Monday, February 28, 2011

Turkey Hunting/Scouting

     With turkey season less than 45 days away, it's definitely time to think about scouting. If you're like me, you've been thinking about turkey hunting since the last day of the waterfowl season. Getting your gear ready, checking it out, practicing your calling, buying new calls and gear, loading your vest, watching videos and tv shows. Don't wait until the day before the opener to start scouting! Those same areas you saw turkeys last year is a good place to start but things change so don't bet they'll be there again this year. I like to narrow my focus to where they'll probably be and not where I thought they should be. This is less true if you're hunting private land and the turkeys have been fed there all winter or of course if you're hunting with an outfitter that will do all the scouting for you.
     In the northwest, the areas we like to hunt are still covered with the cold wet white stuff but the southern faces of the hills are starting to get an occassional greening when the sun is out very long. Guess what, as expected, the turkeys are out in force feeding on the new geenery and following the snow line up! This time of year you can expect the hens to still be hanging out together and the toms are alone or in their bachelor groups (see photos by Judy Fritz). Occasionally warming up their vocals with some earth pounding gobbles! We hunt a lot of public land, national forests etc. and scouting is part of the hunt. Its always good to get out and see where these turkeys have been spending the winter, which is usually around the ranches and farms and then try and locate some public land above them or try and get permission to hunt some private ground. Some landowners are getting a little frustrated with the amount of turkeys that they have tearing up there farms and eating all their feed and you may find some that are willing to give permission. As always, be polite and courteous and treat their land as if it were your own property.
    Now that you've scouted early and have somewhat figured out the routes that they will or should be traveling and the opening day has gotten closer, narrow your scouting to those areas. While scouting, notice where the hens are feeding, don't use calls, no reason to educate the toms of your calling abilities earlier than you need to and most importantly, look for sign, fresh droppings, scratching areas, and dusting areas and roosting areas. Know where the hens are traveling and the toms will soon be following. The closer it gets to the opener, the less time you want to spend in the woods, but if you've been patterning them all along, you may not need to be scouting too much now. You've probably figured out a few good places to set up and know some of the traveling routes they use on a daily basis, maybe even a roosting tree. If you have game cams that you've used for deer hunting, go ahead to set those out too. We've set cams out on public land without any problems yet, but remember, you'll always be taking a chance of losing one or getting one vandalized. While most of us wouldn't think of disturbing, vandalizing or stealing the cams we've seen while hunting, there are those few that wouldn't feel guity of doing so.
     So if you have some time between now and the opener, what better way to spend it than getting out into the areas you hunt and hike around with a good pair of binoculars and maybe a gps and learn some new places to ambush or call in that longbeard on the opener!
    Please feel free to add any ideas or thoughts you have or that have worked for you concerning scouting for turkeys. In the weeks ahead, we'll be talking about calling and hunting for turkeys and will be blogging from our trips afield during the season.

Good luck scouting!