Key Elements Of Success: Scouting

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If you were to ask five turkey hunters how they scouted for turkeys, you'd surely get five different answers.  Scouting for turkeys can range from listening for turkeys the night before the opener, driving around your hunting area glassing fields, using game cameras to monitor turkey habits, using maps, and wearing out the soles of your boots for months in advance of the opener.  So what is the best practice?  For me it is a blend of all these, and typically I start about mid-March here in Northern New York.  My turkey grounds are located along the St. Lawrence River in Northwest St. Lawrence County, which is just about as far from New York City as one could get while still living in New York State.
 
In mid-March, depending on the weather, turkeys begin to show themselves regularly in agricultural fields and pasture lands.  As the days become longer it triggers memories of the previous springs for the toms and hunters alike!  Once I start seeing birds regularly on my commute to work, I know it is time to start scouting.  I typically start by contacting all the private land owners whose land I previously had permission to hunt.  This helps to eliminate surprises and sudden disappointment later into the spring. 
 
Once I have secured permission for my hunting lands then it is time to study maps and place game cameras in areas I feel birds are frequenting.  I employ game cameras for a couple reasons.  Turkeys are still in winter flocks and are still a ways from spring patterns.  Game cameras will let you know what kind of toms are in the area, even though there will be a great amount of dispersal.  But, honestly, who doesn't love a quality picture with many strutting toms in it!  I will employ game cameras for a great majority of the spring, redeploying as flocks break up and change patterns.  Maps will help me determine possible roost sites and feeding areas come hunting season.  I particularly like Bing Maps because they last updated their imagery of my area in May of 2011 which is during turkey season here in New York.  I also use a couple of different apps on my iPhone to help plan scouting missions, hunts, and predict turkey movements when running and gunning.  I'll talk about use of technology in a future "Key Elements of Success" installment.
 
When March wanes and warm days lead into April, I begin driving around and glassing fields in my hunting areas.  This serves two purposes.  One, it will let you see where birds are dispersing to.  Secondly, it could allow you to see what farmers may plan on doing with certain fields in the area which may dictate turkey patterns once the hunting season arrives.  As the days in April become longer and warmer, I begin doing scouting missions to find where turkeys are and what food sources they are consuming.  Some of my hunting grounds are completely wooded or have hidden fields which can’t be viewed from the road.  These pieces are where I spend most of my time. 

I will also redeploy my game cameras to these locations to help me fully identify the turkeys’ patterns.  Redeploying the game cameras and actually visiting the woods at this point in the spring is crucial because turkeys will usually hold these patterns for the season opener.  It is also important to use scouting cameras because they will help keep your impact down which could alert turkeys to your presence.  I know turkeys are different than deer, but if you bust a flock off a ridge or out of a field enough times, they will change their pattern. 
 
What I prefer to do is use a vehicle to check the cameras when I can.  Turkeys in farm country are used to vehicles coming and going on tractor roads and in and out of fields.  This will help keep them oblivious to the fact that they are being patterned and hunted.  Now, I know some places you want to scout may not be accessible by vehicle, so you’ll need to check your cameras when you know the turkeys aren’t in the area.  In a similar fashion, my scouting missions are “low impact.” I get into an area before it gets light. For me, personally, I like to get in early because I enjoy listening to birds wake up on the roost.  Nothing compares to listening to anxious and unpressured toms sound off on a calm spring morning.  To keep a low profile I choose to get to a high area where I can listen from a distance and then leave without being detected.  I also never bring turkey calls with me, I know that it is tempting to call to toms that are “fired up”, but this will only make it tougher come time to actually hunt these birds.  I occasionally bring a crow call which is only used when I am in wooded areas.  This prevents me from walking up on a tom.
 
If you couldn’t tell from my extensive scouting plan, I am a turkey fanatic.  I enjoy scouting turkeys and figuring out their patterns.  It is what I live for as a hunter.  I believe it is vital to have multiple birds patterned in order to ensure your success.  You never know when a tom is going to be in a bad mood!  My plan may not work for you, or you may think that my plan is overkill.  I also know that seasons open at different times during the spring months.  Just adjust my plan to fit your needs.  I hope you can take something from this to help you shoot one in the face come hunting season!
Author:
Rex Reynolds IV
My name is Rex Reynolds IV, I live in Hammond, NY. I am a high school Special Education teacher. I have been in love with the sportsman lifestyle for much of my life. I began turkey hunting in the Adirondack Mountains about 15 years ago. I have grown more obsessed and successful with each passing season. I have since moved out of the mountains and into the agricultural lands along the St. Lawrence River. I greatly enjoy every spring turkey season and have been introducing new hunters and youth hunters to the sport of turkey hunting. I hunt turkeys approximately 20 of the 30 days in the season. I enjoy sharing my outdoor experiences with others. I also belong to the Mountain Hollow Game Calls pro-staff. It is truly an honor to contribute to Wild Turkey Report. Link to my Pro-staff page: http://mountainhollowgamecalls.com/pro-staff/rex-reynolds/
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