Around this time of year, at least before we were buried in about two feet of snow, we turkey hunters get antsy. We start driving the roads, checking on big flocks parked on farm fields where manure has been spread, maybe even get up on the warmer, calmer days to listen for birds gobbling on the roost.
In many cases we watch birds in spots where we don’t have – and in many cases will never have – permission to hunt, or places where others hunt and where we don’t want to interfere. We don’t care; we just love watching and listening to turkeys and thinking about the days ahead when we can be out there for real, shotgun (or bow) in hand.
When the birds begin to disperse, as they always do in April, our scouting missions are kicked up a notch. Now, we’re looking for roost sites and getting a better handle on what’s going on in our hunting spots; how many long beards, hens and jakes are roaming around and what the prospects for the season might be. It becomes pretty serious stuff as the youth hunt weekend and May 1 opener approach.
There’s always the temptation, simply because we love being out there in the spring and watching and listening to gobblers and hens and all that spring brings, to head afield to get an up-close look at it all, maybe armed with a camera. Some hunters, in fact, like to take it a step further and call them in close and watch them respond, and dream of the prospects they’ll actually come into range during the season.
It’s not the best idea. I’m not saying the birds will become call-shy, although many hunters believe this to be the case. But playing around with the birds can and does, at times, knock them out of their patterns and can only lead to additional challenges when it comes time to hunt them for real. And let’s not take the “I don’t hunt here; these aren’t ‘my’ birds” approach to calling in birds ahead of the season. Chances are somebody hunts them, and you wouldn’t want them playing around with “your” long beards ahead of the season.
There’s a better way, a low-impact approach to scouting for spring gobblers that will give you the upper hand without nudging the birds at all. It’s simple, really.
You don’t have to be up close and personal with the turkeys to get a handle on what they’re doing; where they’re roosting, where they might be entering and exiting a field, and what they’re doing during the course of the hunting morning. Most of the time a good pair of binoculars and some patience is all that’s needed. Watch from your truck. Get out early and listen for birds on the roost. Spend a little time observing their morning movements, which can be surprisingly consistent at times and really tip the odds in your favor when the season arrives.
Too, there are great aerial maps available of your hunting areas. Google Earth can be a great tool in helping determine where you’ll access your hunting spot and which route the birds may take off the roost.
You don’t have to get too close to the strutters right now; there will be plenty of time for that when the season begins.