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Spring Scouting Pays Off in the Fall

By Stephen Schafer

Let’s talk about how the early spring can benefit your hunting success throughout the year.

Now is the time to get out into your favorite woodlot, public land, or lease and start scouting for that big ol’ gobbler which became fair game on April 18. The spring gobbler season is called that because only male turkeys with a beard may be taken, and hunting stops at noon each day.

Hens normally stay on or near the nest during the morning hours and routinely venture away from the nest to feed at midday, when the sun and higher temperatures will keep their “clutch” (eggs) warm. The noon closure lessens the chance of hens being mistaken for gobblers by the hunting public. One hen being mistakenly shot would more than likely result in the mortality of 10 to 12 eggs; that’s too many birds to lose because of carelessness. Always be sure of your target, especially in the turkey woods. Hunters are in full camo and are mimicking the sounds of turkeys in hopes of calling a gobbler to the gun. A good practice for spring gobbler hunters is to place an orange ribbon around the tree at about five feet up the base from where you’ll be sitting. This safety practice is not only practical but, on public land, downright smart!

Gobblers are easily identified in the spring, as their heads will be bright red, white and blue and they are much more iridescent and shiny than their female counterparts. Soft yelps, putts, cackles and aggressive cuts are the sounds made by mouth diaphragms, slate, glass, boxes and wing bone calls to lure in the love-struck gobblers within gun or bow range.

Most hunters sit with their backs to the base of a large tree and face the direction they anticipate the bird coming from. However, pop-up blinds, stake blinds and folding blinds have become increasingly popular in the last ten years. These blinds allow you more freedom of movement, comfort, and portability, and they set-up in a matter of seconds. They also provide a large degree of safety as they are easily spotted by another hunter but readily ignored by the 10X vision of the gobbler.

As you scout for turkey signs in preparation for your hunt, you want to look for scratchings from feeding birds, droppings, roost trees (which will have a great deal of droppings under them), watering areas, and of course, feeding areas. Field edges, oak ridges, stream beds and old logging roads are excellent areas to scout for birds and the signs they leave.

While scouting, keep a sharp eye out for shed antlers as routinely all bucks have lost the previous year’s rack by late March. Over the years I have found some dandy racks while scouting for spring turkeys and though not like bagging the deer itself, finding a large shed is nonetheless a really cool experience. In addition to the potential of finding sheds, early spring scouting also reveals a lot more about the deer and their habits. This can greatly benefit you when autumn rolls around and it’s bow season, muzzle-loading or firearm season.

Prior to the “green-up,” the woods are a storybook of deer signs. Rub lines, scrapes, travel corridors and bedding areas are easily located and can paint a very vivid picture of the deer movements and habits in the area. The winter months’ effect on the forest beats down the leaves and other foliage providing the hunter with easy visual scanning of the signs present on the forest floor. This ability to find trails, travel corridors and staging areas can be invaluable when the fall season arrives.

Also, the appearance of the forest at this stage of the season allows a hunter to trim shooting lanes and mark trails much easier. Then, as fall approaches, minimal follow-up will be necessary and less of your scent will be left in the area.

Lack of insects is another consideration that makes spring hunting and scouting more enjoyable. By spring’s end the mosquitoes, gnats, flies and chiggers are more than ready to make a meal of you.

Put your time in now before the insects, foliage and heat get bad and you’ll be way ahead of the game by autumn.

A nice gobbler in the freezer, a few sheds in the den, and a wealth of knowledge that you only get by “being there”-- that’s how I maximize my spring!

Issue 1.1: April 27, 2006