Over the past 40 some years, the evolu- tion of the wild turkey and the way that we hunt them, has changed dramatically. Back in the early ‘80s, the wild turkey population was very sparse in many parts of the country. Due to the combined effort of state DNRs and conservation groups like The National Wild Turkey Fed- eration, populations exploded in the ‘90s and beyond. Having pursued the wild turkey with stick and string over this time frame, I can remember seasons where a single gobble was never heard to the glo- ry days of having your pick at any number of strutting gobblers responding to your call. Unfortunately, it appears as if we’ve come full circle with the wild turkey.
Turkey populations are on the decline across the country and there are a lot of speculative theories as well as some biological ones for this happenstance. Regardless of the reason, gone are the days of simply striking a call and having multiple gobblers come running to you.
For better or worse, times have changed in the world of the wild turkey. If you’re hoping to find continued success hunting them, your tactics must change as well. Another factor that must be added to the equation is the average age of the modern-day bowhunter. Baby boomers account for the highest percentage of this demographic, and let’s face it, they aren’t getting any younger.
I can remember hunts from my youth as if they transpired only yesterday, but the truth of the matter is, as we age the mind and body no longer work in unison. Gone are the days of picking up my re- curve, throwing a quiver on my back, and heading into the mountains with no specific destination in mind with the hopes of working a longbeard. I can also vividly recall every detail of my most cherished turkey hunt that trans- pired along a field edge. I was tucked in against a large cherry tree and after four hours of coaxing, I worked a strutter and his lady friends into 8-yards before I was able to draw my Mathews compound and kill the king. I was a much younger man that day and my knees still ached for hours. If that same scenario were to occur now, I would need to be airlifted to the hospital.
With the decreasing turkey populations and the assault of father time on the bowhunting populous, the best way to find frequent success in today’s turkey woods is to hunt smarter – not harder. I know that’s something we’ve all heard before for any number of scenarios and/ or species, but it really does hold true when hunting spring gobblers. Obvious- ly, the easiest way to kill any turkey is by calling it into range. It’s not some Zen- like experience as some of the purists would have us believe. It’s just simply the easiest way to kill turkeys. I’d hate to have to make a living shooting gobblers out of their roost trees or ambushing them on the ground without ever call- ing to them. Therefore, scouting and patience are the keys to hunting today’s sparse and tight-lipped birds.
Wild turkeys can be very predictable and patternable. Turkeys as a whole do not travel very far or fast in the springtime.
There are plenty of abundant food sourc- es. Hens won’t stray far from established dusting and nesting sites, and gobblers are reluctant to leave their established breeding area. Just because they’re not vocal doesn’t mean they’re not there.
On more than one occasion, I’ve seen a gobbler with several hens stay within a two-hundred-yard radius the entire day. Generally, all of the birds will be in the same roosting areas night after night and visit the same feeding areas day after day. Food sources can change on any given day and things can happen to break their pattern, but more often than not, there’s a lot of familiarity and redundan- cy in a wild turkey’s routine.
Your scouting objective should be to lo- cate as many gobblers as possible before opening day. The best way to accomplish this is to listen for both gobblers and hens near known roosting areas in the early morning hours or by visually glass- ing them in open fields throughout the day. Many times, they will use the same entrance and exit points when utilizing the fields. After two or three quick glass- ing sessions, you can have the birds rela- tively patterned and you’ve not educated them in the least. Big woods or moun- tainous gobblers may tend to be more nomadic but they will still have their favorite roosting, strutting, and feeding zones in a given area. Listening and slow- ly walking while deciphering signs along the way will unlock the patterns of these birds. Checking under suspected roost trees for droppings, scratchings across ridge tops, and bare soiled dusting and strutting zones will reveal where the local birds are spending their time.