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Field strategies: Reading turkey sign

Recognizing signs can help put a hunter in the vicinity of a wild tom

Field strategies: Reading turkey sign
Field strategies: Reading turkey sign

The ability to recognize letters and the sounds they form using other letters opens a world of knowledge to the reader.

Similarly, the ability to recognize animal signs and distinguish the sign of one species from another makes a hunter a better hunter and woodsman.

For spring turkey hunters, wild turkey sign can be either obvious or subtle, visual or audible.

Each sign gives clues to the daily routine of the birds. Keep in mind, spring is the mating and nesting season for wild turkeys, and their daily routing revolves around procreation.

Also, understand that where you find hens, you'll find gobblers. Recognizing and reading the sign can help put a hunter in the vicinity of a wild turkey tom.

In the early morning, gobblers leave the roost hoping to soon find the company of hens. Try to put yourself within 100 to 150 yards of roosting toms.

You can find wild turkey roosts by identifying roost trees and listening.

Out West, tall timber areas littered with feathers and mixed with droppings indicates a good roost site.

In the East, larger wooded areas make identifying roost areas a little more difficult as the birds have more places to roost. Look for likely roost areas such as creek bottoms and wooded ridges.

You also can listen for birds flying up in the evening. The surest method of finding a gobbler roost, however, is to elicit gobbles from roosted toms, which are prone to gobbling in the evening to alert hens in the area of their presence.

You can get a roosted tom to gobble by hooting like an owl, howling like a coyote and cutting like a wild turkey hen. Use the hen call only if the other calls don't trigger a gobble.

Make sure your call is loud, and make sure you call from a distance far enough away that you don't spook the birds with your presence.


When the gobbler responds, identify the area where he's roosted, and, the following morning, set up within about 150 yards of his perch.

If you don't tag a gobbler in the early morning, the hunt is not over. Identify areas where gobblers like to strut and other areas that comprise their daily travel routines.

In addition to seeing gobblers strut, you can identify strutting areas by learning to read the sign a strutting gobbler leaves behind.

In addition to tracks, a strutting gobbler drags its wing tips on the ground. In sand or mud, the wing tips leave narrow, parallel lines.

Other signs to look for are droppings, tracks, scratching and dust bowls. An abundance of signs indicates that wild turkeys frequent the area.

Droppings not only alert hunters to the presence of wild turkeys but also indicate the gender of the bird. Droppings about two inches long and shaped like a shallow "J" are from a gobbler — a gobbler drops on the move.

Hens, however, leave behind a small pile comprised of a single dropping.

Hens and gobblers leave behind three-toed tracks, but the middle toe of the gobbler is longer than his others.

Tracks also indicate the gender of the bird.

Hens and gobblers leave behind three-toed tracks, but the middle toe of the gobbler is longer than his other digits. A single track measuring 4 1/4 inches or more from the tip of the middle toe to the heel indicates a gobbler, smaller than that and it's likely a hen.

Scratching by wild turkeys can be identified by its V-shape. The wide end of the V faces forward and indicates the direction the birds were moving.

You will find scratching along the forest floor and along the edges of limbs and logs lying on the ground.

Wild turkeys scratch in the leaves to reveal the insects and mast that lies beneath. An area full of wild turkey scratching looks similar to an area rooted by pigs.

Dust bowls are easy to identify and make great places to sit, call sparingly and wait.

Wild turkeys dust themselves to rid their skin and feathers of parasites. By repeatedly dusting themselves in the same site, the birds create a shallow depression, or bowl, in the soil. Wild turkeys dust themselves frequently.

In states or provinces that allow turkey hunting in the afternoon, roost sites come back into play as the day wanes.

Wild turkeys tend to roost in the same general area. In the late afternoon, set up nice and tight to the roost area and catch a gobbler on its way back to roost.

Knowledge of the signs left by wild turkeys will not only increase your hunting success but also make you a better woodsman.

Your ability to read the woods and the heightened sense of awareness you gain by being a keen woodsman will help make each trip to the fields and woods more rewarding.

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