How to ... scout for wild turkeys before the opener

  • Article by: BILL MARCHEL SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
  • Updated: April 3, 2014 - 2:47 PM
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This photo captures behavior typical of turkeys in the spring: Two toms strut for a hen in a hay field.

Photo: Photo by Bill Marchel • Special to the Star Tribune,

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The 2014 Minnesota wild turkey season commences a half-hour before sunrise on April 16.

As with most outdoor ventures, preparation is key to success. Hunting wild turkeys demands as much or more readiness than hunting most other game species.

The ardent turkey hunter must be proficient using a turkey call, or better yet, a variety of turkey calls. Diaphragm calls, box calls, slate calls and gobbler shakers all have their place in a turkey hunter’s backpack. A well-prepared turkey hunter will have also patterned his or her shotgun to find which shot shell, shot size and choke combination throws a deadly pattern of pellets from their gun. If you are an archer, practice is paramount, as is knowing where to place your arrow for a quick kill.

Just as important, or perhaps more so, is scouting ahead of the turkey hunting opener.

This time of the year wild turkeys are often found in groups consisting of several hens, a few adult toms and maybe a jake (a year-old male) or two. They usually roost in a loose group. On most mornings, just before descending from their roosts, the toms will gobble insistently. Once on the ground they typically shut up, and strut for the hens. Finally the hens will move off, toms in tow, usually in the direction of some food — such as a picked cornfield.

Time and again, rookie hunters make the same mistake when scouting for turkeys: They move in too close to the roosting birds and attempt to call them. After all, they’ve probably been driving their families crazy for the last few weeks while practicing yelps, clucks, purrs and cuts. They’re probably just eager to practice their hard-earned calling skills.

Actually, this is the worst thing a turkey hunter can do. A better tactic is to observe the roost in the early morning from afar, employing binoculars if needed. The idea is to wait quietly and see where the turkeys go without human interference. Resist the temptation to call to them, and try not to get spotted by the birds.

Later, when the turkey flock has moved off, you can then scout the area along their route. Or you can see how their final destination would work for an ambush site come opening morning.

The same is true when scouting for an evening hunting spot. Again, monitor a potential roost site from a distance, and watch how the turkeys approach the roost. This will help you pinpoint your ambush location.

Try this unobtrusive scouting method. You might find a strutting tom in your lap on opening day.

Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.

  • SCOUT SMARTER

    1 Scout as close to opening day as possible. Turkeys can change roosting locations at any time.

    2 A tip for opening day: If turkeys fly down from the roost and move off in a different direction from your setup, try to anticipate where they are going and get ahead of them.

    3 If your scouting trips have confirmed turkeys are using your hunting area, don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear any gobbling in the predawn on opening morning. Sometimes the toms will fire up a little later.

    4 Don’t discount a late-afternoon hunt. Toms generally don’t gobble as often in the afternoon, but when they do, they can be very susceptible to being called, drawing them within gun or bow range.

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