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Turkey Hunting Articles

Winter Turkey Scouting

by T.R. Michels


It was a cold February morning when I left the house about an hour after sunrise; the temperature was 15 degrees, the wind chill was 5 degrees, the wind was from the northwest and the sky was clear. It wasn't the best of days to go scouting, but it was warmer than it had been in several days. I hoped the warmer weather would cause the deer and turkeys to come out and feed. As I drove down the gravel road a half mile from the house I noticed turkeys feeding in the snow covered soybean field on the south side of an oak woods. The woods were a traditional wintering area for many of the turkeys within a two-mile area.


I pulled the truck over to the side of the road, grabbed my Simmons 7x35 binoculars, and checked out the birds. There wasn't a tom in the bunch, but there were 42 hens. I watched the birds feeding for the next half-hour, checking the edge of the woods every few minutes for deer and more turkeys. When no other birds appeared I started up the truck and drove around to east side of the woods. As I approached an old sandstone foundation I saw more turkeys. I slowed the truck to look. Thirteen longbearded toms were digging through the snow where the combine had dumped a pile of soybeans. I snapped a couple of pictures with my Canon Sure Shot and watched the toms feed for about ten minutes then left. I had a couple of other places I wanted to check yet.

I drove to a tar road, hung a left up a winding road, and eventually topped out on a cornfield surrounded on two sides by oaks. I scanned the area carefully, but there wasn't a turkey or a deer in sight. I headed back down the road, drove another half mile north and turned east. As I topped out on another hill I looked to my left. There was a large flock of turkeys feeding on a silage pile not more than 100 yards from a farmhouse. I quickly counted; 56 hens. Not wanting to waste time I continued up the road to the top of the hill and hung a left. As I started down the other side of the hill I looked east and saw more birds and several deer feeding in a snow covered pasture. There were 5 does and fawns, and 17 jakes and toms. As I watched the birds something up ahead caught my eye.

A quarter of a mile in front of the truck several more turkeys crossed the road, heading into a cornfield where the farmer had spread manure. I drove the truck slowly forward and parked near the corn field, the turkeys not more than thirty yards from the truck. There were 22 hens, 2 jakes, and 3 toms, one of them with a double bird. It was only the second multiple bearded tom I had seen in the wild, the first was a triple bearded Merriam's turkey I had seen on the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge near Valentine, Nebraska. I tried to snap a picture of the bird, but I knew it was too far away for my Canon Sure Shot. But, at least I had seen a double bearded tom; and I knew there were over 100 turkeys within three miles of home, several of them on land that I hunted. It looked like it would be a good turkey season in the spring.

Winter is a great time to scout for turkeys, because the birds are very visible in open meadows and picked agricultural fields, especially if there is snow on the ground. The easiest way to locate turkeys in the winter is to drive down the country roads at daylight. Even in winter turkeys will often fly down from the roost and move to feeding areas early in the morning. I have seen turkeys feeding from as early as 20 minutes before sunrise to as late as four hours after sunrise in early February. You may only see hens at first, but where there's food and hens, there will eventually be jakes and toms.

Although the birds may not be in the same area in the winter as they are in the spring, they are much easier to locate in the winter than at any other time of the year. Cold weather and deep snow cause the birds to move to south facing slopes, steep ridges, and low-lying areas where they can get out of the wind, and where travel is easier because the snow isn't as deep. Limited food sources cause the birds to concentrate on remaining natural foods, agricultural crops, fields where manure has been spread, feed lots, silage piles, and corn cribs.

Don't be surprised if you see turkeys near farms and human activity. I've got one flock that feeds under a bird feeder within ten yards of a house. Another flock feeds in the cow pasture fifty yards from a milking parlor. I've even seen turkeys fly up to feed in an uncovered corncrib within fifty yards of a farmhouse, with a dog in the back yard.

Once you locate turkey-feeding areas check them as often as you can, both morning and evening. I often see toms feeding earlier or later in the day than the hens. The more often you check the area, the more you will know about the birds. After you locate a wintering flock of turkeys it's fairly easy to follow their movements through late winter and early spring.

After the weather warms up and new plant growth appears, the birds will start to move out of the wintering area. During my research I found that when the average weekly temperature gets above freezing, the flocks begin to breakup, they begin to move to their spring/summer range and the toms begin gobbling. Once this happens you should watch the birds as often as you can, so that you know where to find them during the hunting season.

If you lose track of the birds between winter and the breeding season, use a topographical map to look for higher elevations, with adequate roost areas, and nearby food sources within 1 to 5 miles of the wintering site. Well-known turkey researcher Dick Kimmel told me that a flock of radio collared birds moved five miles in one day. He wasn't sure, but he thought some of this movement might have been due to flying and gliding from one ridge top to another. Turkeys can't travel very far with any speed when the snow depth is over about eight inches, unless the fly.

Once you locate likely roosting and feeding areas you can drive the nearby roads listening for gobbles on warm days. I've heard turkeys gobbling regularly once the average weekly temperature rises above freezing. Turkeys begin to gobble as early as mid-March as far north as Minnesota.

If you want to be successful on turkeys in the spring, winter is a good time to start.



About the Author:

T. R. Michels is nationally recognized for his action-packed, informative seminars based on his experience as a wildlife researcher and professional guide.

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