We’re on the threshold of the spring gobbler season. Spring duties of yard cleanup, window washing, garage cleaning, garden planting, and other valid excuses might have kept you out of the woods, but the New York and Pennsylvania seasons are less than two weeks away.
You may not be one of those hunters who started in February. These early scouters looked for tracks in snow, checked trail cameras, searched for areas where turkeys feed, and listened for gobbles as sunlight increased by more than two minutes every day.
Other guys started driving the back roads in March and getting gobblers to respond to owl calls or other “shock” calls. Intensive early scouting in February and March doesn’t always translate to successful spring gobbler hunting. Why not? Because gobblers you find in February still have three months to change locations in search of willing hens, and by driving the back roads in March you locate the same gobblers other hunters hear.
If you didn’t scout in February and March, here’s the upside — the gobblers you find now are more likely to stay put until opening day. Here’s a three-step plan that will get you ready.
Pre-scout in one evening
Sometimes turkey hunting is a head-game, so start there. Think about where you have seen turkeys over the last year. Spring, summer, fall, winter, it doesn’t matter. Where have you killed them in the past? Make a list.
Mark all those locations on a map. Begin correlating them with other information. Recording the approximate date will help. Indicate how many turkeys you saw, and where they might find cover. You’re looking for resident turkeys. What they were doing? Were they following a manure spreader? Feasting on cut corn? Or on the move to parts unknown?
Relate those sightings to property ownership. Remember, turkeys can’t see property boundaries. If the birds are on a property you don’t have access to, don’t worry. They’ll probably use nearby properties too, so find out who owns properties in the area.
Knock on doors.
You’ll need several days for this step. You should have a list of a half dozen or more people to meet. Strive to visit at least three property owners in an evening, but don’t be rushed. Take your signals about how long to stay from the landowner. Be positive and smile. Offering an honest compliment about the house, the yard, and the landowner’s workmanship will communicate that you respect a well-cared for property.
Even if property is posted, it’s not a bad idea to knock on the door anyway. Owners might have posted their property because they don’t want deer hunters. Or they might have suffered property damage. When property owners don’t grant permission to hunt turkeys, it’s still a good idea to know who they are, make sure they know you, and know you’ll be hunting in the area. In time, you might win a friend.
Put your boots on the ground
It’s too late to take inventory on gobbling, so “boots on the ground” means you start walking. Wear camo and walk the field edges. Check out any mud you see for tracks. A feather is a good indicator of preening, strutting, fighting, or flying up to roost. Locate feeding areas. Don’t worry if you see only hen tracks because gobblers know they’re there.
Note trails and paths you can use to move quickly and silently. Learn the lay of the land. Whether or not you hear a gobbler, visualize how you might set up on a bird. How visible are the woods? How visible will they be in the middle of May? Their main menu items won’t be last fall’s leftover acorns or the few seeds they can still find. Instead, look for grass. New grass harbors crickets, grasshoppers, spiders and worms, — a turkey’s main springtime food source.
Even if you’re the February or March scouter, speed scouting can be highly productive. And if you find turkeys now, you’ll find them when the season opens.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.