Pre-Season Turkey Tasks
Twenty-five years ago, it was a rarity to see a wild turkey in Central-Illinois where I both live and do a lot of hunting. Now, a day hardly passes when I do not see a turkey or hear their vocals in the spring. Times sure have changed from what they once were. From never seeing one, to now being able to kill a couple of toms each spring, and a couple more hens in the fall. We have come full circle.
I was inspired to write this article when a couple of months before turkey season I had 14 turkeys, both jakes and toms, walking through last year’s cornfield on my family’s farm. I could hardly hold in my enthusiasm as I sat in the cab of my truck, daydreaming of setting in my blind waiting to arrow a tom turkey. But, before I could kill a turkey, I still had plenty of pre-season preparations to accomplish.
The jakes and toms I saw on that early spring day in my cornfield were searching for hens. They were doing this because the weather was getting warmer, hours in the day were longer, and the urge to breed was almost unbearable. Even though the hens were not ready to breed yet the toms were, and they were gobbling to prove it.
When I spotted this big flock of male birds, I knew things were changing in the turkey woods. During the winter toms have their own flocks; so do the jakes, as well as the young and old hens. Knowing the jakes abandoned their own flock to join up with the older toms it would only be a matter of time before mating took place. But, for the time being the hens were not receptive to the advances of the jakes and toms. Eventually, the males will come in close contact with the hens as they all begin to search for foods like lush greens and forbes, insects, leftover crops, and acorns.
As the days get longer and the temperatures rise, the hens also become interested in breeding. The gobbling that the toms did a few weeks earlier to establish a pecking order are now being answered by willing hens. The large flocks of toms and jakes are breaking up into smaller groups of two or three male birds.
It is because of all these changes that are about to and are happening with the turkey flocks that make pre-season scouting so important. To have constant success from one season to the next, or even from one day to the next, pre-season scouting is necessary.
When I scout, I locate roosting sites for early-morning excursions. Once they get off the roost that they normally follow. This route will normally take them to feeding areas and to water.
I look at the ground under potential roosting areas for droppings and feathers. 0nce I find roosting areas I try to imagine where they will fly. If I will not be able to kill a longbeard after fly-down that means I will have to hunt through the morning, and the afternoon in states where legal. To accomplish this, I have to know where the birds go after they fly down. Once I know this, I can then set up accordingly.
When I scout for turkeys, I set back at a distance and use a good pair of binoculars to locate the birds. I look for turkeys at food sources, water, and travel routes. Do not forget to look closely in the shadows along the field edges. This is where you will find a lot of turkeys.
Not only am I scouting for birds, but also for good places to set-up. If I know in advance where to set-up it will make getting there in the dark easier. I also want to have places to hunt at different times throughout the day. As the turkeys advance through their daily routine, we hunters must move to new locations to stay ahead of the turkeys. If you have done your scouting right, you should know where the turkeys are and where they will be going.
When choosing a location to hunt from try and avoid obstacles that could cause the birds to hesitate. Do not get on the opposite side of streams, fences, deep gullies, and thick brush lines if you can avoid it. Turkeys have tremendous eyesight, but when it is obstructed, they become very wary. Not only will thick brush hinder turkey’s eyesight and cause them to spook, it also might restrict you from drawing your bow or swinging your shotgun.
If turkeys are not disturbed their daily routine will remain close to the same and the areas, you have picked out will remain good areas. Once you get an opportunity to shoot a bird it is up to you to close the deal. Always take into consideration the eyesight and hearing of a turkey. Turkeys do not have the greatest of hearing, but they are suspicious of noises. After a turkey sees or hears something suspicious, they will immediately sound an alarm putt and then run or fly away.
Do not underestimate the brain of a turkey based on its size alone. Turkeys can learn and remember as well as animals with larger brains. Even though it might be legal to pre-season call, do not do it. All that you are accomplishing is educating the birds. Turkeys might not become hunter wise, but after hearing your calls and then being tricked by your calls I think they do become call wise over time. Leave your calls in your vest until season is open. If you feel the need to practice do it for your wife not the turkeys.
Another pre-season ritual is making sure all my gear is in order. Do not leave your gear at home. Every year someone I know gets to their blind and realizes they left their call, facemask, license, permit a stool to sit on, or some other important piece of gear at home. If you do take what you need to your hunting spot beforehand like I do, make sure you have it opening day.
To prevent leaving much needed gear at home make a checklist of the hunting items you need. As you put the gear in your vehicle check it off the list. Another worthwhile investment is a turkey vest. They normally have a lot of pockets for all your calls and other equipment. Leave your gear in your vest during the off-season. This will save a lot of headaches when you go searching for your gear only days before the season opens.
Pattern your guns and loads before you hit the woods. Even though you patterned them last year and for years before do it again. It is important to know where your gun shoots, the pattern of the choke and how the load performs when shooting at a target the size of a turkey’s head. If you hunt with archery gear, make sure you know where the vitals on a turkey are and that your bow is sighted in. A good 3-D target such as the one I use from Shooter Buck will help you know where the vitals are located.
The last pre-season task to complete is to learn the most you can about the quarry you are hunting. A confident hunter is likely to be a successful one. Learn as much about the behavior, characteristics, and habitat of the turkey as you can. Do your pre-season scouting and be confident in what you learn. Know where your gun shoots at 35 yards, or that with an arrow you can hit a baseball-size target. Be comfortable with the calls you plan on using. This is done through a lot of practice.
So, what are you waiting for? Turkey season might still be weeks away, but it is not too early to get ready. Do not be a procrastinator. Get ready now and enjoy a great sport in the beautiful springwoods.