As spring openers beckon, most turkey hunters practice calling, sight in their guns and ready their camo. One task is more important than all others, though: learning the whereabouts and habits of turkeys where you hunt.
This process should start weeks before the season. If you plan to hunt new or unfamiliar ground, learn everything you can about the layout, terrain and foliage. Study aerial photographs and topographic maps. Walk the land, and take mental notes of fences, creeks, marshes, draws, ridges, buildings, agricultural fields, timber stands and property boundaries.
As spring nears and winter flocks of turkeys begin to break up, begin your scouting in earnest. Take an outside-in approach by glassing fields and open timber from roads or high points. Sit at high ridge tops or the edges of timber to listen for roost-gobbling. Make frequent trips, and note how gobblers seem to be dispersing across the landscape. Talk to landowners, mail carriers, truck drivers and other hunters to learn where they encounter turkeys. Their observations might provide a missing link you haven’t discovered.
After you get a good sense of what’s happening, put boots on the ground to learn the details. Listen for early-morning gobbling, and try to pinpoint roosting areas. Observe potential feeding and strutting areas, such as meadows, food plots, open benches or crop fields. Watch how birds travel to and from roosts to feeding areas. Note how turkeys react to various weather conditions, including bright high-pressure mornings and rainy, windy days.
Turkeys won’t always be talkative or visible, so search for other clues. Tracks, droppings and strut marks can reveal travel, loafing or feeding areas. Droppings and feathers — especially primary wing feathers — near suitable trees might reveal roosts. Dusting areas can be hidden gems, as turkeys visit these frequently during the day. As you find sign, look around for potential set-up spots or ambush sites. A hot field edge might be the perfect place for a pop-up blind. A cattle-gate crossing with a large burr oak nearby provides a dandy setup.
Disturb your hunting area as little as possible while you scout. Always listen and glass ahead of you, and move carefully to avoid bumping birds. Use locator calls if you wish, but don’t run turkey calls. The turkey talk itself won’t scare gobblers, but you don’t want to risk accidentally yelping in a bird and spooking it.
In the days before the opener, take stock of all your information and plot strategy. Identify the best spots for fly-down hunts. Note places to intercept birds as they eat or travel. And plot out good plan B spots where you can cold-call or walk and call during quiet late mornings.
One caveat: No matter how well you scout and prepare, turkeys will throw you curves, even opening day. That’s OK. Apply the knowledge you’ve gained and adapt your approach. You can never learn too much about the land and turkeys you’re hunting. Not knowing enough, however, can leave you shaking your head while holding an unfilled tag.