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turkey scouting

On the Lookout: Tips for Turkey Scouting

This turkey hunting season, make your time in the field count. Follow these tips for identifying good hunting grounds and locating turkeys.

Jennon Bell Hoffmann

 Scouting before turkey hunting ensures your time in the field is successful, fun, and safe. Here are some tips for scouting so you can bag the best gobbler this fall.

WHEN: Timing Matters for Turkey Scouting

Scouting is a fact-finding mission that sets you up for hunting success, so perfecting the details matters.

It’s best to scout the area up to a couple of weeks ahead of your hunt. In addition, plan your scouting schedule around the time of day you expect to hunt later on. Turkeys have strong eyesight in daylight. According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, they can see color and have better peripheral vision than humans. Traipsing through a field or ridge line in blazing orange will tip off a flock long before you realize, making the scouting trip pointless. After all, you’re there to find turkeys, not the other way around.

In the evening, turkeys’ eyesight is weaker and they generally become wary as it grows later. Take that into consideration as you plan your scouting and hunting trips. When the toms and jakes strut by, you’ll want to be settled into your lookout, covered, and ready to go, not rustling through your gear.

WHERE: Setting Up Shop for Turkey Scouting

Before you head out to scout, you should have with a clear idea of which spots you want to focus on. If possible, print an aerial photo of the grounds and mark potential locations for a good hunt. These spots should offer clear visibility, plenty of coverage, and open lines for listening to calls.

If you are new to the area or unfamiliar with the turkey hunting landscape, ask around. The local Department of Natural Resources office, Tractor Supply employees, area biologists, and hunt clubs may be able to help you find the good spots. They may also be able to offer insider knowledge about the terrain. If you are planning to hunt on private land, request permission first, and be precise about your plans. Once permission is granted, ask the landowner for tips.

Temperatures and food sources change with the season, and turkeys will move to the most resourceful spaces. Where they graze and mate will vary, and it may take a few scout trips to find a flock’s main tracks. Knowing where the turkeys roost—either by tracking feathers, droppings, or scratches, or by listening to their gobbles—is the best way to scope out the most advantageous hunting spot.

HOW: Recognizing Turkey Sounds

What’s the best way to scout turkeys? Quietly. Turkeys are most vocal in the roost just before flying down. That's usually at first light, so get to a clear, high point early in the day, and listen intently. Mark on your aerial map the direction and style of any gobbles to identify possible turkey roosts.

It’s also a good idea to master turkey calls ahead of your scouting and hunt. In fact, many veteran hunters study audio of jakes' and mature turkeys' gobbles so they can best determine viability. Also, make sure you know the proper methods of using a turkey caller.

However, on scouting days, use turkey calls sparingly to ensure turkeys don’t perceive your noises as threats. If you get a bird to answer your initial calls, don’t continue to call him. A wild turkey’s gobble can be heard up to 1 mile away and is primarily a means of communication for a tom. He's usually either warning others to get away from his territory or to signal to his harem. Overdoing the calls can spook turkeys and confuse them, rather than engage them.

To learn more about turkey scouting and hunting, visit the National Wild Turkey Federation’s website.

And for help choosing turkey hunting gear and scouting equipment, visit your local Tractor Supply Co.