Getting outdoors to turkey hunt is good for the soul. Bagging a bird for dinner is even better. If you want to fill your tag, the very first thing you need to do is find the right hunting locations.
How to Hunt Turkey Series
Part 1: Why You Need to Hunt Turkeys
Part 2: How to Locate Wild Turkeys
Part 4: Learn the Art of Talking Turkey
(this article is part of the How to Hunt Turkey Series - You can read Part 1: Why You Need to Hunt Turkeys here)
Turkeys are found in various areas throughout the country. Prime turkey environment includes trees, open grassy areas, and a water source. That broad spectrum may sound complicated but isn’t. Wild turkeys are found in every state except Alaska. That means you have no excuse. Grab your turkey shotgun, get out there and learn.
Here are some tips to get you started.
When you get outside, look for turkey tracks, scratches, feathers, and droppings. When you take your hunter education course, you may obtain a wildlife identification guide for your state. The guide will show the animals and the tracks they leave behind. Take the guide with you when you hike. It will take practice to discern the difference between a honker and a gobbler. If you’re not interested in carrying a book, there are applications you can download on your phone the contain the same information.
A turkey scratch is an area in the dirt that has been swept by a turkey’s wings and scraped by their feet. They do this to find insects to eat. Also, a tom turkey will leave a trail etched in the dirt as his extended wings drag the ground during a strutting promenade. If you find a turkey track with what appears to be a rope drag mark alongside, you’re probably standing on that tom's former dance floor.
Plumage from a bird is a key identifying factor. You’ll need to identify what types of wild turkey reside in your area as their coloring varies. Easterns have Chestnut-brown tips on their tail and white and black bars on their wings. Rio Grande turkeys have tan-colored tips on their tails and a proportionate amount of black and white on their wings. Merriams have bright-white tips on the tail with white and some black on the wings. Osceolas have dark-brown tips on the tail feathers and black with small bits of white on the wing. Lastly, the Goulds have white (but not bright) colored tail tips and mostly colored wing feathers.
Turkeys sleep in trees. Wing feathers commonly fall off of birds as they ascend and defend from their roost trees. Locating lost plumes, along with piles of turkey droppings, can be a method of identifying where the birds live.
Let’s talk poop. Do you remember those little growing snake type fireworks your parents let you play with as a youngster? Turkey droppings are similar in shape and three inches in length. The coloration will be a green with white but varies depending on how long it’s been there.
With most animal scat you cannot tell whether a buck or doe left it. With turkey poo, and with practice, you can identify whether a tom or a hen left the dropping. A gobbler’s poop generally looks like a question mark or a “J.” It has a straight portion with a curl at one end. Hens usually leave piles. These look like the little poo emoji on your phone.
All of this identification takes practice. A good way to speed up the learning curve is to ask for help. Pick the brains of experienced hunters. Put your feet on the ground to scout, or shovel some ducats out to pay someone else to do the work for you.
Query conservation officers. These are the same people who helped you get your hunter education certificate. Some departments offer ‘Turkey Hunting 101’ classes. Get in touch with them for these seminars.
Seasoned hunters guard their most productive hunting areas like gold. However, if you find the right guy or gal, and use the correct tactics you might be able to pick a little scouting information from their noggin. Heck. They may even tell you where one of those golden spots is located. If they begin to talk, pay attention. If they say, “Don’t tell anyone about this great spot!” then, don’t tell anyone.
Scouting an area to hunt is a top priority for a successful turkey hunt unless you plan to go with a guide because they’ll do that work for you. Being a guide, I spend hours, days, weeks, months... No, wait, make that all year, looking for the places in which turkeys live. When I’m enlisted to guide, I also teach this to any client who’s interested. Ask your guide if they’ll teach while you hunt.