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April 16, 2014

Gettin’ ready for gobbler season: Step one — scouting

So you want more hero pictures this year crouched behind a big gobbler fanning his tail out? Either that or the ever popular gripping him around the neck and straining to hold up his 20 plus pounds?

If you want the pictures, the beards, the spurs and the fried turkey breast, you’ve got a little work to do. You need to get out there and look over the country — scouting.

In truth, if you hunt the same woods every year, the same farm for the past 10 years, you may not have to do much scouting. Mr. Gobbler is going to be there or not, come opening day. No, I am going to take that back, unless you are just intimately familiar with the terrain, how the land lays, then you can learn a lot cruising around the area you are going to hunt.

What do I mean? Any experienced turkey hunter will tell you that knowing the “lay of the land” gives you a tremendous advantage in this game. When season comes in and you are playing for keeps, you hear the turkey gobble, you answer with a call. Once this old familiar dance begins, you are much better prepared if you know what it looks like in that hollow, or at the end of this ridge, wherever your tango with this turkey may take you. Now if you are hunting somewhere unfamiliar (“strange ground” as my buddy calls it), especially big country like a national forest, the need for judicious scouting increases.

Now, what are we looking for as we go over our prospective hunting ground? At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, first we are looking for turkeys. If we see some, that is a good thing, but this will not always happen. So most of the time we are looking for what turkey hunters are always on a quest for — sign.

Turkey sign comes in several forms — scratching, feathers, dusting areas, and, uhhm ... where they went to the bathroom. (I have pictures of this but didn’t think the paper would print them).

Turkeys just naturally scratch in the leaves as they travel in their quest for food. This makes a readily identifiable mark in the leaves. There is really no mistaking it, and deer make a different pattern in the leaves. Turkey hunters can talk forever about turkey scratching. How old was it? How many was in that flock? Which way were they going? On and on and on. I think I told you before it is a sickness.

Turkey feathers are easy to recognize — the large primary wing feathers are white with black barring. The breast and body feathers are smaller and darker, but may have iridescent color on it. Greens and golds may show, depending on how the sun hits them. They can be really beautiful. If you pick up a breast feather, look closely, a gobbler feather will have a black outer edge. Hen feathers will be a lighter tan or beige on the edge.

Turkey droppings look like well ... droppings. They are large and will be dark colored or green, with white on one end. Gobbler droppings are often “J” shaped, and the hens’ looks like popcorn. You may find dusting areas in old roads or sandy areas; turkeys scratch up dry ground and “dust” their feathers in it to help rid themselves parasites.

Good grief. Almost forgot! While you are scouting, if it is an area that you are going to hunt later, do not take a turkey call with you and call up gobblers to you before season. Every year I have to listen to people’s stories about how many turkeys they have called in before season. After opening day, they have trouble getting them into range.

Gee, I wonder what happened? Folks, I don’t put wild turkeys on the level of omnipotence that some hunters do, but they are a very wary animal, and there is no need to educate them before the hunt.

Go do your scouting before season, and you will be glad you did.

Larry Case is a career employee of the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources and a longtime outdoorsman. You may email him at larryocase3@gmail.com.

Getting ready for gobbler series

This week — Scouting

April 23 — Shotgun prepping

April 30 — Calling tips and tricks

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