all day without being able to shoot them. Yet, by doing it, a turkey hunter is upping their chance of success exponentially. By watching the birds throughout the day, a hunter can learn where a rafter enters and exits fields and other feeding areas, and at what times they move. These long days of sitting give the hunter the opportunity to plan the perfect setup for bagging a gobbler come opening day.