Turkey Hunting: Scouting Early Equals Opening Day Success
Very few hunting sports have grown as quickly as turkey hunting has in the last few decades. When I started turkey hunting, tagging a longbeard wasn't as difficult as it is today. Toms used to come running every time I let loose on my favorite box call. If I made a mistake or two on a tom, most of the time he could be called right back into shotgun range. Gaining permission to hunt was a piece of cake. Most farmers didn't hunt turkeys and really did not care if hunters shot them or not. Gone are the days when harvesting a tom was as simple as stepping off the back porch.
Now, almost every hunter I know is a turkey hunter. It is great that so many hunters have decided to take up the sport, but there is one problem. Birds that get hunted hard quickly decide to close their mouths and head for the hills. In recent years, I scouted birds, located their roost trees, and watched them fly up multiple days in a row. I left the woods a few days before the season started smiling from ear to ear knowing that in a few days, I would leave the woods with a heavy gobbler draped over my shoulder. When I showed up a couple days later, I ran into a truck parked in my favorite place. I heard a seductive hen talking right where I planned on hunting. My ace in the hole quickly disappeared. The question is: now what?
After this happened to me more times than I care to count, I decided to come up with a few back-up plans in case I encounter another hunter. Now I have a simple routine I go through to ensure there are always a few birds for me to chase.
Scout Early in the Year
First and foremost, when developing a back-up plan, you should begin scouting as early in the year as possible. The earlier you start scouting the more time you have to find a few different places to hunt. I live in Michigan and even though we experience snow on the ground during March, I usually start scouting then. While most hunters are still ice fishing or watching television, I begin knocking on doors trying to gain permission to hunt private property. I head to my favorite hotspots on public ground and locate as many flocks as possible. Even when I have one or two great spots lined up and I want to go home to relax, I try to locate two or three other places. Sometimes they are suburbia birds. Other times they are birds that may require a serious hike to reach. Either way, multiple game plans provide me with options if somebody else tags the bird I was hoping for or spooks a whole flock into the next county.
Successful hunters like this one create their own luck by spending
countless hours scouting before the season opens.
Put Some Miles on Your Car
Since there are only 24 hours in a day, locating a toms' roosting tree is not always possible. Therefore, once I have located a roost tree or two, I start driving country roads looking for other flocks. If I locate a flock in a field where I can hunt or if I notice a tom crossing the road on public land, I write down the place and time in a notebook or mentally store it away. Knowing what time of day birds are using different areas is helpful. If my morning spot doesn't come together like I want it to, I can head to my second spot where I saw a tom strutting at 10 a.m. Turkeys usually stick to a pattern unless they have been hunted hard. If you can figure out the pattern, birds are easier to find in midmorning. If the season where you live doesn't close until late afternoon, you can locate afternoon hotspots as well. In the past, I had multiple places on the back burner and hopped from one spot to the next until I found a hot bird.
Ask the Mail Carrier
When I don't have much time, there are a few things I do to locate birds that I otherwise wouldn't have time to find before the season opens. I ask the mail carrier in the area if they have been seeing many birds. If they say yes, I ask them where and when. Since mail carriers often do the same route every day, they quickly catch on to the routine of local flocks. They will often tell me, "Yeah, I see a flock cross the street here every day at noon." That type of information is priceless. School bus drivers can also offer a wealth of knowledge. They run the same routes daily and are able to pick up patterns.
Purchase a Scouting Camera
Scouting cameras provide another option. In recent years, people started planting good plots for wildlife. Most people who plant plots enjoy using a scouting camera to see the big bucks that are using the plot. I enjoy using a scouting camera in the spring over plots to pattern gobblers. Toms love to strut around in food plots. A camera provides you with a photo. Most cameras will tell you what time the photo was taken. This tells you what time of day to be sitting on the plot.
Using a scouting camera to figure out a gobbler's daily schedule
is a great way to increase your chances of bagging a bird.
Know Your Hunting Area Like the Back of Your Hand
In the spring of 2006, I took three friends turkey hunting over a three day weekend. I knew the chances of filling three tags in a heavily hunted area in a few days would be tough. However, over the years I had located numerous places to hunt in this area. I had several back-up plans. To make a long story short, we filled all three tags during the first day of hunting. After harvesting a tom in the morning, we headed to a spot where I knew toms frequented in the afternoon. When the last two guns barked, taking a double, it was just after 12:00 p.m. Am I an extraordinary caller? No. Am I an extraordinary hunter? No. I am a person who enjoys doing the pre-scouting detective work. I enjoy finding where lots of birds hang out and figuring out exactly what time of day they are at certain locations.
All three of these hunters tagged their birds because I knew the area
and the routine of the birds extremely well.
Even when I learn the pattern of a certain tom or flock, harvesting him can be tough. Over the years, knowing the general location where a tom roosts, struts, and feeds at certain times of the day has enabled me to increase my success rate of bagging a longbeard. You don't always need to know exactly where a tom is, but if you know the general area hopefully when you go to the area where he hangs out, he will respond.
Having a few different places to hunt on opening day can greatly increase your chances for success. To locate multiple flocks, you will have to scout earlier in the year than most hunters are willing to. You might have to put more miles on your car than most hunters. However, when the turkey season is nothing but a distant memory, you will probably be one of the few guys with a filled tag because while other hunters were sitting in a warm house on the couch, you were scouting and locating gobblers. While they are crying in their soup after a long, hard season, you will be asking your friends, "Would you like a drumstick or breast meat?"
Tracy Breen is a full-time outdoor writer who writes for fifty different publications all over the United States including Outdoor Life, Buckmasters, Bowhunting World and Heartland USA, to name a few. He is also the Editor of God’s Great Outdoors E-zine. He lives in Muskegon, Michigan with his wife Angie and son Thane. Tracy has cerebral palsy and often writes and speaks about overcoming physical challenges to enjoy the outdoors. Learn more about Tracy and his many hunting adventures at tracybreen.com.