Tips for scouting public lands for the coming spring turkey season

The writer with one he got.

Turkey scouting is a bit underrated but pays off in spades… or spurs, rather. As a novice hunter, I recall an old-timer taxidermist chuckling as I probed for scouting strategies. Scouting? He didn’t scout! Slip to the gobbler with the shotgun during season was how he scouted. True enough, plenty of folks employ that strategy today, much to the chagrin of other hunters within earshot of the same animal. There’s more competition in modern turkey woods.

Locating and planning ambushes prior to Opening Morning helps circumvent the seek-and-destroy crowd. In that vein, here are critical tips for scouting Florida’s public lands.

Firebreaks, logging roads and other trails are often used by turkeys. Make note of where you find them, especially “wayback” spots other hunters might overlook.

Get a Foothold at Home – Early in the season, turkeys are relatively predictable. The gobblers will trail hens to their favorite places to feed. These include pastures and clearings, oaks hammocks, creek bottoms, firebreaks, and logging roads. Identify these places on aerial maps or Google Earth to narrow scouting efforts. Expect many of these spots to be known to other hunters, so note multiple locations to investigate. Be willing to step off the beaten path to discover your own honey-hole.

Scout During Small Game Seasons – Many Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) host small game seasons during the weeks leading up to spring turkey. The beauty of this is in the vehicular access to the property. This allows one to cover plenty of ground rather than needing to bike and hike over thousands of acres. Remember to review individual WMA brochures for rules specific to the property.

Strut marks in the sand (from wingtips dragging) are a sure indicator toms are using the area.

Find the Right Sign – Gobbler tracks are significantly larger than a hen’s. Toms will move far and wide this time of year, and their footprints are not difficult to spot on dusty roads. Seek out strut marks in places where tracks converge. These sand gashes are created by the primary wing feathers as they drag the ground when the
tom is puffed up. If a bird is regularly visiting an area, you should see these marks of various ages carved in the soil. If possible, utilize trail cameras to clue in on when he’s coming through.

Plan Morning and Evening Sits – Plan a few sits in the woods based on the information you’ve gathered throughout February. Hunters differ in opinion over the impact of artificially enticing a gobble with a locator call. Personally, I prefer to stay quiet and well away from roosting sites early. As the morning progresses, I’ll creep in for a closer look and listen. If scouting with buddies, spread out on the property and compare notes. Also, don’t be discouraged if you’re greeted with silence. Try again the next day. Gobbling activity is governed by forces beyond our control and intellectual capabilities, I’m convinced.

Bottom line: Study the property and invest ample time in the woods. You’ll learn a lot about the birds that’ll help coax them in front of your 12-gauge come March. Roosted isn’t always roasted, but you’ll be in better shape than those hoping to follow a gobble Opening Morning. FS

Florida Sportsman Magazine February 2020

To see the open/closed status of WMA’s you may be interested in, click here.

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