There aren't many things in the world like spring turkey hunting, especially when it comes to roaming a property where loudmouthed longbeards just can't seem to keep their beaks shut.
You know, TV turkeys, those Mr. Johnny Gobblers that like to show off and sound off as they come roaring into view of a video camera before starting their grand strutting waltz somewhere within shotgun range.
But the reality of such moments is there’s usually plenty of good old fashioned work-beforehand as some serious boot leather is laid down to figure out the daily where, when, how and why of longbeards.
In laymen's terms, scouting and usually plenty of it.
So important is this pre-season chore that North Texas turkey guide J.J. Kent (www.kentoutdoors.com; (903) 271-5524) is almost always scouting if he isn't actually out in the woods somewhere hunting.
How does the Mossy Oak pro-staffer go about his turkey scouting endeavors?
"The easiest way to scout turkeys, to me at least, is to use your ears," said Kent. "What I mean by that is that when I'm trying to figure out a piece of turkey hunting round, I'll go out there in the evening time. And usually, I'll park my truck or ATV somewhere a little ways off from a creek bottom."
Why is that?
"Because as the afternoon wanes, I'm going to start listening and trying to use my ears to figure out where the birds are roosting for the night."
In addition to gobbles as the toms approach their evening roosts and as they fly up into a tree for the night, Kent also is listening for other sounds that might betray the presence of wild birds.
Those sounds include the yelps, purrs and clucks of hens; the sound of birds walking through and scratching in the leaves; and the flap of big feathers as turkeys stretch their wings and get ready to fly up to roost as the sun sets on the horizon.
Known far and wide as putting a bird to bed, hunters routinely use this tactic back east to figure out where they will hunt the next morning.
But Kent feels the trick isn't just for Eastern turkey hunters traipsing across wooded property that they are intimately familiar with.
In fact, he believes it is a great way to figure out the wide open ground that makes up the Great Plains where turkeys can roam all over the place.
And that can be especially true of new piece of hunting ground.
Why such an approach? Because in Kent's mind, it's a low-impact way of scouting flocks of longbeards without them becoming wise to the presence of two-legged hunters.
As in the game of chess, consider this as Kent's subtle opening move in the grand spring game of chasing Mr. Longbeard.
But it's not his only move on the board as he goes about the task of figuring out a piece of turkey hunting ground.
"Once you figure out where they are roosting, then you want to come back the next morning and see where they are flying down to," said Kent, who admits he is having to relearn some previously hunted properties after a year of El Nino induced floodwaters have scrambled turkey activities and movement across portions of Texas and Oklahoma.
"And then, of course, you want to see where they are headed (each day)."
To do all of this, Kent relies on his optics to look in on turkey activities from afar. Only when he is sure that birds have vacated an area will he actually put his boots on the ground.
"When I do go in looking for physical sign, I approach it like I do figuring out a piece of deer hunting ground – I'm looking for game trails, for tracks along field edges, tracks and droppings on a dirt road, things like that," he said.
The best time to actually go searching for physical sign – at least in an arid state like Texas or Oklahoma – is after a rainstorm has made the ground soft and receptive to marks being left behind.
"Yeah, finding a lot of this stuff is made easier after a rain," said Kent, also a pro-staffer for Avian-X Decoys and Zink Game Calls.
"It makes it easier to see where tracks are, the direction that they are coming from and where they are going to."
Usually, when Kent decides to physically walk a property out, he'll opt for going in during the middle-of-the-day hours when hens and longbeards are typically buried in the shade somewhere.
If he hasn't already figured out where the birds are perching overnight, he'll look for a creek bottom with a good supply of potential roosting trees.
"When you're looking for a roosting site, you're obviously looking for areas with suitable trees and such," said Kent. "And when you search under those trees, you're looking for things like loose feathers and droppings. If the turkeys are roosting in such spots, you'll know it."
After identifying roosting sites on a piece of ground, Kent then will get in his truck and drive around carefully to search out potential chow halls.
"Turkeys are pretty opportunistic feeders, eating a variety of things that don't bite them back," laughed Kent.
"In Texas and Oklahoma, that usually includes winter wheat fields," he added. "And it can include fields with a lot of seeds, bottomlands where leftover mast crops remain and even ponds and small lakes where they can pick up small amphibians and insects like grasshoppers.
"Really, a wild turkey is kind of like a barn yard chicken. Like that big old yard bird, they're pretty much going to pick at anything and everything.
"You just have to kind of figure out what that is on the ground where you're hunting."
Once he has identified potential feeding zones, Kent will then focus on "in-between" things such as travel routes, dusting areas, strutting zones, watering holes and shady spots where turkeys will loaf during the mid-day hours.
Why? Because he wants to have a solid mental picture in his mind before spring hunting actually starts, a cerebral game plan about where turkeys are roosting, where they are eating and the places they'll be in between.
Sound like a lot of fuss?
Well, it certainly can be, especially in such wide open terrain. But such scouting efforts and attention to detail are also primary reasons why Kent almost always seems to put his clients on big, mature gobblers each spring.
Even in vast terrain where the wind almost always seems to be blowing a gale.
Carrying the sounds of gobbling toms on their annual search for springtime love.
As a well camouflaged hunter waits somewhere nearby with a Texas-size grin on his face, just hoping for a chance to click the safety off on a shotgun.
And to be able to finally say "Checkmate, Mr. Johnny Gobbler!"