By T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors
As with all other hunting, the best strategy
in turkey hunting is to be in the right place at the
right time. The number one key to successful hunting
is "location, location, location." 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 learned, the
less time you will have to be spend patterning and hunting
the animals. Once you know where the animals are through
scouting; and know 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 to hunt at the right time.
When you are scouting for turkeys
you should learn the lay of the land. You want to
know where the ravines, gullies, streams and fences
are; obstacles that a turkey may detour around or
may not cross. You also want to know the topography
of the land; the elevation of hills and valleys, so
you know if the birds are above or below you when
you hear them. When you are calling turkeys try to
be above the birds; turkeys prefer to come uphill
to a call rather than down.
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 of the birds.
If you know where the openings and feeding areas 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 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 are
when you hear them, even if you can't see them. If
you see them you will know the route either you or
the birds will probably travel, and approximately
how long it will take for you or them to get to specific
areas. But, you won't know the number of birds, their
size and sex, interesting characteristics, or when
they use specific areas unless you observe them.
One of the best ways to understand
an animal is to observe it under natural conditions.
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. 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.
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 the call.
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 it is helpful to
have 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.
Don't Scout Too Early
The dates of the turkey season where
you plan to hunt, and the dates you actually plan
to hunt, dictate why and when you scout. If your reason
for scouting is to learn more about turkeys (to understand
them), or more about the numbers, sex and physical
characteristics of the birds (their size, beard length/number,
body color), you can scout anytime of the year. But,
if your reason for scouting is to pattern the birds
in preparation for a hunt, you should plan on a final
scouting session not more than a week before the hunt.
The reason I say this is because
turkeys often migrate from winter to spring home ranges,
and this migration may occur just before or during
your hunt. If you scout too far in advance of your
hunt, and locate the birds on their winter range,
and then hunt after they have moved to their spring
home range, you may find fewer birds in the area than
you expected, or no birds at all.
When there is a late spring I've
watched turkeys migrate as late as the last week of
April in southern Minnesota. I've also watched turkeys
leave their wintering area, and then return to their
wintering grounds a couple of days later if conditions
weren't right on their spring home ranges. If the
birds aren't where you expect to find them during
your hunt when you hunt, the best thing to do is spend
the first few days of the hunt scouting to find out
where they went.
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 products contact: T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain
Outdoors, PO Box 284, Wanamingo, MN 55983, USA.