If you are a true turkey hunting addict, then your turkey season commences when you begin developing strategies for springtime gobblers. Although thoughts of turkeys are forever in our minds and those first few warm days begin announcing the end of winter, the anticipation of chasing the thundering calls of spring kicks into overdrive. In many states, turkey season opens in March, and others open in April. Either way, this typically means that your opening day plan begins the month before. During this strategic pre-season initiative, your opening day plan will change as frequently as the weather. Simply put, turkeys do not care about your plans or long-term strategies. They only care about their food sources, roosting areas and reproduction, which includes establishing dominance. However, you cannot be successful, if you cannot locate a few turkeys.
If you do not own your hunting grounds, your pre-season scouting begins with finding property. Aside from owning property, turkey hunters are left with public hunting land or gaining permission to hunt privately-owned property. Gaining hunting permission means the landowner can reveal essential information about turkey habits, such as feeding areas or strutting and loafing spots. Landowners can also reveal locations that hold water and possible roosting trees. Relying on public grounds means you have a little more work ahead of you. For public land, the better you do your homework, the better your odds of being successful. Its biggest disadvantages are knowing where to start and being crowded by other hunters. Unless you know another hunter who is willing to reveal the location of a few turkeys, then you have to start from scratch and use your knowledge and scouting skills to find them. When you do locate a few birds, look for any signs of other hunters. Too many hunters in the same area can lead to safety issues, and a turkey is not worth the risk of being mistakenly shot by another hunter.
The next requirement is to procure both aerial and topographic maps of your hunting property. Fortunately for turkey hunters, modern technology can help you create a game plan before your boots even hit the ground. Scouting with technology, or cyber-scouting, provides a means of easily locating a map of your hunting property, developing a means of attack, and revealing potential back-up plans. In addition to old-fashioned paper maps and aerial photographs, today’s cyber maps offer the advantages of aerial photographs with topographical overlays to combine the best features of both maps into one. This combination readily exposes terrain variances and specific features, such as hardwood ridges that offer higher vantage points or old dim logging roads that create easier travel routes. Additionally, referencing these maps will connect a location with the advice of landowners. It is extremely helpful to match the information and for the landowner to point to the actual locations on the maps. This lays the groundwork for creating a scouting strategy for that property.
No matter what type of property you are hunting, listening is an essential, as well as enjoyable, aspect of pre-season scouting for turkeys. Typically, I begin listening for turkeys at the beginning of March, but I do not let early gobbling put me into a panic. You must realize that some toms seem to gobble all year long. While gobbling during the breeding season has a purpose, it is important to understand that some turkeys gobble just for the sake of gobbling. There is not a defining moment when gobbling changes from simple randomness to gobbling with a purpose. However, I feel pretty confident, aside from the rare occurrence of an early spring, mid to late winter gobbling is simply random responses that reveal the locations of turkeys.
When you begin listening, keep in mind you are only trying to get an idea of how many turkeys are in the area. You are only trying to locate turkeys at this point, not developing a game plan yet. However, you must be aware of your presence. You do not want to pressure the birds before you actually get to hunt them. When you start listening, stay on the edges of the property and cross-reference those turkey sounds with aerial and topographic maps to determine their probable locations. It is important to understand that turkeys will congregate into large groups this time of year, and you may or may not be able to hear them. Until they begin separating into smaller flocks, you may completely overlook a group of silent turkeys.
The week prior to opening day begins the transition from locating to strategizing. Your scouting efforts during this time should be geared towards finding the turkeys that continue gobbling after flying down from the roost. These are the toms that are usually still looking for a receptive hen, which makes them the most vulnerable. Once you locate these turkeys, make a few return trips to determine whether or not that area is their home or if they were simply wandering through the area. These findings will dictate your next actions. You either plan to hunt these birds, or you go back to the drawing board. If they are frequenting the area, it comes down to your knowledge of the property to finalize your approach.
Just like deer, turkey activity can be patterned. By locating feeding and roosting areas, you can establish ambush points between them. Turkey movement, as with other game animals, can also be dictated by natural funnels. These areas force your quarry to travel a particular pathway and opens promising avenues to connect with your prey. A good set of maps, coupled with modern technology, can point you in the direction of success.
This pre-season scouting strategy may seem overkill to some, but I have confidence in this method, and I am certain it will increase my chances of success when the season opens. I want to emphasize the importance of minimizing the pressure you place on your hunting property while listening for turkeys. You create less risk by staying on the edges. If you run all around your property trying to hear a turkey gobble, you risk spooking the birds and chasing them off of your property. I do not want the turkeys to know I even exist, until my shotgun discharges on opening day.