- Chris Campanelli
Trail Camera Strategies for Turkey Scouting
Spring turkey seasons are getting ready to kick off in full force across the southern US. Those of you in South Florida have already been after it for a few weeks chasing the weary Osceola.
Whether you're in the South and making your final preparations for turkey season or you're stuck in the North with over a month of waiting, we can all kick the spring strut off in some form or fashion. There's no better investment for a hunter than pre-season scouting.
Deer hunters live and die by their trail camera photos, but so many hunters ditch that scouting tool when spring rolls around. Figuring that they can lean on their calling and mobility to close the deal on a spring turkey. And let's face it, turkeys are not as photogenic as big whitetail bucks are on trail cameras.
Turkeys are nomads by nature. They love to roam from property to property. If you have ever watched a turkey feeding through a field, you know that they basically peck around with no rhyme or reason. Turkeys are also much smaller and lower to the ground. Making them difficult to photograph with your standard whitetail trail camera techniques.
There's no reason to give up on scouting those spring turkeys with a batch of trail cameras. It can be done, and it can be yet another X-factor that you can use in your quest to put a big longbeard on the ground. You just have to know what you're doing and adjust accordingly.
Don't forget that most recent information is critical no matter what kind of game you pursue. Trail cameras provide that most recent information, or MRI, in many cases.
Camera Mounting Height & Trigger Speed
This may seem so basic and simple that it should go unmentioned, but you would be surprised how many spring turkey trail cam surveys are dead the moment you hang that camera. If you're used to hanging trail cameras about waist-high for whitetails, go ahead and bring it down a foot or so for those turkeys. Turkeys are obviously smaller targets.
Turkeys are not just smaller targets than big whitetails. Turkeys are far more shifty and sporadic in their movement. A dirt-cheap trail camera with terrible trigger speed will likely whiff on a turkey unless it's strutting or standing still to feed. Try to keep those trail camera trigger speeds around a second or less. Also, make sure that you have the camera set to snap with the minimal delay.
Find the Food
Much like whitetails or any other game species, turkeys will be where the best available food is. That's also where your trail camera should be hanging and snapping pictures before the season begins. This could be something as simple as dumping out a bag of corn or running a feeder to bring the turkeys to your camera. It could also be an emerging spring food plot. A greening clover plot would be ideal. Regardless, you need to identify where the food is or create the food yourself.
Remember that some states have strict regulations on when you can bait turkeys, so make sure your corn is gone within any legal time frame prior to the season kicking off.
Strut zones are massive in trying to get pictures of spring-time turkeys. Big gobblers are going to spend a lot of time strutting their stuff for hens as the spring moves into full swing. Identifying where that big gobbler may be strutting could be huge in helping you to put that bird on the ground.
Strut zones are typically going to be found in open areas. Possibly on a ridge top or even down an old logging or access road. Clearings and meadows with manageable heights of undergrowth will also be popular. If you can identify these clear areas where birds are strutting their stuff, hang that trail camera nearby. You could be in for quite a show and an even better piece of intelligence to keep in your back pocket.
Find the Roost
Knowing where your turkeys roost is going to be paramount for the trail camera survey and for hunting once the season kicks off. If you can figure out where the turkeys are starting and ending their day, you probably have half of the battle won.
Identifying where the local turkeys are roosting may require some boots-on-the-ground scouting. While cameras may actually help you get an idea, it's best to spend a daybreak or sunset on the ground to determine where birds are roosting. Once you figure out the roost location, place that trail camera accordingly. Getting some picture information on where those birds hit the ground first thing in the morning could position you for success on opening day.
Timing for deer and turkey trail camera surveys can vary greatly. Many deer hunters will set their cameras out over mineral sites in early July. Some three months or more in advance of their archery season. It's all about inventorying your bucks as they finalize that rack growth cycle. Turkeys are different.
Turkeys are almost a different animal from the late winter or early spring compared to the mid and late spring. Even more so if you're stuck with a northern winter that never wants to leave. While it's always great to see turkeys in your hunting zone, broods of gobblers that rolled like a pack in January or February may not do the same in April. Most recent information is what we're looking for, so go ahead and conduct that trail camera survey close to your turkey season. For example, I won't be hanging my trail cameras for turkeys here in Ohio until we turn the calendar over to April. I'd rather know what the birds are up to when the season is in sight and the weather is comparable to what I can expect for the season.