Article written by Mario Bertrand
Entering the spring turkey woods for the first time is an exciting experience for a new hunter; now add the thundering gobble of a boss tom sounding off at day break. It’s a sound that will send adrenalin racing through your veins and just like that, you are hooked for life.
WELCOME TO THE CLUB
As a past Guide and long time Pro Staffer for Gobble Stalker Turkey Calls, I have met and spoke with hundreds of people over the years. I get asked many questions related to turkey calling; “What is the best turkey sound to make?”, “How often should I call?” These are all great questions, but in my opinion calling is only a small part of being a successful turkey hunter.
Success starts long before you sit down and fire that first call on opening day. I have been hunting turkeys in our great province since the early 90’s, but if we were to look at my photo album you would see my success as a turkey hunter did not start until well into the late 90’s. This was surly not from a lack of trying, more of a lack of not knowing what to look for or what to do with it when I found it. I could probably write a small novel about what I have seen and learned over my turkey hunting career, but for now I would like to provide you with insight I wish I had in the early years. Hopefully this will bring you some early success.
Before you can ever think about chasing that elusive long beard, first you need to locate a parcel of land that has a few of the right elements and holds a small population of birds. It’s hard to hunt what you don’t have, so this is where we are going to start.
To achieve this, you may need to knock on a number of doors to get permission to hunt and with a little luck this shouldn’t be a big project. If you find yourself struggling with this, there are a number of crown lands parcels and public forests around the province that hold good bird populations, but keep in mind it also holds large hunter populations as well. Always keep safety in mind when entering into public hunting areas. Everyone needs to get home to tell the great stories after each turkey hunt. Some new turkey hunters choose to cut their teeth in the sport by contacting any number of the good guides located throughout the province.
QUICK TIP When determining where to start looking, I have found that working cattle farms are great to target. Be on the lookout for freshly turned over, dried out cow patties.
LAY OF THE LAND
Now that the hardest part is taken care of let’s get onto the good stuff! The first time setting foot on a new turkey property is almost as exciting to me as the opening day. I look at it this way, being able to see the battle ground well before the battle.
The modern day computer and Google Earth can save a little leg work. It allows you to see the lay of the land and rule out areas you will not need to scout, allowing your time to be better spent in key areas. Of course this does not replace the need to put on your boots and hit the ground walking and investigating these properties. During these scouting missions, you are looking for a number of things; the lay of the land from a ground perspective, where are good roosting trees, how hilly is the terrain, what is the food source, is there easy access to roads or trails, and is there any page wire or cedar rail fences. Trust me, fences are to a turkey hunter, like kryptonite is to Superman.
Take note of other land features that might stop an advancing gobbler, such as ponds and creeks or very thick brushy zones. Much like deer, the turkeys will take advantage of the path of least resistance and they prefer to walk tractor paths or logging roads when responding to your call. This makes gate entries to fields or woods a great ambush spot.
During your scouting, look for a primary set up spot otherwise known as Plan A. This will be your primary early morning setup to attempt to call in the big gobbler. Plans will vary from hunter to hunter, depending on your individual hunting style. Some hunters prefer to setup under or near the roost for the fly down, but that requires an early start. On the other hand, some like to setup on the edge of a food source, drawing in birds as they enter the field looking for hens.
Myself, I prefer to setup well away from both, attempting to call to toms and bring them back into the woods as they make the transition from roost to early morning fields. The advantage of being in the woods, forces the boss Hen or gobblers to search for me, reducing the likelihood of a “hung up” bird. There is a bonus to this setup. If you are unsuccessful in cutting them off on the way to the fields early, as the morning goes on, sub-dominant and satellite gobblers that have been chased off by the boss gobbler start to disperse in search of other hens.
“WHAT IF SPOT” LOCATION
When scouting, I am constantly looking for that “what if spot”. I look at it like this; if I were to call right here right now and have a gobbler hammer back nearby, where would my setup be? If you don’t have a plan when this happens, you will find yourself bobbing and weaving looking for place to hide, which never works, trust me! If I find a good setup location, I will take a few minutes to prep the spot by clearing shooting lanes or adding some brush for cover. If I think this area may present a Plan A setup morning or afternoon I will place a pop up blind in that location.
Now, add this spot to your memory bank to use if the situation arises. I use my “what if spots” a lot, over the course of the season, when looking for mid-day birds as they move around in search of hens. Why all this prep you ask? The benefit to pre-planning your locations is that at any time of day you can walk into one of your turkey woods, fire a crow locator call or hammer out the cutting sounds of an excited hen and when that boss tom thunders back, like a ping on a GPS you can instantly pinpoint his position and know how to make your approach.
As we roll into the first couple weeks of April, most birds should have broke from the big flocks and reached the spring breeding and nest areas from their winter yards.
With more and more birds now frequenting the open fields, this allows me to glass birds from the truck as the bachelor groups start to mesh with the groups of hens – so exciting! This is my favorite scouting time and allows me to take inventory of my birds for the coming season. This also gives me the opportunity to locate target birds from the season prior.
If time and weather permit, I try to beat the early dawn and be on each of my properties at least once in the weeks leading up to the season opener. I want to hear the early morning gobble well before the fly down. This tells me two things: the location the birds have chosen to roost, and how many possible gobblers I have. Take advantage of the low light as well on these mornings, to work your way close to the gobblers as they sound off giving up their location. After you get into position to watch the fly down, take inventory of that particular flock. I make sure to never get too close as I watch for the direction the birds take as they leave the roosting area. This is the number one piece of information you use when setting your PLAN A location.
As the dawn begins to break the horizon earlier and earlier each day, turkey hunters everywhere, including me, become increasingly excited about opening day – hoping all their hard work will allow them to wrap a tag around the leg of that spring gobbler. Regardless of the outcome of any turkey season, every year I take home memories of the gobbles that answered my lovesick hen calls, the cutting battles with those vocal boss hens, and most of all the memories afield with family and friends.