By T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors
It was a cold February morning when
I left the house about an hour after sunrise. The
temperature was 15 degrees, the wind chill was 5 degrees,
the wind was from the northwest and the sky was clear.
It wasn't the best of days to go scouting, but it
was warmer than it had been in several days. I hoped
the warmer weather would cause the deer and turkeys
to come out and feed. As I drove down the gravel road
a half mile from the house I noticed turkeys feeding
in the snow covered soybean field on the south side
of an oak woods. That woods was a traditional wintering
area for many of the turkeys within a two-mile area.
I pulled the truck over to the side
of the road, grabbed my Simmons 7x35 binoculars, and
checked out the birds. There wasn't a tom in the bunch,
but there were 42 hens. I watched the birds feeding
for the next half-hour, checking the edge of the woods
every few minutes for deer and more turkeys. When
no other birds appeared I started up the truck and
drove around to east side of the woods. As I approached
an old sandstone foundation I saw more turkeys. I
slowed the truck to look. Thirteen longbearded toms
were digging through the snow where the combine had
dumped a pile of soybeans. I snapped a couple of pictures
with my Canon Sure Shot and watched the toms feed
for about ten minutes then left. I still had a couple
of other places I wanted to check out.
I drove to a tar road, hung a left
up a winding road, and eventually topped out on a
cornfield surrounded on two sides by oaks. I scanned
the area carefully, but there wasn't a turkey or a
deer in sight. I headed back down the road, drove
another half mile north and turned east. As I topped
out on another hill I looked to my left. There was
a large flock of turkeys feeding on a silage pile
not more than 100 yards from a farmhouse. I quickly
counted: 56 hens. Not wanting to waste time I continued
up the road to the top of the hill and hung a left.
As I started down the other side of the hill I looked
east and saw more birds and several deer feeding in
a snow covered pasture. There were 5 does and fawns,
and 17 jakes and toms. As I watched the birds something
up ahead caught my eye.
A quarter of a mile in front of the
truck several more turkeys crossed the road, heading
into a cornfield where the farmer had spread manure.
I drove the truck slowly forward and parked near the
corn field, the turkeys not more than thirty yards
from the truck. There were 22 hens, 2 jakes, and 3
toms, one of them with a double bird. It was only
the second multiple bearded tom I had seen in the
wild, the first was a triple bearded Merriam's turkey
I had seen on the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge
near Valentine, Nebraska. I tried to snap a picture
of the bird, but I knew it was too far away for my
Canon Sure Shot. But, at least I had seen a double
bearded tom; and I knew there were over 100 turkeys
within three miles of home, several of them on land
that I hunted. It looked like it would be a good turkey
season in the spring.
Winter is a great time to scout for
turkeys, because the birds are very visible in open
meadows and picked agricultural fields, especially
if there is snow on the ground. The easiest way to
locate turkeys in the winter is to drive down the
country roads at daylight. Even in winter turkeys
will often fly down from the roost and move to feeding
areas early in the morning. I have seen turkeys feeding
from as early as 20 minutes before sunrise to as late
as four hours after sunrise in early February. You
may only see hens at first, but where there's food
and hens, there will eventually be jakes and toms.
Although the birds may not be in the
same area in the winter as they are in the spring,
they are much easier to locate in the winter than
at any other time of the year. Cold weather and deep
snow cause the birds to move to south facing slopes,
the down-wind side of ridges, and low-lying areas
where they can get out of the wind, and where travel
is easier because the snow isn't as deep. Limited
food sources cause the birds to concentrate on remaining
natural foods; agricultural crops, fields where manure
has been spread, feed lots, silage piles, and corncribs.
Don't be surprised if you see turkeys near farms and
human activity. I've got one flock that feeds under
a bird feeder within ten yards of a house. Another
flock feeds in the cow pasture fifty yards from a
milking parlor. I've even seen turkeys fly up to feed
in an uncovered corncrib within fifty yards of a farmhouse,
with a dog in the back yard.
Once you locate turkey-feeding areas
check them as often as you can, both morning and evening.
I often see toms feeding earlier or later in the day
than the hens. The more often you check the area,
the more you will know about the birds. After you
locate a wintering flock of turkeys it's fairly easy
to follow their movements through late winter and
After the weather warms up and new
plant growth appears, the birds will start to move
out of the wintering area. During my research in I
found that when the average weekly temperature gets
above freezing, the flocks begin to breakup, they
begin to move to their spring/summer range and the
toms begin gobbling. Once this happens you should
watch the birds as often as you can, so that you know
where to find them during the hunting season.
If you lose track of the birds between
winter and the breeding season, use a topographical
map to look for higher elevations, with adequate roost
areas, and nearby food sources within 1 to 5 miles
of the wintering site. Well-known turkey researcher
Dick Kimmel told me that a flock of radio collared
birds moved five miles in one day. He wasn't sure,
but he thought some of this movement might have been
due to flying and gliding from one ridge top to another.
Turkeys can't travel very far with any speed when
the snow depth is over about eight inches, unless
Once you locate likely roosting and
feeding areas you can drive the nearby roads listening
for gobbles on warm days. I've heard turkeys gobbling
regularly once the average weekly temperature rises
above freezing. Turkeys begin to gobble as early as
mid-March as far north as Minnesota.
If you want to be successful on turkeys
in the spring, winter is a good time to start.
This article is an excerpt from the
Turkey Addict's Manual, by T.R. Michels.
T.R. Michels is a nationally recognized
game researcher/wildlife behaviorist, and outdoor
writer and speaker, who has been studying game animals
for several years. He is the author of the Whitetail,
Elk, Duck & Goose, and Turkey Addict's
Manuals. His latest books are the 2002 Revised
Edition of the Whitetail Addict's Manual, the
2002 Revised Edition of the Elk Addict's Manual;
and the 2002 Revised Edition of the Duck &
Goose Addict's Manual.
For a catalog of books and other
hunting aids contact:
T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors,
PO Box 284, Wanamingo, MN 55983.