By T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors
Two of the main factors contributing
to poor hunter success are not being familiar with
the property, and not observing the game to understand
it, and help locate and pattern it. The more time
and effort you spend on the property, getting to know
the land and observing the animals, the more you will
learn, and the better hunter you will be. There are
no shortcuts to knowledge; the best teacher is experience.
Choosing A Hunting Area
To be successful as a hunter you need to find areas
that offer a sufficient number of animals to hunt;
areas with high success rates; or areas where trophies
are known to occur, or have come from, in the past.
If you are interested in a particular species or subspecies
you need to find the areas where it occurs. Once you
have determined the general area you wish to hunt,
a state for instance, the next step is to determine
the county or unit to hunt, then the property, and
finally you will want to locate the best places to
hunt for the animal on the property.
The first part of locating game, determining the right
area to hunt, is what I call research. The second
part, the actual location, consists of understanding
the animal, and personal experience in knowing the
areas to look for the animals or signs of them. I
refer to this as scouting. All of these "keys;"
research, understanding, personal experience and scouting
are necessary to successfully locate the animal and
their "high use areas. Without all four "keys"
locating is difficult, if not frustrating.
The act of locating game animals consists of two primary
techniques, scouting and observing. The more time
and effort you spend scouting and observing the animals,
and recording what you have seen, the less time you
will have to be spend patterning and hunting. Once
you know where the animals are through scouting; and
knowing the sex, size, and time to expect them in
certain areas (based on observing and recording in
a journal and marking on a map), it's a matter of
determining the right spot at the right time to hunt.
While you are scouting, looking for sign, you should
also learn the land. You want to know where the food
sources are, and what time of the year they are used.
You should also look for the roosting areas, watering
sites, breeding areas and travel routes.
When you are scouting for turkeys you want to know
where the ravines, gullies, streams and fences are;
obstacles that a turkey will detour around or maybe
not cross. If you know where the openings and fields
are you will be able to choose the best places to
set up, and you will be able to estimate how long
it will take a bird to come to your call. You also
want to know the topography, the elevation of hills
and valleys, so you know if the birds are above or
below you. When you are calling try to be above the
bird. Turkeys prefer to come uphill to a call rather
You should know the land as thoroughly as the animals
do, so you know where to find them under the current
conditions and time of year. If you know the land,
you will know where the birds when you hear but can't
see them. If you see them you will know the route
either you or the birds will travel, and approximately
how long it will take. But, you won't know the number
of birds, their size and sex, interesting characteristics,
or when they use specific areas, unless you observe
One of the best ways to understand an animal is to
observe it under natural conditions. The only way
to know the numbers, size, sex, characteristics, and
the time to expect the animals in particular locations
is by spending some time and effort observing them.
Scouting is learning the land and finding areas used
frequently by the animals. Observing is watching,
undetected, to learn more about the animals and have
a better understanding of them. Observing is not accidentally
running into or spooking animals.
An observation site should be a high point with a
good view of much of the land, far enough away that
you will not disturb the animals during their normal
routine. A tree stand at the edge of field, or a hill,
is a good site. By choosing the right spot to watch
from you are able to see how the animals react to
weather, light, hunting pressure, and other predators.
You may also have a chance to hear the animals calling
and see the body posture and movement associated with
While you are scouting and observing you should also
put your findings in a journal. Mark the places where
you see the animals on a map, and mark the trails,
resting, feeding, breeding and watering areas The
more information you keep in a journal, and the more
information you have on your map, the easier it will
be to understand the animals and pattern them. Keep
notes on date, day, time, sky conditions (amount of
light), wind direction and speed, temperature, dewpoint,
wind-chill, precipitation breeding phase, food availability,
number of animals, sex, direction of travel, activity,
size and any other factors that might help you better
understand the animals.
While observing the animals you may be able to determine
regular travel routes and times they use, which will
help you pattern the animals and make it easier to
choose the right time and place to hunt them. Patterning
cannot be done in a few hours, it may take days or
even weeks. The more time and effort you spend observing
the animals, the clearer the pattern will become,
and the more you will learn and understand the animals.
High Use Areas
To locate turkeys you need a good topographical map
of the area, or a good aerial photo. These visual
aids will help determine where the "high use
areas" of security cover, roosting sites, water,
food, strutting, and travel areas are before you are
even on the property. Then it's time to get on the
property and scout for sign left by turkeys. Two prime
areas you want to locate are the food sources, which
often serve as strutting areas, and the roosting sites.
These are the areas where turkeys spend a majority
of their time and leave the most sign. They are also
the areas where turkeys are the most predictable,
where you have the best chance of ambushing or getting
them to come to you. Find these areas and you will
find the birds.
While you are scouting look for tracks, particularly
tracks in the 2 1/4 inch and larger range, with a
deep or clear imprint of the middle toe with the scales
showing. This indicates a large heavy bird, usually
a tom. Tracks can be found along trails, in feeding
and strutting areas (where wing drag marks may also
occur), near roosting sites, and near wet areas.
Droppings are frequent in high use areas of trails,
feeding, watering, strutting and roosting sites, and
can tell you if a tom is in the area. Large straight
or "J" shaped droppings are those of a tom.
Bulbous or spiral droppings are those of a hen. Piles
of droppings under large trees are a good indication
of a roosting site.
Feathers are often found along trails, under roosts,
in feeding areas and in or near dusting bowls (small
depressions in the dirt) where the birds cover themselves
with dust to help eliminate pests. Breast feathers
with square black tips are those of toms, while rounded
brown tipped feathers are those of a hen. Light tipped
tail and rump feathers are those of a jake or tom.
Scratching is another sign of turkey use. Scratches
appear as claw marks in the dirt, or large torn up
areas in grass or leaves. When a turkey scratches
it uses each foot several times, leaving a "V"
pattern, with the point of the "V" showing
the way the bird was facing. Turkeys scratch when
they are searching for left over seeds and acorns,
or new succulent green growth and insects. A sure
sign of a turkey feeding area is torn up leaf litter
with exposed forbes bitten off.
Once you have found the high use areas it's a matter
of more time and effort observing the birds to determine
if there are toms or jakes, how many birds there are,
the size of the birds, length or number of beards,
and other interesting features. Observing on a regular
basis will help you determine when the birds fly down,
which direction they go, the route they take, where
they feed, and where they go to strut, water and roost.
You need to record all this information in your journal
and mark it on a map (which will help you pattern
the birds), so you know where and when to hunt.
If you are interested in more turkey
hunting tips, or more turkey biology and behavior,
click on Trinity Mountain Outdoor News and T.R.'s
Hunting Tips at www.TRMichels.com. If you have questions
about turkeys log on to the T.R.'s Tips message board.
To find out when peak turkey gobbling can be expected
in your area, click on Peak Turkey Gobbling Dates.
This article is an excerpt from the
Turkey Addict's Manual ($14.95 + $5.00 S&H), by
T.R. Michels, available in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor
T.R. Michels is a nationally recognized
game researcher/wildlife behaviorist, outdoor writer
and speaker. He is the author of the Whitetail, Elk,
Duck & Goose, and Turkey Addict's Manuals. His
latest products are the 2003 Revised Edition of the
Whitetail Addict's Manual, the 2003 Revised Edition
of the Elk Addict's Manual; and the 2003 Revised Edition
of the Duck & Goose Addict's Manual. For a catalog
of books and other hunting products contact: T.R.
Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors, PO Box 284, Wanamingo,
MN 55983, USA. Phone: 507-824-3296, E-mail: TRMichels@yahoo.com,
Web Site: www.TRMichels.com