Last week I started this thread about turkey hunting basics and lets pick up where we left off. I talked about Gobblers, Jakes and some of the differences so you don’t shoot a jake, unless you intend to shoot one. Now many folks in the early part of the season and also those in the early part of their turkey hunting career will take a jake or any gobbler that comes to them strutting, drumming and trying to gobble.
But, what about locating a gobbler from “scratch” (pun intended). This is where pre season scouting comes in and locating tactics are employed. Nothing will beat good scouting information to help you find where birds are, and even more importantly, where they are not. Look for fresh tracks, (a large three toed bird track) hen tracks are smaller of course and when you find the larger tracks of a gobbler, they are sometimes 4 inches from the heel to the end of the middle toe and over 3 inches in spread from side to side. Look for dusting beds around green fields or beside sandy road beds that literally look like a bowl wallowed out in the dirt.
Turkeys like to take dust baths to help rid themselves of mites and fleas so they will find sandy areas and lay down on their belly and throw dirt over their body by kicking the dirt up and flapping around in the sandy dirt. These dust bowls are used by various turkeys, both hens and gobblers, and are a good indicator of numerous turkeys frequenting an area. Look for feathers that have come loose during the dusting, the ones with a black tip indicate a gobbler has been using the bed.
In logging roads, log landing areas and other locations cleared down to the soil, look for “strut marks”. These look like lines dug in the dirt and can be in a straight line, a circle, or even have the appearance of “Tic Tac Toe” marks, depending on which direction the gobbler struts. I had a gobbler last year that strutted in circles at the same place on a dirt road on and off several different days and I was so determined to kill it that I devoted two days of daylight to dark monitoring and he never showed. Determined to try it again the next weekend, I drove to the location only to find a log truck sitting right over where he had been strutting! The land owner next door had a timber company clear-cutting his place and the trucker had parked on my spot and on our lease! Well, his property line was about 100 yards away and with all the racket from the mechanized harvester, I wound up hunting over 2 miles away and could still hear that equipment!
Back to the plan for locating birds (sorry about my rant about the log truck). If you have found “turkey sign” and you get out to the woods for that opening morning but, you are not greeted with the gobbles of several mature toms right after daylight, an effective locator call is the “hooting” of the Barred Owl . Most of us know how it goes and many imitate it with the “who cooks for you? who cooks for you? who cooks for you alllll?? hooting sounds in that cadence. Like I said previously, many imitate it, but, very few master it with out the help of a calling device. I know several guys who are great at making the call with just their throat and a lot more who need to quit trying! I just use a good LOUD owl call that I have had for years and have had great success with it.
The gobblers will often send an angry gobble back in response to the barred owl’s hoots and thereby give up their location. Then you can slip through the woods closer to the gobbler, about 200 yards or less (if you are sure you can slip that close undetected) while he is still roosted, which is where you want to be when he flys down. He will be in the mood for love and if you are close and can convince him with just one or two soft sexy hen yelps that you are the hen he was dreaming about on that limb last night, you and some #4 shot can be his worst nightmare!
What about owl calling times? I know some guys who swear by the plan of walking through the woods blowing an owl call all day long to get a gobbler to respond with a “shock gobble”. They will then walk toward the gobbler, sneaking in and doing some hen yelps to convince him to “come over”. I am not an advocate of this type hunting, It may work but, just not for me. I have hunted enough club property and public land that I have heard hunters using this method and it has messed me and others up, causing a gobbler who was gobbling sparingly to shut up for good when the “hooty hunter” came through.
Crow calls are great locators to make a gobbler “shock gobble” from daylight on, and are much more natural as the morning goes by. However, crow calling too much, just like over using an owl call, will indicate something is not “quite right” and most gobblers and hens will go silent until the noise leaves the area. Don’t over call!
Using turkey calls like you are a world champion in a calling contest is another good way to come home empty handed. Calling loudly, calling too often, making a call that is 15 strokes long instead of 3 to 5 strokes, is a recipe for a vegetarian. In the language of the wild turkey, “less often says more”. A hen who is ready to breed is listening for the gobbler to gobble, or just drum, and then she walks (or runs) to him, as the process is done in nature. The hen is not going to do a lot of loud yelping unless she is suicidal! There are many predators in the woods looking for a turkey sandwich! The hen will go to the gobbler who is often in the open at his strut zone in a clearing, a logging road or a wide open hard wood ridge or bottom of a hollow. He is gobbling from a safe,open location where he can be heard over a long distance. The hen will yelp when she is trying to locate the gobbler, is excited, and on the way to the gobbler, is busy feeding and is interested somewhat in breeding but, yelps to bring the gobbler to where she is feeding, or she is just being coy or plain disinterested for the most part. After all, they are females! It is your job to find out what call, if any “pushes his buttons” and gets him excited enough to gobble a response and even more important to get him walking to you, instead of the other way around.
Last Thursday night, the Elmore County NWTF banquet was a great success once again and if you have never been to an NWTF Auction/banquet, try it somtime! Just click on this link to find banquet dates in Alabama http://www.nwtf.org/in_your_state/banquet.php
Mark your calendar for some vacation time, I already have! March 15th is the start of spring turkey hunting so be ready! Even better, the turkey hunting “youth only weekend” is the Saturday and Sunday before the opening day for us adults so take a child hunting for a great time sharing the great Central Alabama Outdoors!
Next week, more turkey info as we wait on the 15th of March!!!