By: Tom Richardson
A walk in the spring Turkey woods is a refreshing and much welcomed activity after a long Michigan winter. Enjoy the sights and smells of the woods awakening from her slumber , but, keep your eyes open for Turkey sign. Pre-season scouting has always been the best way to ensure a successful hunt. Here's a few things I've learned along the way.
Birds will pretty much use the same trees over and over again till disturbed. Look for the obvious signs. Gobblers will usually sleep in separate trees but still somewhat close to the hens.
Search for feathers, turkey dung, scratchings etc......you'll know the roost trees when you find them. Tom Turkey droppings are shaped like a " J " and are about 2" long whereas hen droppings are round and circular in shape. Birds also like to pitch down into fairly open areas in the hardwoods, so look for clear cuts with big trees nearby. Pines in high country and cottonwoods or big ,live or dead oaks with the large "open arm" type limbs in the low lying areas are a good bet in bird country. Food and water play an important role in locating roosting trees so keep that in mind while scouting.
Look for scratchings and loose feathers which will tell you the way the birds are heading to their feeding areas or dusting bowls. The leaves will be kicked back in the opposite direction that they're going. A Gobbler track is about 4" long from the heel to the tip of the middle toe. Also, the tips of the feathers from a Gobbler are black. The tip of the hen's feathers have a lighter, brownish color.
An owl call or rooster pheasant cackle at night is a good roost locator. Right at sun up, nothing beats a sandhill crane, crow or pheasant cackle. Midday calling I'll use all of the above. If all else fails, a loud sharp cluck every 20-25 seconds on your slate will usually entice a silent Tom into cutting loose.
Another good tactic to roost birds is to scan field edges an hour or so before dark. Birds are getting in one last snack and will be heading to bed soon. Watch where they go into the woods. The roost will more than likely be within 100 - 150 yards or so.
One tactic that works very well once you've located active turkey roosting trees is to wait till the birds are roosted and take a loud noisy stroll right thru the middle of'em. Bust the flock in all directions. The birds will roost alone and in unfamiliar trees. Come morning they'll be ready to rejoin their friends after spending a long, lonely night. Set up close to where you busted'em and at daylight start off with a few very soft tree yelps, followed by a fly down cackle. No locators are needed in this situation, you already know that they are somewhere close. Once down, a few soft cuts, clucks, and a purr or two for good measure will more often than not, put a bird in front of you.
Everybody likes to entice a Longbeard to cut loose with a thundering gobble, it's fun ! But, using a mating call before season is one of the worst mistakes a hunter can make. I hear this constantly at the various hunting shows and seminars I attend around the country each year. Guys will locate pre season birds by yelping with their box, slate or mouth call. NEVER use a yelp or mating call to locate a bird before season starts. A gobble call, owl hooter, crow, pheasant cackle or my favorite, a sandhill crane call will do the job without actually calling in a bird. As a rule of thumb, a mature Tom will only be called in 2, maybe 3 times in it's life. If you locate with a mating call , he will answer and eventually come in to find no hen. Strike one. In my opinion, a Longbeard is the wariest of all critters, don't educate'em.
A few more rules I follow are that I never call from the road. This happens a lot on state ground. A lot of rookie hunters will call from the road. If this is happening in your hunting area, get out in the woods and call from different locations. Location being the key word here and very important, especially on hard hunted birds. While hunting, call from a location where a turkey hasn't been called to before. Cluck, cut and purr. Yelp sparingly and call softly. Try something he isn't used to hearing alot. Don't be afraid to try new things and be different than everyone else. Use locators and calling techniques that are new to you, chances are that they're new to the turkey too. A wise old Turkey hunter from Ma. once told me that the bird is the one true judge of your calling. He also added that " Every deer thinks a man is a stump, every turkey thinks a stump is a man. " Words I live by in the Turkey woods. Spring Turkey season is a great way to introduce a youngster or spouse to the outdoors. Warm temps along with birds singing at the tops of their lungs and watching the new woods babies all walking around on their spindly legs make for a very enjoyable outing. But, most of all, just sit back, take a deep breath and enjoy your time afield . It's a magical time. A time of renewal, reflection and a chance to match wits with one of our state's most challenging and magnificent birds, The Michigan Spring Gobbler. Life is good.