Patterning longbeards is key to success

By Sam Klement

Picture yourself pulling into your favorite hunting lease well before daylight. You quietly and slowly open your door and grab your shotgun as you prepare for your journey into darkness. There’s a certain sense of freedom and excitement in leaving the truck behind. Your heart starts pumping faster as you approach the oak ridge just above a swamp bottom festooned with Spanish moss. At the top of the ridge you stop and let out your first mock owl “Who-Cooks-For-You” call. The response sends chills down your spine — a thundering, “Gobble, Gobble, Gobble!”

In an instant the game has officially begun! As quietly and quickly as possible you start your descent down the bottom, hoping to close the gap between you and the mystifying longbeard. You’re scrambling to put your camouflage headnet and gloves on. As you nestle up against the base of an old oak tree, you hear the sound of company. You strain your ears wondering if your mind is playing tricks on you. Then you hear it again, the repeating whip-o-whills three note calling. Relieved it wasn’t a hen you heard, you wonder how the birds manage to breathe.

Dawn breaks. You strain your eyes searching for a glimpse of the gobbler. After a thorough scan with no confirmation you reach into your shirt pocket and pull out your split “V” hen diagram call. Placing it in your mouth you wonder how in the heck you’re going to emulate a three-note hen call with what feels like a softball size knot in the back of your throat, not to mention that you can’t remember ever having such a bad case of “cottonmouth.” Somehow you manage to get out three of the sexiest notes you ever heard. Almost instantly he cuts you off with a double gobble!

Then you hear it — the flapping of his enormous wings as he pitches down 60 yards in front of you. Immediately you catch a glimpse of the “cueball” as it changes from white to red/blue. You thank God for what’s strutting your way and all of the other beautiful things he has created. In reality you are a mile from your truck; however, in your mind you’re light years away from the truck, work schedules, bills, beepers, and other anxieties.

Here are a few tips to get you ready to harvest a trophy turkey.

First of all, you will need to select a tract of land with both fields/food plots and hardwoods nearby. Also, pastures, wildlife openings, new clear ruts, and freshly burned pine woodlands can hold birds during the spring. Turkeys love the insects in these areas and they make good strutting grounds. Knowing how to recognize quality spring habitat and focusing scouting efforts in these areas can yield high dividends. Once you have narrowed down where to look, it is important to know what to look for.

Turkey signs collectively refer to indications that birds have been in an area, and include tracks, droppings, scratchings, feathers, dusting bowls and strut marks. Tracks can be used to distinguish gobblers from hens. The length of the middle toe is the best indicator. The middle toe of adult gobblers usually measures three inches or more from the tip of the toe to the back of the toe pad. A hen seldom has a toe pad that is more than two and one fourth inches long. There’s an old saying that it’s hard to get fat on track soup. Tracks only tell you that a turkey has been there. Of course, if you see an abundance of tracks, both fresh and old, chances are you’ve got plenty of birds.

As with tracks, droppings can be used to distinguish sex in turkeys. Adult gobblers make large diameter droppings which are straight J -shaped. Hens, on the other hand, make droppings that are corkscrewed-shaped or somewhat round. Droppings also help to provide clues about diet.

White-tipped droppings usually mean the turkeys are feeding heavy on insects. The white comes from the uric acid that forms from the digestion of protein. If the droppings are dark green, a heavy plant feeding is likely to be taking place. Finding an abundance of fresh droppings in an area with green vegetations is a sure key that the turkeys are feeding there on a regular basis. Also, keep in mind that where you find a lot of droppings under trees it may be a likely spot where your turkeys are roosting.

Scratchings indicate where your turkeys are feeding. Fresh and old scratchings combined with droppings are some of the best signs a hunter can find. It means turkeys are using this area on a regular basis. Turkey scratchings are usually round in shape and a foot or more in diameter.

Feathers are something you could find anytime of the year since turkeys shed, or molt, every feather on their bodies during most of the year. Feathers are very common at dustings and roosting sites where turkeys spend time preening.

Dusting bowls look like bream beads without the water. Turkeys will whaller out the sandy soil with their feathers to help protect against parasites, lice and other pests.

But, by far the jackpot of all turkey signs is finding the “strutting sign.”

It tells you not only that a gobbler is in the vicinity, but it identifies one of the places that he prefers for displays and breeding.

When gobblers strut, they drag their wings, often leaving irregular narrow lines in the dirt. During your scouting efforts, pay extra attention to the sand around logging roads or field edges.

And last, but not least, one of the best ways to scout for turkeys is to get out and listen at daylight for a gobbling turkey. Pay attention to where the bird is gobbling from, and try to establish a plan to approach the bird without spooking it from the tree.

The final rule to remember when scouting for turkeys is there are no rules. Some turkeys don’t read the book, and so there are exceptions to everything. Keep in mind these animals are extremely crafty and difficult to harvest.

Sam Klement is the co-founder of Good Outdoor Technologies Inc. which promotes the “Goodness of the Outdoors,” through his company’s line of “Merchandise with a Message” brands (www.huntinisgood.com). He resides in Dothan, Ala., and grew up in Valdosta, Ga. His outdoor adventures can be seen weekly on HIGTV.com, which airs on the Pursuit Channel.

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