Turkey Scouting Tips and Turkey Sign Mapping
Though most hunters will tell you about the importance of deer scouting, very few hunters will take the time to go turkey scouting. For whatever reason, it is just not as common or utilized as often. However, like shed hunting, it is important that you leave no stone unturned when it comes to scouting for turkeys. You should thoroughly cover a potential hunting property if you would like to get a clear idea of the habitat present and notice any potential turkey sign. But there are certain rules and specific turkey sign to look for that is essential for turkey scouting. Ignoring them could spook the local birds and actually hurt your chances at harvesting one once the season opens. Here are several guidelines you should use and turkey signs you should look for while out in the turkey woods this spring
PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Alone, turkey scouting individual turkey sign seems pointless, but once mapped out, a very clear hunting strategy can develop.
When to Scout Turkeys
When to scout is always a critical question, regardless of what species you’re hunting. If you go too soon, you might do more harm than good. For one, turkeys have a very different social structure and habitat needs in the late winter than they do in the breeding season. For example, mature toms tend to coexist in groups in the winter, which certainly is not the case once turkey season opens up. Therefore, any turkeys you do observe are not likely to be the ones that will be there in the spring. Second, you could actually educate birds by spooking them too early or too often, which will negatively affect your hunting odds on opening day. For the best turkey scouting results, try going out no more than a week before your first sit and be very stealthy about it, ensuring that you’re not educating them. Turkey scouting can occur the day before you actually hunt, roosting birds the night before. This is easily the most popular form of scouting before a hunt takes places, but only proves effective if completed without busting the birds which brings us to our next topic…
PHOTO DESCRIPTION: Turkey scouting is risky business, to early and the results may prove useless, however, roosting birds the night before may end in busted or cautious turkeys. Try roosting from afar, eliminating the chance to ruin your hunt.
How to Scout for Turkey
Since bumping into lots of turkeys and giving them second thoughts about being on your property is generally a bad thing while turkey scouting, being stealthy is very important. If you have a farm or property with lots of open fields that are easily viewed from public roadways, farm trails, or elevated positions, grab a spotting scope or some good binoculars and start glassing. Wild turkey scouting from afar is one of the best ways to ensure you do not spook them before hunting season even starts. Of course nothing can beat utilizing tools and getting feet on the ground looking for turkey sign.
Turkey Sign to Map
One of the best things to know and map when it comes to turkey scouting is roosting trees. Take note of potential turkey roost sites by scanning tree canopies near dusk. Record which direction the turkeys usually move after flying down to feed. Of course, this approach does not work very well for heavily wooded properties or areas with lots of topographic relief.
PHOTO DESCRIPTION: One of the best things to know and map when it comes to turkey scouting is roosting trees. Most hunting strategy is based on turkey roost sites and direction of travel from the tree once they fly down.
A great way to effectively scout turkeys and still be stealthy in these scenarios is to place a trail camera on various openings on your property – a food plot, agricultural field edge, trail, or small meadow are all great places to hang trail cameras for pre-season turkey scouting. They’re inconspicuous, can monitor how and when turkeys use your property, and show you interesting insights about when they’re breeding, all of which are really important clues for turkey hunting. Try to set out your trail cameras in the late winter or early spring before turkey season and then come back to retrieve the chips several days before opening day. When you grab the chips, you can also continue some boots-on-the-ground scouting efforts using scouting maps.
PHOTO DESCRIPTION: A great way to effectively scout turkeys and still be stealthy is to place a trail camera on various openings on your property – a food plot, agricultural field edge, trail, or small meadow are all great places to hang trail cameras for pre-season turkey scouting.
If you’re wondering how to find turkeys on public land, this will be about the only tactic available to you. As you walk along, try to be as quiet as you can be. This is not the time to start calling turkeys in either. Calling in the pre-season is likely to only educate birds to your hunting tactics, which may make them harder to hunt once the season opens. Treat this as a reconnaissance trip only and resist the temptation to call back to a gobbling tom.
Keep your eyes open for turkey signs in the woods, including turkey scratching, wild turkey tracks, and turkey droppings. Turkeys will scratch the leaves away from the ground to expose seeds, acorns, plant shoots, and early insects, and it is obvious when several have been feeding and scratching in an area.
Turkey tracks tell you that birds have been there, but it is not a really useful sign unless you see lots of them, which would indicate either a large flock (likely in the winter but unlikely in the spring) or repeated usage over several days. Toms tend to leave a J-shaped scat that fades from brown to white on the end, which can be a useful sign to look for. Other possible sign you might see while turkey scouting include feathers or dust bowls. You will typically find flight or tail feathers near roost trees or fly down areas, and dust bowls can be situated anywhere along their path really.
PHOTO DESCRIPTION: HuntStand can easily be integrated into your turkey scouting efforts. Starting at roost trees (evidenced by lots of scat and feathers), connect a line (the turkeys’ travel route) to potential feeding areas where you noticed a lot of tracks and scratching (indicated here by a yellow line). This will then reveal areas where you can intercept the toms on their way to where they spend time, as well as how to access the place you setup your turkey decoys and hunting blind (orange hunter access line).
Using the HuntStand app, you can quickly mark these various features down while you’re walking along. It might seem silly recording every little sign you see, but it can actually help you see a bigger picture when you zoom out and look at the sum of observations. It might reveal some spring turkey patterns you had not noticed before. When you get back home, study your map of observations and try to trace a logical path connecting the various signs. Starting at roost trees (evidenced by lots of scat and feathers), connect a line to potential feeding areas where you noticed a lot of tracks and scratching (indicated here by a yellow line). This will then reveal areas where you can intercept the toms on their way to where they spend time, as well as how to access the place you setup your turkey decoys and hunting blind (orange hunter access line).
If you use these turkey scouting tips to prepare for this spring turkey hunting season, you will be that much more ahead of the game. Finding out where they typically loaf, strut, feed, and roost will help you decide on the best locations to set up your decoys and hunting blind. Or at the very least, it will give you a general idea of their habits so you can do a little running and gunning. The next step is for you to apply some turkey hunting strategies to be successful on opening day.