Get burned by a bird last season? Try these down-and-dirty approaches to turn the tables the next time you're turkey hunting.
By Brian Lovett
Many days, gobbling and turkey activity seem to slow by midmorning. In response, most turkey hunters quit — and miss what might be the best time to kill a gobbler.
Eastern longbeards often hang with hens right off the roost, so they have little reason to gobble, preferring instead to strut and drum for ladies they can see. By midmorning, however, hens sometimes wander away from these breeding flocks to find a nesting site or lay an egg.
And a gobbler that suddenly finds himself alone can be vulnerable. In fact, many experienced hunters kill more turkeys from 8 a.m. till noon than they do at flydown.
The key is locating a gobbler. During warm, sunny days, turkeys often loaf in cool, shady spots such as pine woods or creek bottoms. Find likely setups in such areas, and cold-call for an hour or two.
Start soft and subtle, sounding like a hen going about her business. As time passes, ratchet up the volume and intensity in hopes of firing up a solo longbeard. Always be alert. As you know, sometimes pressured birds will sneak in silently to get a better look.
BETTER ROOST HUNTS
Get tight to roosted birds. 1) Set up on the short side of terrain from a roosted bird. Gobblers will fly down to the high side of the ridge. 2) Note where they take wing to fly up. Then, set up at that spot the next morning. 3) Rake away noisy leaves so you have a clear path. Slip in silently before dawn.
Following Bread Crumbs
Despite our best efforts, turkeys often just go quiet, especially in the big woods and timbered river bottoms that dominate much of the Eastern's range. However, even the toughest gobbler and his girlfriends leave evidence of their presence and daily routine. These clues can put you sure-kill close to a longbeard.
Tracks are probably the most obvious sign. Look for the three-toed marks of turkeys along logging roads, field edges, moist fields and other muddy areas. Tracks with sharp, crisp edges are fresh; those with dulled or obscure edges are older.
These markings tell you where turkeys were and where they were going, often indicating preferred feeding areas or travel routes. They also reveal gender. The middle toe tracks of gobblers measure 2 1/2 inches or longer. Those of hens are shorter.
As turkeys walk and feed, they scratch the ground with their feet to uncover mast, grain, bugs or other goodies, leaving small, open depressions with associated piles of leaves or other debris. Look for scratching along ridge lines, timbered flats, creek bottoms or food plots. These marks can reveal hot feeding areas.
Likewise, keep a lookout for dusting areas, often called dust bowls. These are shallow depressions where turkeys squat and heap exposed sand, dirt or other dry soil onto their bodies to clean their skin and feathers of insects and other parasites. Birds visit these areas frequently throughout the day.