Turkey season will soon be here. A turkey hunt is more fun when you can first pattern birds and target a certain gobbler. I discovered the art of targeting gobblers years ago with veteran turkey hunter Brad Harris.
Harris eyed a big gobbler the previous evening and then watched him disappear in a nearby woodlot while going to roost. He noticed the gobbler’s big beard and decided to hunt him the next morning. I thought about all of this with a flush of excitement while listening to Harris make a spooky-sounding owl hoot.
The sound vibrated through the dark Missouri timber. I had to smile when the bird gobbled and we moved closer to his roost. Then we sat and listened to the morning come alive while enjoying more gobbling that Harris refused to answer.
The gobbler knew a hen was around and finally flew close to our position. Harris finally answered back with light clucks. The big bird made a fatal mistake of moving in and a good Eastern gobbler soon flopped on the ground.
Locating gobblers is an enjoyable segment of turkey hunting. Wild turkeys have the most acute eyesight and hearing in the woods, so stealth is important. In fact, become part of the woods or you will never find a wild turkey. Want to find a big gobbler? Think like a Navy Seal and a wild turkey and move quietly while blending in with the surroundings.
Wild turkeys are pursued by every predator in the woods, including humans. Coyotes and all other predators that eat meat want to feed on turkey meat throughout the year – no hunting season or time off for holidays. Turkeys either become old survivors or someone’s dinner.
The following are suggestions for locating the biggest gobblers:
WHERE TO LOOK: Turkeys like open fields and row crops, especially where unlimited visibility makes anything sneaking up on them impossible. The first step is patterning big gobblers from their roost to food locations.
ROOSTING AREAS: Certainly all four American sub-species of gobblers roost somewhere. The hardest to pattern are probably the Rio Grande species in Texas that have few high trees. When suitable roost trees are scarce or nonexistent, Rios roost on man-made structures like power lines, windmill towers or oil storage tanks.
Merriams seem to prefer ponderosa pine and cottonwood roosts in or around river bottoms, while Easterns and Osceola gobblers roost in higher trees and may be easier to pattern. Roosting areas are generally large trees on ridges filled with acorns or close to row crops and close to open field areas.
You may best determine favorite roost trees by the white turkey dropping splashes under big limbs of oaks or maples. Turkeys deposit a lot of manure, so these areas are easy to identify.
FOOD SOURCES: Food sources are excellent areas for locating gobblers. Problem is, these fields are often big and the turkeys could be anywhere. The key is watching turkey movements before the season opens.
“I scout food sources throughout the early spring before turkey season,” said Chris Parrish, veteran turkey hunter. “I find the productive feeding areas like clover in the spring and set up blinds on each side of the field. This gives me both a morning and evening hunt.”
Morning spots are located between roosting and feeding areas. Afternoon spots may be between dusting areas or other turkey spots and the food plots. The most productive mass crops may require setting blinds in two or three spots on a ridge or even between the roosting and feeding area.
OPEN FIELDS: Scouting in open grass fields presents many challenges, especially positioning to see turkeys before they see you. Ray Eye, famed turkey hunter from Missouri, has spent most of his life hunting the open country of Missouri and Iowa.
“I like to spot turkeys from a distance with good binoculars,” Eye said. “You can glass gobblers from old gravel farm roads. Many of the old farms I hunt have gobblers strutting on every open hillside. Heavy cover can be your friend or your enemy when locating turkeys. Scouting Merriam gobblers in the hills or mountains requires a good pair of binoculars and lots of walking. Heavy timber or conifers are likely places for finding gobblers but you may see them in open meadows.”
SHOCK CALLING: The old adage is owl hoot shock calling before daylight and crow, blue jay or coyote calls after the sun rises. I have always disagreed with the coyote howlers, feeling this puts gobblers on guard and makes most gobblers remain silent.
“You can shock call too much too,” said Mark Prudhomme, world champion owl hooter. “Some make the same noise too often. Chances are, gobblers will eventually stop responding to the same sounds. A hot turkey may gobble every time, but most won’t. I change location when one gobbles the first time and set up so I’m close to my hunting spot before shock gobbling again.”
OVER-CALLING TO ROOSTED BIRDS: Early morning mistakes can cause a bird to hang-up or simply go the other direction. America’s top turkey callers get great results with shock calling before daylight. Most draw a gobble or two and then stop and start moving in that direction while listening for more roost gobbles. But you can certainly over-call to roosted birds.
“There are a lot of situations when little or no calling is better than calling,” Parrish said. “A roosted gobbler for example that is alone may answer your calls with great passion. The key is to back off calling so he will come to you. Otherwise, he may wait for the hen to come his way if she seems overly excited. Just stop calling and wait for him to fly down.”
Locating gobblers is a great deal of fun. Just make sure you find them before they see you!
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com.