Locating and Rooting Turkeys for Morning Hunts
If you’ve spent any time at all hunting turkeys, you’re well aware of just how frustrating the endeavor – and the animals themselves – can be. In fact, navigating step #1 of hunting these things (learning how to locate birds) can be maddening enough to keep you out of the spring turkey woods for many years to come. But for those who welcome a challenge, locating and roosting turkeys can lead to some serious excitement that might even end with a gobbler on the ground.
Even when you think you’ve got these critters figured out, they’ll make you think, “hmm, maybe not” – appearing in hoards one day and going invisible the next. Rest assured, there are plenty of user-friendly tools hunters can utilize in an attempt to find one of these birds. Scouting trips, trail cameras, glassing, and a variety of calls – some of which might surprise you – are helpful both in locating and then attracting birds once you’ve got their whereabouts pinned down.
Sound like a lot of work? Brace yourselves – it can be.
The initial effort can be time consuming and even downright painful at times, but the challenge of the pursuit is more than worth your time, patience, and hard work when you see a mature bird finally commit on a beautiful spring morning.
Scout It Out
So, first thing’s first: you need to locate the roost, but how? While you’re cruising around the turkey woods scouting for potential set-up spots, there are a few important things to be on the lookout for:
- Water – We all need water, turkeys included.
- Field access – For starters, we’re not talking about the most graceful or flight-adept birds here, which means turkeys tend to use open space to their advantage – accessing and exiting their roost trees from those breaks in the forest floor. Fields and other open areas often contain food sources as well, and since eating is often the first thing on a turkey’s mind each morning, it makes sense that they’d roost nearby an easy meal.
- Shelter/cover – Look for protected areas that allow birds to travel without being exposed to the wind and other elements.
- Thick timber and conifer trees – Dense tree cover helps protect birds from cold and windy weather. Species of evergreen trees are especially desirable through the fall and winter months, after the leaves have fallen and other prime roost trees are bare and exposed. Turkeys tend to prefer older trees with large trunks and lots of sturdy branches (bonus points if those branches are growing at right angles), which make roosting easy for their big bodies. This should also help with identifying the potential species of tree you’re looking for when you’re out scouting. For example, in the eastern portion of the country, oak and basswood trees are good targets, as are conifers, as they hold up well in strong winds. In the Southern United States, cypress, sycamore, and oak trees are most commonly used as roosting spots, while in the Midwest and on the prairies, cottonwoods are king. Out west, you’ll primarily find pines, so target those during your search.
- Turkey sign – Of course, you should look for turkey sign too, as you would when scouting for any other animal. Droppings, feathers, ground scrapings, and tracks around the base of a tree are dead giveaways of a flock’s preferred roosting place. Moist droppings are a sign that the tree is being used, or at least was used recently, and may be a good spot to set up your spread. Birds will sometimes use the same roost on back-to-back days, but are more likely to have a circuit of sites near prime feeding areas.
But sign isn’t the only thing you should be on high alert for. Anytime you’re in turkey country, you should be looking and listening for them too. If you spot birds on the ground in the morning or evening hours especially, chances are good their roost is somewhere nearby. Birds make a whole lot of noise when they fly into and out of trees and they’re vocal animals, chatting back and forth with one another or trying to locate other members of the flock throughout most of the day.
If you’re not seeing or hearing birds, or are finding only minimal amounts of sign, remain calm – we’ve got a few other tricks up our sleeves, starting with a good ol’ shock gobble.
A shock gobble is a commonly-used turkey call that describes the act of forcing instinctual gobbles, usually made by birds as a kind of knee-jerk reaction to loud noises. We’re talking loud noises of pretty much any kind – calls made by other birds, owl hoots, thunder, or a honking horn. Eliciting a shock gobble response is often most effective leading up to first and last light when birds are roosted. They tend to be most vocal (and thus, most bold) when they’re out of reach of predators, and it becomes harder to do as the day wears on.
It’s also most effective during the spring, when a gobbler almost can’t help but answer to certain types of sounds. During mating season, all a gobbler’s senses are in overdrive, which causes them to react to nearly any noise they hear. The shock gobble response, though, has nothing to do with mating and everything to do with toms experiencing some serious sensory overload. Here are some of the best turkey calls to use to make a turkey shock gobble back.
