Scouting for turkeys can mean anything from simply driving around and looking for tracks in the road, to extensive groundwork and advanced woodsmanship in searching for and reading the various types of turkey sign. The importance of scouting is undeniable. Hunters who go into the field armed with sufficient knowledge about their quarry can greatly increase their chance of harvesting a bird.
While scouting before the season, keep your eyes peeled for the below signs, which are good evidence of turkeys in the area:
Tracks – Search areas where tracks will be noticeable such as along field edges and paths clear of leaves. Tracks will confirm that birds are in the area and maybe help you understand where they like to travel. Turkeys have three long toes. 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 its probably a hen.
Droppings – A hen’s look like small pieces of popcorn while a gobbler’s droppings are larger and J-shaped.
Wingtip marks – When gobblers strut, their wingtips drag the ground leaving two parallel lines in the dirt, sometimes with turkey tracks visible between them.
Dusting areas – Turkeys bath themselves in dust to rid themselves of mites and other parasites, creating small, round dirt depressions in the ground.
Feathers – Turkeys will typically knock feathers loose from their wings as they fly up to and down from their roosts. Out west, tall timber area 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 roosting options.
While tracks, droppings, shed feathers and of course, visual sightings of turkeys are all positive proof that birds are in the area, many hunters opt to delve further into the business of scouting. Here's what they look for:
Roosting site - Turkeys generally roost high in the branches of large trees and often spend some time gobbling before flying down at sunrise. In Rio Grande range, roosts are often located on cottonwoods found along rivers, stream and creeks. Eastern birds may roost near water also, but may spend their nights high in ridge top pines. The ground below roost trees will be littered with feathers and droppings. While birds may not use a specific site every night, a roost tree with fresh sign is reliable indication that birds are frequenting the area. This is a good, centralized location to continue scouting, but most veterans prefer not to hunt near a roost. Turkeys spooked off the roost, they believe, tend to move out of the area.
Fly-down area - Turkeys, Rio Grandes on particular, prefer to leave the roost and hit the ground on a relatively open area. In the west, this may be a pasture or wheat field, while in the east it may be clear cut, grazed field or open understory beneath the pines. If a hunter can pattern birds coming off their roost, fly-down areas are excellent places to set up for a hunt.
Display areas - In the spring, gobblers spend much of their day strutting in a high visibility area such as a knoll, rise, bare ridge, old roadway or meadow. Look for concentrations of tracks and drag marks made by the wing tips of a displaying tom.
Feeding area - In some areas, turkeys feed randomly and are nearly impossible to pattern. In other areas, hunters can almost count on birds using particular field or draws where a food source is readily available. These also are good places to set up and wait.
Loafing area - Depending on weather, turkeys may spend their afternoons in sunny openings amid hillside brush or in cool, shady creek bottoms. These areas are often protected from wind and well-used dusting wallows are often nearby. Late in the season when hens are nesting, toms are often lonely and vulnerable to hunters set up in a loafing area.
Staging area - Turkeys often congregate in a seemingly designated locations before moving together toward the roosting site. Difficult to locate except by visual observance, these areas are excellent ambush sites.
Travel lanes - Tree rows, shelterbelts, draw, creek banks, cattle or deer trails are all likely routes which turkeys take from one area to another during the course of a day. These too are excellent locations to plan a hunt.