Meridian Star

March 8, 2013

Spring Scouting for Beginning Turkey Hunters

By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
Otha Barham

MERIDIAN —    When you know which woods you will hunt, the next job is to find the turkeys. Go scouting.

    Leave your turkey callers at home, taking instead a map, or at least a pencil and  paper, a compass, your binoculars, and if you use one, a GPS unit.

    Look for signs left for you by the turkeys.

    Tracks: Find tracks in dusty or muddy roads and around water puddles, streamsides and in fresh cutovers. Large tracks with a long middle toe are typical of gobblers. Hens' three toes are about equal in length and the track is small. However a very old tom often has a smaller foot, so don’t be fooled. If the middle toe of a moderate size track appears to be dominant, it is likely that of an old gobbler.

    Many tracks together that include one or two gobbler prints and are headed in one direction probably mark the passing of a dominant tom, and his harem. The birds likely passed the spot early or very late in the day when hens are not at their nests. If a similar cluster of tracks shows no particular direction, the birds could have been loafing, mating or feeding as a group.

    A single gobbler track suggests a sub-dominant bird or a harem master whose hens are off nesting. This would be a late morning to evening passing. Curved scratched marks on either side of gobbler tracks were made by a strutting tom's extended wing tips. A single hen track is likely from a nesting bird headed to or from her nest.

    Leaf Trails: In hardwood timber, turkeys scratch away leaves in search of insects, seeds, worms etc. Turkey scratchings typically are about eight to 14 inches long and almost that wide. A lot of scratching in an area means the birds are feeding in a flock. A scratched spot here and there is made by a single bird. Scratch trails are so obvious they can be located on a distant ridge using binoculars.

    The flock’s direction of travel can easily be determined by examining the scratched places. Dislodged leaves will be lying on top of settled leaves on the side of the scratched place from which the turkey came.

    Droppings: Hen turkeys leave droppings that average about the size of a quarter and are round. A gobbler's dropping is J shaped, sometimes with characteristics of an exaggerated comma.

     If droppings crumble under your boot they are old. If they are soft and with a definite crust they are more than a day old in dry spring weather. Droppings that are a little firmer than heavy hand lotion and have no crust were made within hours on the same day (in the absence of rain) or, if observed in the morning following a dew, very wet droppings could have been made the evening before.

    Dusting: Find a dry spot in light soil a bit larger than a basketball that has been disturbed to the point of being dished out into a shallow bowl and you have found a turkey’s dusting spot. Several "dusting bowls" may be found within a few square yards. Tracks, feathers or droppings are often nearby.

    Roost Trees: Multiple droppings under a tree with horizontal limbs is probably a roost tree. For confirmation, look for an opening large enough for turkeys to get a running start to fly up to roost. Such a “runway” is where undisturbed turkeys will fly down to in the mornings.

    Scout for these signs, mark them on a map or sketch and have a good turkey season.