Sunday, March 27, 2011

Turkey Hunters Need to Start Mapping Out Their Strategies

March 27, 2011 - By Shirley Grenoble, For the Altoona Mirror

Gobblers are kicking it into high gear these days, despite last week's tornado, hail and snow.

When it's time, it's time and now is the time for gobblers to be shrieking, strutting and sparring with one another for breeding rights. And it's time for savvy spring gobbler hunters to be out participating in the activity most vital to their season's success: preseason scouting.
Starting the season knowing the hangouts of several good gobblers gives one the edge over the casual hunters who will spend half their hunting time looking for birds to hunt.

But first, here's how most experienced gobbler hunters - including me - tell us NOT to scout. Do not bother or harrass the birds before season. Some hunters spend their preseason scouting time calling birds in, which only teaches them that the enemy is afoot, has learned their language and that chasing after hens calling from distant brush is futile. These foolish scouters have taught gobblers not to go to any hen they cannot see. These are the birds that, in season, will answer your calls, but will not come to you.

Hunters need to check out their favorite turkey haunts before season to find out if there are gobblers there this spring. Ideally, one simply finds a good listening post- high on a mountain, a point overlooking a wide valley - and waits there at dawn to listen for amorous toms gobbling their location to listening hens.

The smart scouter notes - in his mind or even in a notebook - where he heard birds, how many etc. He looks for tracks, droppings, feathers and roosting trees in the area that indicate birds are using this ridge or field for their daily activities.

This scouter takes pains to not reveal his presence to the turkeys. He wants them undisturbed. If the birds he has located are not hassled by other hunters before season, he'll be able to hunt birds less suspicious of and more responsive to his calls when season begins.

A hunter who has a number of gobblers located before season can quickly change locations if needed. Perhaps he drives to a certain spot to hunt but finds another vehicle parked there. No matter; he knows with assurance several other spots he can try.

Perhaps he hears no gobbling some morning. Rather than staying with a location where there may or may not be a gobbler that day, he can confidently move to another location where he has previously noted gobbler activity.

Still other hunters, perhaps not able to be so mobile, can stay with confidence in an area where he knows there are gobblers. Often, these toms can be started up later in the morning.

In fact, several of my regular hunting buddies have noticed in just the past couple years that gobblers have changed their morning habits in just this way: they gobble sparingly at dawn, fly down and then approach a hunter's position without uttering a sound. It sometimes takes an hour or more for a gobbler to suspiciously approach a hunter's position, and the hunter is unaware that there is a gobbler within a mile.

I learned that very lesson the hard way, starting a few years ago when I noticed this definite shift in the birds' responses to the hunter's calling. They have learned to look for the distant hen quietly, not revealing their presence and not making themselves known until they actually see the hen. It's been a nerve-wracking experience, but I've learned it.

When a gobbler answers your calls from the roost but flies down and shuts up, just anchor yourself to a tree and wait and watch. Give it an hour, and you'll catch sight of him ghosting through the woods.

He's spooked, probably because he's been hassled the last few weeks with phony calls and nonexistent hens. He's simply been conditioned to not reveal himself until he knows for sure that the hen is real. This scouter is smart to recheck his areas just before season starts. Places you heard gobbling in March may not produce in late April.

One last tip: locate at least a couple birds that cannot be heard from a road. Hike back in a mile or two if you can and pinpoint a few birds that few others will have heard.

Here's the bottom line: calling birds in before season simply wises them up. Getting spooked a couple times by hidden hunters teaches them that it is risky to parade into a place from which they heard hen calls. If their hormones drive them to investigate such calls from afar, they will do it quietly.

If they are lured to your preseason calls but find no hen there, they learn that these chases are usually futile. So when they have even one hen around them, they are not going to leave her to run after one in the bushes they can't see.

They will answer your calls, but if they don't come to you, it's because they have learned that any hen that doesn't show up looking for them is bogus. We sometimes do stupid things in the woods before season starts, and we pay big time for it.

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