Savvy gobbler hunters are engaged now in the activity most vital to their season's success: preseason scouting.
Starting the season knowing the hangouts of several good gobblers gives one the edge over the casual hunters who will spend half their hunting time looking for birds to hunt.
Scouting follows two main courses, some hunters prefer to pattern two or three gobblers while others cover as much ground as possible, listening for gobblers in as many places as possible. Some use a combination of the two, which is probably the best way.
Photo for the Mirror by Shirley Grenoble
Using the ATV to get to high ground where you can listen and look at a lot of farmland without being detected is valuable to finding gobblers.
Before we delve into the details of these scouting methods, here's how most experienced gobbler hunters tell us not to scout.
Do not bother or harrass the birds before season. Some hunters spend their preseason scouting time calling birds in, which only teaches them that the enemy is afoot, has learned their language and that chasing after hens calling from distant brush is futile. These foolish scouters have taught gobblers not to go to any hen they cannot see. These are the birds that, in season, will answer your calls, but will not come to you.
Hunters need to check out their favorite turkey haunts before season to find out if there are gobblers there this spring. Ideally, one simply finds a good listening post-high on a mountain, a point overlooking a wide valley - and waits there at dawn to listen for amorous toms gobbling their location to listening hens. The smart scouter notes - in his mind or even in a notebook - where he heard birds, how many etc. He looks for tracks, droppings, feathers and roosting trees in the area that indicate birds are using this ridge or field for their daily activities.
This scouter takes pains to not reveal his presence to the turkeys. He wants them undisturbed. If the birds he has located are not hasseled by other hunters before season, he'll be able to hunt birds less suspicious of and more responsive to his calls when season begins.
A hunter who has several gobblers located before season can quickly change locations if needed. Perhaps he drives to a certain spot to hunt but finds another vehicle parked there. No matter; he knows with assurance several other spots he can try.
Perhaps he hears no gobbling some morning. Rather than staying with a location where there may or may not be a gobbler that day, he can confidently move to another location where he has previously noted gobbler activity. Still other hunters, perhaps not able to be so mobile, can stay with confidence in an area where he knows there are gobblers. Often, these toms can be started up later in the morning.
A smart scouter rechecks his areas just before season starts. Places you heard gobbling in March may not produce in late April. One last tip: locate at least a couple birds that cannot be heard from a road. Hike back in a mile or two if you can and pinpoint a few birds that few others will have heard.
Patterning gobblers is a different style altogether. Now the scouter chooses to return to the same gobbler's roost area morning after morning to listen and learn. He takes pains to never alert the tom to his presence. His work starts when the gobbler flies off the roost. Here's what he is trying to find out: how many hens does the tom have with him? Do the hens roost with him or do they roost a distance apart? Once the hens and gobblers meet, which direction do they go to feed and breed? Does he have a favored strutting area? Do they return to the area after a couple hours?
If a gobbler goes the same direction two or three days in a row, you can know that is his favored routine. You can plan ways to intrude yourself into his plan. For instance, if a gobbler has several hens with him he usually answers but otherwise ignores the pleading calls of the hunter. But if you know the direction he likes to travel once he flies down, you can set yourself up in that direction before daylight. He may not walk right up to you but if he hears calls coming from the direction he and his hens are already going, the hens will often edge in your direction to check you out.
My Pocono hunting buddy, Charlie Dix, patterned a couple birds that liked to roost along a certain ridge. Charlie bagged one of the birds the day before I arrived. "The remaining gobbler is king of the ridge now. The hens run to him when he gobbles," Charlie told me. "Then the whole bunch walks off to the south but about 9 o'clock, they make their way back to this ridge to feed."
Next morning, an hour before sunrise, Charlie and I sneaked into the ridge and got ready. As the horizon began to pink up a bit, we saw the silhouette of the gobbler high in a tree just down over the hill from us. Soon he exploded with a couple gobbles and the pack of hens came legging it as fast as they could. When the hens got directly under his tree, he dropped down like a sack of potatoes and joined them.
We offered up some velvety yelps and clucks but of course they paid no attention. Off they trooped, just as Charlie knew they would. We decided to stay right there until they came back.
"They should be heading back toward us soon," Charlie whispered about 9 a.m. Cautiously, he offered some inquisitive yelps and the gobbler roared back. He was pretty far off so I decided to change position for a better vantage point.
Once resettled against a big tree, Charlie, who had stayed behind to call, offered more yelps and clucks and the tom rattled back. Soon I saw the flock in the distance approaching. When they were in range, I popped the gobbler. It really was that simple. Had Charlie not known what those birds were going to do, we would not have waited for their return.
Having a few birds patterned is especially important when hunting pressure causes birds to go silent. If you know that they frequent a certain field, and know where they usually enter the field, you can set up in the right place to intercept them. Usually a few quiet clucks and whines will persuade them to come in your direction even if they do not talk.
I like to have as many birds as possible located so I don't have to guess about where to hunt on any morning. I also like to have at least 3 birds patterned so that when things get tough, the birds don't talk, the weather turns bad or whatever, I can have a leg up on a spot that will give me the best chance to see or to interest a gobbler.
But I never fool around with the birds before season. Doing that patterns them to your routine and calls and gives them the advantage.