How to Scout, Locate, and Lock Down a Bird
By Kristine Ostertag
It’s finally that time of the year when hunters start prepping their camo, blinds, and shotguns to chase that trophy longbeard. In recent years, turkey hunting has witnessed an evolution in gear and technology, which has made it easier for hunters to locate and lock down birds. Once that fanned-out Tom is in the sights, advances in shotguns and ammunition have made harvesting a turkey almost effortless.
You may wonder where to begin when it comes to scouting and locking down a bird. Mornings and evenings are the best times to see birds out in the fields. Toms head for field edges and open areas after flying down from the roost, strutting and gobbling as they search for hens. Midday turkeys tend to go to their loafing and dusting areas. Birds can be harder to spot at this time of day, since they are most likely in shaded locations such as wooded areas or river bottoms. Once you have located a few birds during the prime scouting hours, you will want to locate the area where they are roosting – this is, “putting the birds to bed.”
If you are unable to identify which trees they roosted in as dusk falls, return the next morning and use an owl call, or wait for the birds to start talking to locate them. Once you know where the turkeys are roosting, you can begin to narrow down their patterns. Placing cameras at various locations around the roosting area can help you find their landing zones. You will also want to place cameras inside field corners, along logging roads and travel routes, and near food sources. SPYPOINT cameras are a great choice for turkey hunters, and will help you narrow down a time and place to sit.
As your season approaches, use your scouting insights to pick spots that are likely to lead to success. Turkeys have remarkable eyesight, so getting out there and set up well before daylight is ideal. Limited calling is sometimes advantageous as the sun breaks the horizon. If you are hunting highly pressured birds, calling too much may alert them, causing the Toms to hang up in the roost. I recommend calling once, and if they respond, stop calling until you know they have flown down from the roost. If you do not have any luck harvesting a bird in the morning, don’t leave your blind. Midday is when the hens go to their nest and that leaves the Toms searching for new hens. This can be a great opportunity to put in some work with your favorite call and try to bring in a Tom.
With all of the hard work you have put in, you will want to make sure you have a reliable shotgun and ammunition to achieve a successful harvest. Benelli’s new Nova Turkey 20 gauge is a great choice if you are looking for a new shotgun. It was specifically designed for run-and-gun turkey hunters. It’s a lightweight gun that only weighs 6.5 pounds, and features a high visibility red bar front sight for getting on your target in low light. It also comes in bottomland camo, which is ideal for concealing yourself on field edges and in the woods.
Choosing the right turkey loads to pair with your gun is critical. There are countless brands to choose from, and while I have tried many of them over the years that I’ve been chasing Toms, I’ve found that Tungsten Super Slam TSS Shot is my favorite. It provides the tightest tungsten pattern and hits hard while still giving you the ability to harvest a bird at long range – all of which are important for delivering a solid kill shot. Non-toxic Tungsten Super Slam TSS loads are also very affordable, putting premium ammunition within reach of every hunter.
After the harvest comes the processing of the bird. If you plan on getting it mounted, you will want to save the fan, spurs, beard and sometimes the wings and feet, depending on the mount you want. It can be a headache trying to cut through the bone and cartilage, but there are products out there that make this much easier. Smith’s Bait and Game Shears cut through just about anything, making it easy to remove the wings, fan and even cut the legs off the turkey. Smith’s also offers great knives for breasting the turkey out. Now all that is left is to package up your meat and send the fan off to the taxidermist – or perhaps even mount it yourself!
Turkey season is finally here. Enjoy your time in the woods this spring as the songbirds sing, the wildflowers bloom, and the sound of anxious Toms fills the air!
About the author
Kristine Ostertag grew up in rural Wisconsin and was raised on the water and in the woods. She is passionate about the outdoors and spends each and every spare moment chasing something with fins, fur, or feathers. Follow along with Kristine’s outdoor adventures on Instagram @sportswomankristine.