The spring turkey hunter's itch to hear that first gobble and to video strutting gobblers is in full swing now. Therefore, all across Pennsylvania, hunters are working hard to sabotage their spring hunting success.
I was among the first outdoor writers to warn of this unwise scouting practices in an article I wrote for "Outdoor Life" magazine 40 years ago. When gobbler hunting was introduced in 1968, we knew little about the habits of gobblers in the spring. Gobblers would thunder nonstop and would almost run to any call they heard from the bushes. Hunters were out for weeks, trying to call gobblers in to video. They paraded around, spooking birds right and left so it didn't take but a few years of this kind of "scouting" to alert the turkeys that they enemy was ever-present at their mating rituals and had learned to speak their language.
Gobblers responded to this unrelenting pressure by not talking quite so much, by gobbling on the roost until the hens came to their tree. Once they arrived, he'd jump down from the roost and off the whole troop would go- silently. It took awhile but now most hunters understand that the tough gobblers we face these days have adjusted to the pressure put on them over the years. Now the birds are about as tough a batch of birds as can be hunting in the nation. Many leading hunters attest to that.
In short, scouting does not mean going out before season and calling birds in. When you do that, one of two things is definitely going to happen: They will come in to your calls but find no hen there or they come into your calls only to be spooked and scared. That teaches them two things: Don't waste your time looking for calling hens from afar because when you get there, the hen will not be there. Or looking for hens talking from afar is risky business.
Since the Game Commission's trap and transfer program of the 1970's has been so fantastically successful, there are now in the state more turkeys than deer . But today's gobblers are masters at sneaking in to your position silently, slowly, with their radar vision in high gear. And with the activity almost surely starting early this year since the weather has been so spring-like, it will almost surely be that by the time season arrives this year, every gobbler will have more hens with him than he can handle.
He may hear your calls and even answer them lustily but the chances of him leaving them to go a hundred yards looking for a hen in the bushes is depressingly small. So running around in the preseason, calling birds in and spooking them, alerting them that the time of the parade of the enemy has come, is truly unwise.
Folks delight now in telling me on an almost daily basis of all the turkeys they are seeing these days. Lots of changes are taking place within the turkey flocks this month. The longer daylight hours and warmer weather trigger the hormonal changes necessary to begin the breeding cycle. So hens are beginning to consider nesting sites, gobblers are fighting among themselves to establish dominance for breeding rights and so it is a noisy, active time in the turkey woods right now.
Scouting means listening for gobbling activity, searching for other signs of turkey presence as tracks in the mud, dusting spots, molted feathers, sightings of birds in fields etc. that betray the presence of turkeys in the area. The prudent hunter, however, avoids alerting the turkeys to the fact that he is anywhere around.
Most hunters however, cannot resist the urge to try to call in before season any gobblers they hear sounding off in the distance. So they call the birds to themselves quite easily and think they have just found an easy bird come season.
What the gobbler learns from all these preseason calling sessions is that the enemy has learned to speak his language and he becomes more determined than ever that he will never leave any hen he has right with him to search out dubious calls from the distance.
Ever wonder why birds gobble on the roost heartily but won't come your way? Or why birds gobble fly down at dawn, gobble furiously, yet walk away, gobbling as they go? Or go silent? Or come toward you so far but refuse to come all the way in? Could it be because we carefully taught them, conditioned them, to ignore us by our impulsive desire to see them strut before season ever started?