Gerald Almy: Prepare early for spring gobbler season
Two hens appeared first in the dim early morning light. Following close behind them was a jake, half puffed out in strut. Finally, taking up the rear, came the long-bearded tom I had been calling to.
Slipping off the safety on my shotgun, I made the slight final adjustment to cover his head and neck with my sight and squeezed the trigger. My first gobbler of the year was in the bag.
Yes, I was lucky that gobbler came into range for a clean shot a couple years ago. But besides luck, preparation and thorough scouting also played a strong role in bagging that 19 pound tom.
Locating and learning the habits of as many birds as you can is essential for a successful spring gobbler season. But getting ready for the upcoming season requires more than just scouting. Before even hitting the woods you should take a number of other preparatory steps. Let’s go through some of these to make sure you’ll be ready when it arrives on April 16.
Shape up! You need to be physically ready for the task. Start with a few hikes and stretching exercises. Then gradually build up to your maximum capability.
Turkey hunting can require lots of walking. If birds aren’t gobbling well, you may have to cover miles to find a cooperative tom. Get in the best shape you can. You’ll also enjoy the sport more if you’ve not panting as you climb up every hill.
Prepare your equipment. Get your shotgun or bow out and clean it. Then practice with several brands of ammo and different shot sizes to make sure you have the optimum load for your shotgun. Fire the gun at turkey head and neck targets to see how many pellets hit the vital area at different ranges, or practice with your bow.
Clean and check your decoys to see if any need replacing. Get camouflage out and make sure it’s ready to go or replace it. Make sure that you have camo or drab-colored clothing to cover every part of your body, including socks, gloves and face coverings.
Practice calling. Everyone needs a little tuning up before the season. Practice on your old standby calls and also buy and check out a few new ones. Better to get your sour notes out now, rather than when you’re trying to lure in a big tom with a 12-inch beard.
Scouting. Finding birds is one of the most important parts of preparing for spring turkey season. Use a combination of walking and driving to cover lots of ground, working out isolated gravel and dirt roads and along ridges to call down into valleys and bowls. The goal is to locate as many birds as possible. Try just listening first. This is the least conspicuous way to pinpoint toms.
If you don’t hear any, try locator calls such as owl, woodpecker, hawk, gobbler and crow sounds to startle a response from nearby toms. As a last resort, try hen calls. Once you pinpoint a bird, stop hen calling. You want to locate them, not educate them or spook them before the season opens.
And don’t give up on a spot just because you didn’t hear anything one morning. If a spot has potential, check it out several times in the weeks before the season opens. Birds may be there but just not gobble on a particular morning.
Another good approach is to climb to high observation areas such as ridge tops, fire towers or other areas where you can glass and search for turkeys in fields, natural meadows and open parts of woods. Bring a pair of binoculars so you can search a wide area.
Besides locating birds, it’s important to try to pattern them. After a bird gobbles, wait and see what it does. Where does it fly to when it leaves the roost tree? Does it head for a field, an oak flat, a nearby water hole?
Another thing to find out is where hens roost in relation to the gobblers. That’s often the direction they’ll head at first light. The more of these details you can pin down, the more likely you’ll be able to figure out the tom’s movement patterns and set up in the perfect spot.
Look for strutting areas, too. These are traditional spots where birds display their fans in front of hens year after year. Try to be at one of these locations shortly after sunrise. Also look out for gobbler droppings, scratched areas where the turkeys have fed, and dusting areas where the birds try to remove insects from their bodies.
Besides locating sign, scouting also lets you learn more about the topography and vegetation where you hunt. This will help when you move to set up on a bird and allow you to choose the best calling location.
Be sure to scope out fields, as well. Turkeys often gravitate to these openings for the bugs, tender green shoots and clover they find there. If you know where they typically enter from, you can set up and wait for them there.
Bring either a topo or hand-drawn map of the hunting area with you as you try to locate birds and do your scouting. Mark locations where gobblers call from, where hens roost, water sources, fields you see turkeys in, dusting spots, feeding areas, and strutting grounds. As you scout you’ll begin to see patterns that will help you set up in the location gobblers want to go to at a given time of day.
Knowing that is even more important than what gun you use or your calling skills for ensuring a successful spring gobbler hunt.
Good luck, and always keep safety foremost in mind!
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.