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Location, Location, Location

Scout your hunting grounds early to pick out prime hunting areas

-- by Rob Ramsdale --

Prime calling locations are very similar to prime real estate, location is the key and most of the best spots are very hard to come by. One of the most important keys to calling in gobblers is setting up in the right location. But what makes an area good for calling in a gobbler? The first rule of thumb for turkey hunters --  It's always easier to call a turkey into a location it wants to go anyway. Which means, if you know the area and habits of a gobbler well enough, you can setup in spots where he is comfortable and used to traveling through anyway, making your job of calling that much simpler.

But, how do you find those perfect calling locations? Here are some general scouting guidelines to help you find the right calling location.

Year-round Scouting

I scout year-round for turkeys while I am out hunting other game or just looking around the countryside. Everybody I know also help keep me informed since it's a well-known fact I'm a turkey hunting fanatic. I like to keep notes on the locations I see turkeys and what time of day I see them. This especially helps during the fall season when birds are very predictable but it can also be  helpful for the spring season.

If you find an area that has tons of turkeys using it during the winter, odds are those turkeys are not moving too far once spring gets here. The spring migration of turkeys will vary a lot depending on where you live and what types of turkeys you are dealing with. The western turkeys, Merriam's and Rio Grande,  will often travel up to 10 miles or more to get to preferred areas for spring or winter. The Easterns are generally using a much smaller range and have most of what they need for year-round survival in a smaller area of several square miles.

Pre-Season Scouting

Scouting 2 to 3 weeks before you hunt will help you find a general area that has good numbers of turkeys in the spring. Just because you saw a huge flock of gobblers using an area while deer hunting in the winter does not mean those birds will be there 4 months later in the spring. Turkeys do not necessarily use the same areas for both winter and spring and they often migrate from their winter habitat to their spring habitat right about when the season begins. Places that are completely void of turkeys one week, will be turkey heaven a week later.

In the winter, their minds are basically on finding high-energy food sources like acorns and agricultural crops and simply staying alive. In the spring, they are also looking for the food sources which are now changing to more insects and green matter and the hens are also looking for good nesting habitat. That's why it is important to do most of your scouting as close to the season as possible. When I am out doing early scouting, I like to think like a hen and look for good nesting areas that have open areas nearby where the hen can take here poults to feed.

Precision Scouting

If all has gone well, you now have a general area located and are trying to find key areas to increase your chances of success. Now is the time to begin looking for specific locations including roosts, strut zones, scratchings and dusting areas. All of these areas, and the travel routes in between, are good places for setting up to call in a gobbler. When you begin this phase of scouting, a good pair of binoculars and some good boots are a must since you are going to cover some ground. When you are out scouting, try to not disturb the turkeys since seeing you walking around might make them leave an area. Just be cautious, watch for turkeys and try to keep out of wide open spaces. Finding roosts and strut zones can often be done from a distance with binoculars.

Look for Black and White Barred Wingfeathers and Tail Feathers to Locate Roost Locations In the Spring
Favorite roosting locations vary according to where you live but generally turkeys like fairly tall, open trees with good horizontal branches they can easily stand on to roost. Birds have a unique physical feature which allows them to sleep in trees without falling out. When they squat down on their legs, their toes respond by closing up tightly, locking around the branch which allows them to sit in trees asleep at night without fear of falling off their perch.

Usually you won't find a turkey roosted very far from a water supply and if they can find a tree situated over running water, that is ideal. In any area, look first at the large trees with good horizontal branches near water. In my neck of the woods, that means large oaks and sycamores and further west, cottonwoods. If the terrain is hilly, try and find trees right below the ridge tops that are on the leeward side of the prevailing winds for that time of year. If they can, turkeys like to climb up above the roost on the ridge top and fly down to their roosting tree. They then will usually glide down below when they fly down in the morning. Many times the turkeys in my area will utilize large cedars or occasionally pines when available to further escape cold winter winds.

