Now is the time to scout as often as possible
Up until now most preseason turkey scouting has served more as a cure for cabin fever than knowing where gobblers will be and what they will be doing when the Youth Turkey Hunt sponsored by the Pennsylvania Game Commission is held, Saturday, April 20, and the statewide season begins a week later.
Now, however, in a take on the long-running election gag of vote early and vote often, is when those serious about hunting spring gobblers should begin to scout early and scout as often as possible.
Pennsylvania native Matt Morrett, who has hunted all four United States turkey subspecies successfully for the “Avian X” outdoors television series as a pro staffer for Mossy Oak, Zink Calls and Avian X decoys, credits serious scouting as the key to filling tags on-camera and when hunting at home with friends and family.
“No matter what subspecies we hunt our scouting begins early and is done as often as possible right up until the start of the season,” Morrett said. “Hunting spring gobblers is as much about anticipation as the thrill that comes from a hunt.
“In the weeks leading up to the opening of the season put the pieces of the puzzle together spending as much time as possible scouting by walking game trails, the edges of pastures, ridge tops and river bottoms. Move slowly and take notes to piece together and reference daily turkey movements by studying their habitat for sign.
“Turkey sign is identifiable by leaves scratched away to expose leftover mast such as acorns before insects appear, droppings, dusting bowls and strutting zones. When tracks are found understand that mature gobblers and jakes leave big-footed examples, but a hen’s middle toe is shorter, so if the middle toe is two inches or longer chances are the track was made by a gobbler.”
Multiple tracks in various directions are a sure indication that the location has a sizeable turkey presence and droppings are an even better indication of turkeys in the area. Gobbler droppings are J-shaped, hen droppings are puddle-shaped, and if the white uric acid on the droppings is moist it means they are fresh, but the ideal scenario is finding a combination of fresh and dry droppings, which indicates an area of major activity.
Turkeys lose feathers when dusting and strutting, with the breast feathers from gobblers being black-tipped and those from hen are brown-tipped. If the feathers are firm it is an indication they are relatively fresh and have not been exposed to rain.
Intense scouting as the season approaches is important because birds that may have been located in mid-March or earlier have likely dispersed. Scratchings indicate where turkeys have fed, dusting bowls are usually used late in the morning or early in the afternoon and strut zones, which are the most difficult to locate, are created by gobblers dragging their wing tips in the ground.
If strutting is being done in fields it is a bit easier to find the parallel drag lines of a strutting gobbler. Strut zones in grassy fields are more difficult to find until later in the season when constant use often wears a path through the grass.
“When scouting for Eastern gobblers I look for what I call greened-up areas along mountain bottoms and farmland that rolls into hills — especially south or east slopes — are typically the places that green up first,” Morrett said. “Hens will nest near fields, gobblers will follow and you can locate them according to the sign that’s found.
“Turkeys go there from their roosts every day, so finding food and water near roosting areas, either natural or manmade, is his key to scouting. In short, the three factors to finding preseason gobblers are food — which varies by season and geography — water and roosting areas.
“Once turkey sign has been found I use locator calls because the loud sounds they produce often entice shock gobbles from gobblers. For Easterns I use a barred owl hoot or crow call, and when I can get a gobbler’s attention with a crow call I will use it to work that bird when the season starts,” he said.
Morrett said there are times when he will use a gobble tube sparingly in the preseason, but stops using all locator calls once he has found birds in an area. Continued use only fires-up gobblers and attracts hens — and often other hunters — to the area.
“At my seminars I tell people to scout year-round because the more they know about turkeys in their area the better,” Morrett said. “As the season approaches concentrate scouting to pinpoint the location of birds and the best way to increase the chances of filling a tag is to locate multiple birds.”
Scouting early is a great way to spend time during the closing weeks of winter in the woods. Once spring arrives, however, scouting often is the key to success.
Doyle Dietz is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association.