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Pre-Season Scouting

March 16, 2004


Just as athletes prepare for the season by practicing on the playing field, it is important for turkey hunters to pay a few visits to the woods prior to opening day.

Sure, any novice can wander into the woods on a good day, stumble across a vocal tom and put a bead on him. But to enjoy consistent success, you need a game plan that can carry you from opening morning to the close of the season. To do this, you need to get out before the season starts and learn the lay of the land and where the birds like to hang out.

Get to a high point before daybreak and listen for gobbling. Try to pinpoint where the birds are roosting. Scour the woods in search of roosting areas by looking for feathers and turkey droppings. Do the same around field edges and along logging roads or paths by checking for foot tracks, wing-tip drag marks from strutting birds and even dusting areas. Spend some mid-morning hours sitting tight along a field edge or in open woods, listening and watching. Record your observations in a journal or logbook to determine patterns in the turkeys’ behavior. Including weather conditions and other factors in your notes might also prove helpful.

A note of caution though: A lot of hunters are tempted to include a little preseason calling along with their scouting. It’s fun to get an ol’ tom worked into a frenzy. But don’t do it. Leave the calls at home until opening day.

“Birds learn quickly when they hear calls but never find a hen, or worse, find you,” said National Wild Turkey Federation COO and avid turkey hunter Carl Brown. “It only takes a single close encounter with a person to make for a call-shy gobbler.”

Once you pinpoint where the birds roost and where they head during the day to feed, plan a strategy that puts you along their travel routes. It is always easier to call a gobbler to where he wants to go than to get him to go somewhere he has no desire to be.

Turkey Sign
While scouting before the season, keep your eyes peeled for the below signs, which are good evidence of turkeys in the area:

  • Tracks: Search areas where tracks will be noticeable such as along field edges and paths clear of leaves. Tracks will confirm that birds are in the area and maybe help you understand where they like to travel. Turkeys have three long toes. A single track measuring 4 1/4 inches or more from the tip of the middle toe to the heel indicates a gobbler, smaller than that and it’s probably a hen.


  • Droppings: A hen’s look like small pieces of popcorn while a gobbler’s droppings are larger and J-shaped.


  • Wingtip marks: When gobblers strut, their wingtips drag the ground leaving two parallel lines in the dirt, sometimes with turkey tracks visible between them.


  • Dusting areas Turkeys bathe themselves in dust to rid themselves of mites and other parasites, creating small, round dirt depressions in the ground.


  • Feathers: Turkeys will typically knock feathers loose from their wings as they fly up to and down from their roosts. Out West, tall timber areas littered with feathers and mixed with droppings indicate a good roost site. In the East, larger wooded areas make identifying roost areas a little more difficult as the birds have more places to roost. Look for likely roost areas such as creek bottoms and wooded ridges.

The NWTF is a great resource for turkey hunting tips and other wild turkey information. Visit the NWTF’s Web site for information or call 800-THE-NWTF to become a NWTF member and receive one of their great magazines filled with turkey hunting tips and stories.

 

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