Do your homework for gobbler hunting
I marvel every March when I see bulbs pushing up, even through the snow sometimes.
It quickens my spirit to know that before Easter, I’ll have flowers blooming in my yard.
For spring gobbler hunters, March, or what’s left of it, may be a more important month than April or May. Same holds true for the Ruffed Grouse that spend their daylight hours drumming on fallen logs. That’s because it is the unique sound of our state bird beating his wings in the air at a fast speed to create the romance call to female grouse.
A drumming grouse is a unique and wondrous sound. It sounds like a tractor starting up, but it’s the mating call of the male grouse.
Songbirds are beginning their mating calls and dances. I spent a couple of weeks with my friend, Joanie, in February and the birds were at her feeders in droves. Robins, cardinals and sparrows chased each other in between, stopping to peck at the birdseed. Rabbits are doing their thing by now, and soon little bunnies will be running everywhere, and many will end up on the side of the highway.
So during March, vital things are happening. The flocks of 50 or 60 turkeys you saw feeding in old cornfields during the winter are splitting up. The hens are feeling the urge to nest and when they begin wandering around looking for a suitable spot in which to set up housekeeping, the gobblers will follow them.
Despite the loud trumpeting of their desire to add every hen within earshot to their personal harem, it is the hens that choose the locations for strutting shows and nesting sites.
Also, the gobblers begin the yearly ritual of deciding who will be dominant and who will not. It’s not which gobblers will be tolerated on the fringes of the flock, but who the big boy that does the breeding will be is decided by the end of March by numerous fights and bluffs. If you have ever witnessed one of these fights you know how noisy and violent they can be.
A hunter, quietly shadowing a flock of birds during March and early April will learn a lot about where gobblers like to strut, where hens and gobblers get together each morning, and which one will be the dominant bird.
A smart hunter will coax them into parading around in the woods, spooking birds, setting up, and calling gobbling birds into their space so they can get some film of them. Hunters who engage in spooking and disrupting these natural routines in the spring, are liable to end the season with nothing to show for it but the preseason film.
Gobblers spooked a couple times before the season become very suspicious and wary. Gobblers learn quickly that these are phony hens.
When the gobbler eagerly runs to the spot where the hen is, and finds nothing, he clucks a few times and when he gets no answer, he simply leaves the area.
It only takes a couple encounters like that for him to learn that calls coming from afar are phony. So when he hears calls from afar he may answer them lustily, but when the hen does not come to his gobbles, he gets very chary about it.
She always comes to him so he gobbles to tell her which way he is going and she can catch up. You sit there wondering what happened. You happened. Probably a few weeks ago but he remembers.
If you called a gobbler up preseason and you spooked him and scared him, he may never pay any attention to that spot again. It is not that turkeys are particularly smart, they are wild creatures and they react to whatever happens repeatedly.
March scouting should consist of sneaking around in the woods, taking note of the locations where you heard gobbling, looking for tracks, scratching and feathers on the ground to alert you where the little breeding flocks are hanging out. Look for things like dusting bowls and roosting trees, but squelch your urges to answer and engage him when he sounds off.
You do not want the big old guy to get used to the sound of your calls, to find out that if he answers them, there is either never a hen there or he gets spooked off. He will pay you back in season if he hears those calls again and ignores them. You will sit there wondering why he gobbled a lot but wouldn’t come an inch your way.
Another trick gobblers like to play is to gobble a lot on the roost, then fly down and go silent. Other times he will just walk away, gobbling as he goes. It is so frustrating because we thought the intense gobbling meant he was really hot and would come running when he flew down.
If a gobbler cannot determine if the hen he hears is really a hen, and he is afraid to come looking, he will walk away, gobbling as he walks. If it is a real hen, it will come to him. When the calling stays in the same spot he knows it’s fake.
I sometimes just drive along with my window down, listening for gobbles. When I hear one, I mark it down. The next time I come to those woods, again I listen for which direction he goes when he flies down. I listen to see if any hens answer him. Later I sneak around the woods, quietly looking for tracks, scratching that show a feeding or a strutting area.
Scouting right now can be so profitable once the season starts, that is if you don’t disturb the birds while you are at it.