Every Labor Day weekend I devote some time to scouting some public ground in north-central Missouri that I hunt in early season. Labor Day usually falls about two weeks before the bowhunting season opener. It marks the somewhat official end of boating and lake season here, but summer’s still in full swing. This year’s weather was typical: hot, dry, and buggy.
Scouting the deep woods in hot weather presents some unique challenges:
- Limited visibility. With summer foliage at its thickest, game and sign are harder to spot. Poison ivy, oak, and sumac are everywhere.
- Hot weather. You have to balance the desire to protect yourself (long sleeves) with the threat of overheating.
- Reptiles. Our state is home to about 8 different venemous snakes, but 95% of snakebites come from rattlesnakes.
For me, poison ivy is the greatest concern. It’s everywhere this time of year, and you have to be super-careful about avoiding the oils and never spreading them to yourself, your clothes, your truck, or your family. I’m concerned enough that I shot this little video:
Locating Roost Trees
Most turkey hunts begin in the morning, and that means locating their roost trees. In the wooded ridges where I was scouting, the turkeys certainly have their choice. I’m lucky enough to have studied this flock for a few years, and this spring I found some of their roosts. I’d love to say that I did so using an owl locator call, like the books tell you to, but that wasn’t so. They ignored my Primos hoot flute, and so I bumped them from their trees in the old-fashioned, nearly-crap-in-your-pants way. You begin to appreciate just how big and strong these birds are when they take off like a military helicopter, 15 yards above your head. Here’s a video with a look at one of those trees:
Scouting for Turkey Sign
I’d love to go out and glass the turkey flock to learn more about their behavior. Sadly, with a cloud of bugs around me and clatter of my boots on the dry leaves, sneaking up on turkeys on a hot afternoon wasn’t feasible. Even so, the daily activities of wild turkeys leave numerous signs behind in the woods:
- Chest, tail, and wing feathers are commonly shed.
- Disturbed leaves and scratch marks where they search for food
- Droppings, if you can find them, distinguish hens from toms.
According to this nice turkey hunting article on bowhunting.net, finding turkey sign is arguably more important anyway, because it’s more permanent and indicative of normal turkey behavior. As author Stu Keck points out, most times that you see turkeys in the woods, they’ve already seen you and are reacting to your presence. Most of my turkey encounters have been like that, at least.
Flocks of Hens and Poults
In the fall, I’m mostly interested in locating flocks of hens and yearling poults. This flock (photo left) was wisely staying cool in the shade beside a road in a no-hunting zone.
Scouting for flocks like these is important, because the fall turkey hunting dynamic is very different from spring season. There’s no breeding urge, so getting gobblers to come to you is very difficult. Fall turkey hunters exploit another vulnerability: the attachment between members of a flock. Turkeys (even gobblers) group up in the fall and spend most of their days together. In theory, we can exploit this weakness to ambush a dispersed group of birds.
The approach is straightforward:
- Locate a flock of several turkeys and sneak as close to them as possible.
- Run at them and shout, scattering the flock in several directions.
- Set up in a concealed position and call with hen (assembly) or poult (kee-kee run) calls.
The idea is that the flock will try to reunite after being separated, so your calls will “help” them do that within shooting distance.
Key in on Food Sources
The late summer / early fall patterns for turkeys are similar to those for whitetails: food is the main focus. Turkeys eat a variety of bugs, seeds, crops, and mast, so narrowing down the main food source can be tricky. The turkey sign I found on my scouting expedition seemed to point me to a couple of possible food sources:
The roost area I found is on a wooded ridge. At the bottom I found lots of feathers, and a possible “dusting” area. At the top of the ridge is this trail up toward a food source. Which makes for a better ambush site? I’m not sure yet, but I set out my digital scouting cameras and should have new intel in a couple of weeks.