It is also possible to locate roosts by doing lots of walking through an area and looking for the large wing and tail feathers which often fall out when the turkey is flying up or down from the roost. You can also look for piles of droppings which can be quite large when a turkey uses a roost tree consistently. Droppings usually last until they are rained on which will also help you determine how long ago turkeys were in the area.

Perhaps the easiest and surest way to find roost trees is to get there either first thing in the morning or at sunset and listen for the birds flying up to roost or calling on the roost. Most people have heard of the term "roosting a bird" and this means you have been out that evening and found out, by owl calling or just listening, the tree a gobbler has roosted in.

Dusting Area - A great mid-day setup location

Dusting areas are harder to find but if you run across one they can be unbelievable good setup areas since turkeys routinely dust during the mid to late morning hours. Look for an open area with loose soil where the birds have scratched out a "bowl" of loose dirt they can sit in and kick dust over themselves. There are usually a lot of tracks, droppings and feathers nearby since they do spend quite a bit of time there during the middle of the day just loafing. Turkeys are really very clean animals and dusting keeps them free of mites, ticks and lice.

Another good area to scout for is the preferred feeding areas of the turkeys. Generally, the hens are the main ones actively feeding during the spring and the gobblers just do enough to get by. Look for open fields, grassy areas or mast areas that have lots of turkey tracks and scratchings. Turkeys will often scratch up an entire area if their is a lot of good mast available. Deer and squirrels also scratch around in the leaves so it pays to learn the difference in their scratchings. Turkeys will almost always pull the leaves to one side only. If it's a fresh scratching, there will also be scratch marks left from their toes. Squirrels will often just make a small circular hole in the leaves to get down to the acorns. Deer seem to just haphazardly clear a large area.

Strut Zones are difficult to find by just walking through an area unless you can consistently observe a gobbler strutting and gobbling in the same locations every day. If you don't actually see the bird strutting, you can sometimes find the strut marks left by the gobbler's wing tips. These will show up as two irregular scratch marks about a foot apart and several feet long that are often visible if the bird is strutting on bare ground or maybe a sandbar along the creek/river.

Probably the most important tool in scouting is your ears. Listen for gobbling birds, yelps etc. that tell you there are turkeys in the area. You won't often see turkeys while scouting since they probably see you first but you should always be able to hear them if they are in the area.

Also, during your precision scouting, make notes on a topographical map or an overhead satellite image of the property. Keep track of the roosts you find, any strut zones or dusting areas and the preferred feeding areas of the turkeys. Mark down all of the obstacles present on the property including creeks, fences, thick brush, steep hills or cliffs; anything that might keep a gobbler from coming into your setup.

The Internet is a great resource for turkey hunters. Especially if you are traveling to hunt a new location. If you can find the topographical maps and a matching satellite image of the land you are going to hunt, it is possible to "scout" a location fairly well before you actually see it in person.  There are a couple of  good spots on the Internet that provide topographical maps and overhead satellite photos for most areas of the country.

TerraServer - Topo Maps and Satellite Photos

TopoZone.com - Topographical Maps

Picking Your Tree

After doing some in-depth scouting, you now know a lot about the turkeys in the area such as where they roost; where some of the strut zones are; and where they like to feed. You now must pick a spot to hunt given the time of day since you already should know the general habits of the turkeys. For example, if you are hunting early morning, get to a location by the gobbler's roost in the general area he flies down to. Or you might pick instead, a favorite field or open area he heads to first thing to do his strutting and gobbling.

One of the most intriguing aspects of hunting gobblers is each turkey hunting situation is unique. But, if you scout well and learn the turkeys' habits, the odds will be further in your favor when hunting season comes along. Also, once you learn an area well, those favorite strut zones, roosts etc. will be used year after year as long as the habitat stays the same. I've consistently killed turkeys in the same strut zone area year after year. And, don't give up on an area once you kill a turkey there. Most often, another bird will move right in and use basically the same key locations as the previous gobbler. After awhile, these prime turkey locations will become more apparent to you even when you are hunting an unknown area.

Turkeys in the spring can be very  unpredictable but the point is, if you know the area and the turkey's habits well, setting up and calling one in can be made much easier.



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