Sometimes, even your best job calling turkeys won’t get them to give up their position. Those situations warrant at least attempting to get a shock gobble response, which often follows a few loud blasts from a crow call. Crow calls, like The Detector, are known for generating instinctual responses from wild birds, and ours produces the raspy crow caws that gobblers can’t resist!
Another locator call that does a good job of eliciting shock gobbles is an owl call. Hoots are long-range sounds that are great for covering long distances quickly and even better at doing just what you need them to – shock toms into gobbling. Our Locator Call Combo Pack, which comes with the perfectly paired Detector crow call and Revealer owl call, is the perfect tool to keep in your turkey calling arsenal. Simple to use, compact, and lightweight, these locator calls are sure to produce a reactionary gobble that will give up even the wariest tom’s position. Ol’ Razzy, designed by the nation’s leading expert in owl calls (Grand National Turkey Calling Champion Mark Prudhomme), is another one of our trusty go-to calls when it comes to getting gobblers talking early in the day. Looking to get birds fired up? This call will do the trick.
Other Bird Calls
Pileated woodpecker calls and Canada goose calls are also good options for shock gobbling toms. Both are loud, shrill, and sharp, and all but guaranteed to get the reaction you’re after out of any nearby birds.
Some hunters swear by coyote calls while others shake their heads and scoff, “No way, never works.” We’ve met plenty of outdoorsmen who claim to have first-hand experience with this call producing shock gobbles from roosted birds, making it a good option for trying out at dusk or just before shooting light to make sure you’re setting up in a worthwhile spot.
A Quick Photo Sesh
To help you with scouting efforts ahead of the spring season, trail cameras are another good way to locate birds and view their behaviors from afar. It might sound silly, since trail cams are usually associated with a different season and species entirely, but they’re a great option for not only pinpointing birds, but familiarizing yourself with their usual travel times, patterns, and routes as well. Wireless or cellular trail cameras require minimal hands-on time and can be checked regularly – anytime, anywhere. With these cameras, you don’t have to return to your setup each time you want to check photos and videos, which greatly reduces your odds of pushing birds from the area.
If you do choose to go this route, one important thing to keep in mind is the difference between deer and turkeys – primarily in terms of height. Be sure to hang your cameras lower than usual to ensure you’re getting pics of the birds themselves, not snapping them over their heads and missing all the action.
Glass ‘em up
If after shock gobbling your morning away, you’re still coming up empty, take a break and give glassing a go. Turkeys are big-bodied birds and easy to spot from long distances, especially as they pass through fields and other open areas, but having your spotting scope or binoculars handy will make things even easier. This approach might not get you on birds in the way you were hoping to be, but by watching which direction they head or where they enter the woods, for example, you’ll have a much better idea where to target your efforts (or at least start your search) going forward. Granted, this doesn’t work well in wooded areas, but it’s a good strategy to try where possible.
After Locating Birds
C’mon, now the real fun begins!
Most turkey hunters know their best chance to bag a bird is in the early morning (right off the roost) or at dusk as they prepare to roost again for the night. And, like most animals, no other sights or sounds appeal to them more than the same species. So when you hear birds waking up and flying down around first light, we recommend starting with some soft hen sounds – cutts, clucks, and purrs. If you can draw live hens to your decoy spread in the process, that’s a sure-fire way to attract worked-up gobblers too.
Either way, you should expect birds to feed toward your decoys, as they’ll be heading to water or their favorite feeding area once they’re off the roost. Make sure to set your decoy spread beyond your own location rather than between you and the turkeys. This will keep the birds focused on that oh-so-good-looking submissive hen, rather than on what they think might be a guy in the grass. Your goal is for the flock to walk to your spread without glancing once in your direction. It’s also important that your spread is set within your personal comfort zone in terms of range, so when a shot presents itself, you don’t second guess squeezing the trigger.
You’ve done a heck of a lot of work to get to this point, so blowing a shot opportunity simply isn’t an option. For most hunting scenarios, we recommend packing a solid bipod into the field along with everything else you haul. Turkeys are quick, super wary, smarter than they look, and can detect even the slightest movement from 100 or more yards away. So it’s important to be set, stable, and confident when your opportunity to knock one down finally arrives. This is why The Brotherhood always has a Swagger-branded bipod on hand to ensure shots are clean, accurate and efficient.