Now’s the time for most productive gobbler scouting
For dyed-in-the-wool spring gobbler hunters, anytime is the right time to be in the turkey woods scouting for flocks. Right now, however, is the very best time for the most productive scouting, as in pinpointing the location of a gobbler and formulating a game plan.
Spring gobbler season in Pennsylvania gets underway this Saturday with the special youth day for those holding a junior license and those in the Mentored Youth Hunting Program when they may take one bearded bird from one half-hour before sunrise until noon. Then, a week later, comes the opening of the regular season, which continues through May 31.
From opening day through May 17, birds may be hunted from one half-hour before sunrise until noon, and from May 19 until the end of the season, hunting hours are one half-hour before sunrise until one half-hour after sunset. Hunters may take one bearded bird with their license, and a second bird may be taken by those with a special turkey permit.
As for scouting, other than locating where birds are, and in most cases where they were last year is where they will be this year, knowing what gobblers were doing in March – or even earlier this month – has no value as the season approaches. By now gobblers are no longer traveling with the flock and have split off on their own or in pairs as they prepare for the mating season.
Realistically, there is no need to begin patterning gobblers until 8 to 10 days before the opening of the season as turkey activity begins to get into a routine that will last through the end of the season and beyond. Even with this spring’s frigid weather, some birds will have completed their breeding ritual by the time the season opens, but gobblers and hens will continue to spend time together when leaving the roost.
Ideally, gobblers will sound off on the roost, continue to gobble when hitting the ground, go silent when off feeding or breeding and then fire back up in a few hours. This allows for formulating a plan to take a gobbler off the roost before it becomes “henned up” and coming up with a Plan B if unable to call a bird into shotgun range.
Even if a hen has laid eggs and is nesting she will often continue breeding activity after coming off the roost to feed. Other distractions that can keep a gobbler occupied during the first few hours of the morning include strutting to establish its dominance over satellite birds, impress its hens and sometimes beating up on intrusive jakes.
Under no circumstances should calling be done during preseason scouting because in spite of the pea-like size of a turkey’s brain this will quickly educate any gobbler in the area. Gobblers can identify the tone and rhythm of calling and will quickly associate the calling as a false alarm to be ignored.
Even if hunting land where flocks occupy year after year, it is a good idea to see if the physical landscape has changed since the previous spring or over the winter. Oftentimes storms may have caused trees to fall and disrupt a strutting area, or heavy rains may have caused a ditch to form that a bird refuses to cross when being called.
Because gobblers can be hunted all day the final two weeks of the season it is a good idea to do some drive-by afternoon scouting of fields when possible. This type of scouting requires a quality pair of binoculars because turkeys are more likely to be strutting in shaded areas along the edge of a field than in the open on hot, late afternoon hours.
Finally, never forget that seeing as well as hearing is believing so even when gobblers have become lock jawed a casual stroll will quickly reveal if a flock is in the area. Scratching in leaves, feathers in dusting areas and droppings are proof positive to the presence of birds.