Field strategies: Reading turkey sign

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

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

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.

Recommended for You

Memorial Day sale offers 15 percent off everything website-wide. Coolers

Get Ready for Summer with Cordova Coolers

May 23, 2019

Memorial Day sale offers 15 percent off everything website-wide.

The Pennsylvania man's trophy fish was more than two pounds heavier than the previous record. Records

No Kidding: Angler Smashes Record for Lake Trout

Scott Bernarde - May 21, 2019

The Pennsylvania man's trophy fish was more than two pounds heavier than the previous record.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

As KVD tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead, innovative Humminbird products and cutting-edge technology like that found in the new Mega 360 Imaging sonar are major reasons contributing to his unparalleled success.

Abu Garcia Virtual Rod with Bluetooth

Abu Garcia Virtual Rod with Bluetooth

Pure Fishing's Andrew Wheeler tells Outdoor Sportsman Group writer Lynn Burkhead all about the brand new Abu Garcia Virtual rod that integrates Bluetooth technology through a free ANGLR smartphone app.

Minn Kota's Brad Henry shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead that there's much to like in the new Minn Kota Riptide Terrova saltwater trolling motor that comes with I-Pilot and an 87-inch shaft.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near anything that fits in their mouths. Catfish

5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures

Keith Sutton - September 16, 2015

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near...

While wildly popular amongst anglers around the world, the IGFA World Record book shows the biggest pike come from Europe. Records

Top 10 Biggest Pike World Records of All Time

Jack Vitek - August 19, 2015

While wildly popular amongst anglers around the world, the IGFA World Record book shows the...

Unlike many game fish, catfish can be harder to catch during the spawn. Here are some strategies. Catfish

Understanding Catfish Spawning

Keith Sutton - June 06, 2006

Unlike many game fish, catfish can be harder to catch during the spawn. Here are some...

See More Stories

More Stories

Calling all coyotes:'These predators are efficient, so finding and calling them to the gun can Stories

Predator Hunting: 3 Ways to Find Elusive Coyotes

Brad Fitzpatrick - June 26, 2018

Calling all coyotes:'These predators are efficient, so finding and calling them to the gun can

Predator hunters living in more open areas are in a unique position to enjoy coyote hunting at its Stories

Guns & Loads for Long-Range Coyote Hunting

Stephen D. Carpenteri - December 13, 2015

Predator hunters living in more open areas are in a unique position to enjoy coyote hunting at...

Where and how some of the state's best archery bucks were killed last season. Whitetail

Oklahoma's Big Archery Bucks of 2018

Kelly Bostian

Where and how some of the state's best archery bucks were killed last season.

See More Stories

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.