I learned the value of scouting turkeys on my very first turkey hunt. A good friend of mine had kept an eye on a flock of turkeys all spring. The night before he watched them go to roost and knew where they would be headed the following morning. We crept out to his scouted hiding spot in the dark and were met with gobbles as the sun peeked over the horizon. He did make one mistake. He didn't realize just how many turkeys were in the area. The twenty birds he watched fly up the evening before became 60+ birds in the morning. I pulled the trigger on a 23 pound gobbler about 15 minutes after fly down and my season was over by 7:30 AM opening day. Scouting could be the most important element in turkey hunting.
The first step in scouting for wild turkeys is deciding where to hunt. Will you be hunting private property or public? Where is the property and what are it’s characteristics? The best place to start is an aerial map of your target hunting property. I like to print out a wide view of the entire area and a zoomed in picture of the general location I intend to hunt. The wide view gives me an idea of how turkeys may be coming to and from my location. These maps are available free of charge at websites like Google Earth. Even if you’ve hunted the area before an aerial map is a great idea. A bird’s eye view is incredibly beneficial for any hunter.
After getting familiar with the property with a map, take a look at it in person. I like to start from a distance and work my way in. I usually won’t get out of the truck during my first scouting trip. I’ll simply glass the entire property with binoculars looking for turkeys. If you plan to hunt in the morning, try to scout in the morning. Most hunters will roost a turkeys in the evening. Knowing where the birds are roosting is very valuable information. Knowing where they typically go after coming out of the roost is even more valuable. Morning scouting is the best way to get this information. Keep a log book with the weather conditions the night before and morning of your scouting trip. Turkeys will change roosting locations based on conditions like wind and rain.
If you're on a flock of turkeys, a few hours of scouting in the woods can also be valuable. I try to check my roosts during the day when turkeys are feeding. I'll walk into roosting areas and look for turkey sign. Droppings and feathers on the forest floor are a good indication of roosting trees. Search for scratching areas. Turkey like to pull leaves back and pick the grubs living under them. These spots will give you an indication of where birds are feeding when they fly down. Once you have locked down the birds, find a setup location. A lot of hunters like to sit against wide tree trunks. Big trees do a good job of breaking up your silhouette and provide safety from being shot from behind by other hunters. However, my favorite setup locations are blowdowns and brush piles. This is especially true if I'm hunting on private property and I'm confident in where turkeys will be. A blowdown not only breaks up your silhouette, it provides cover in front of you as well. If there isn't a good blowdown available, I'll pick a tree and find some dead branches and other cover to put in front of it. Make your pile low enough to shoot over but high enough to cover up foot movement.
The techniques described above are recommended a week or two before your hunt. However, the night before your hunt is probably the most important time to scout. This is often called "roosting turkeys" or "putting the birds to bed". For more information on roosting, click here. The idea is to know where turkeys are roosting the night before the hunt. This information will give you a heads up on where to set up in the morning. Even if you have been scouting a particular flock for weeks, they could roost somewhere else on this specific evening. There are a variety of reasons including a change in food source, a predator attack, weather, or hunter pressure. The most important aspect of roosting turkeys is to avoid being spotted. Try to keep your distance but if you become surrounded by turkeys, wait until well after dark to move quietly out of the woods.
I personally believe in year round scouting. The more information you have about the turkeys on your property, the more success you can expect to have. Turkeys will often use the same trails in April as they did in October. Their activity does change as food sources change, but roost sites are usually the same. Where turkeys go after they come out of the roost is the only thing that changes. I get a lot of my turkey scouting done while deer hunting. It’s never a bad time to scout turkeys!