Monday, May 05, 2008

I Spooked a Flock of Turkeys, What should I do?

© By Othmar Vohringer

The following is an excerpt of an email sent to me by a novice turkey hunter from British Columbia. Since this seems to be a regular occurring problem I decided to write about it here on my blog.
“…However, this morning I was an idiot and spooked 2 flocks in there at separate times this morning. One flock ran about 500 yards. So my last question is, will those turkeys that I spooked return in the next day or two? Obviously there is something about the area they liked, I just hope that they will return and that I didn't scare them out of there for awhile.”
Turkeys are a prey species for many larger animals. Coyotes, wolves, foxes, raccoons, and even raptors like to feast on turkey eggs and poults. With so many predators having turkey on their diet list it comes as no surprise that these birds are highly suspicious of everything that goes on around them. Lacking sharp teeth, horns or any other physical feature that a turkey could effectively use in defense against predators the only option for living another day is to flee the scene of real or perceived danger.

It is this cautious behavior that makes turkey hunting such a challenge. Whenever a turkey sees or hears something suspicious he reacts with heightened alertness and uses his eagle like vision to observe the area for any suspicious movement. A hunter walking up on a flock of turkeys is one of the suspicious behaviors a turkey looks for. Depending on the degree of the perceived threat the turkeys will react in one of the three following ways:

1. If the threat is perceived as an immediate danger the birds will take off flying.
2. If danger is recognized but not perceived as an immediate threat the flock may just run a few hundred yards in order to get some distance between them and the situation that caused them to spook. Once they have reached a safe distance the turkeys will usually observe the area for a few minutes and if nothing further happens they will resume normal activity.
3. In the least alarming situations where turkeys just see or hear something that is unusual they will usually stop whatever it is they are doing and use their keen vision to observe the area for a possible threat. Once satisfied that no danger is nearby they will resume normal activity within a few minutes of the incident that aroused their suspicion.

As turkey hunters we should take every precaution not to give turkeys any reason whatsoever to get alerted to our presence. I know that this is easier said than done and at times no matter how cautiously we move through an area we are bound at times to bump into turkeys (or spook a deer) which in turn, with its actions, alerts the turkeys in the vicinity to our presence.

To avoid been spotted by turkeys a hunter should never walk in the open or risk being silhouetted by walking on an open ridge top in an area where he is likely to run into birds. Wherever possible use the terrain and structure of the land to stay hidden from a turkey’s view. If you scout during the hunting season use the same stealth to move around as you would when you hunt. An old but very true adage is to use the binoculars more often than your legs. Nothing is more detrimental to hunting success than stomping around and making a lot of noise. Here is a piece of advice by which I scout and hunt: Never walk if you can drive, but never drive when you can use your binoculars to spot game animals.
The good news is that not all is lost when we spook a turkey flock. Depending on the situation, there are a number of things a hunter can do and still walk out of the woods with a turkey hanging over his shoulder.

In the first scenario where the birds take of flying watch where they are heading. Then, when the flock is out of sight, follow their direction as quickly and quietly as possible. Usually spooked birds do not fly very far. When you come near the point where you last saw them in flight slow down and stop frequently listening carefully for turkey sounds. As soon the turkeys land they start calling each other with the assembly yelp. Get to within a hundred yards or so of the calling birds and set up where you are well camouflaged and start imitating the turkeys lost yelp call. This tactic is likely to bring a turkey or two in your direction looking for one of their lost flock members.

In the second scenario where the birds run away do nothing. Let them run and watch where they are heading. In most cases the birds will not run far but if they are near a woodlot they can quickly disappear from sight. In either case, while the birds are still running you have two options. Either you slowly back away and then carefully stalk in a big circle and out of the birds view around the flock and try to get slightly ahead of them. Set up and resume calling once the birds return to their normal activity.

The other option is to back out of the area and go home. Come back the following day and be in that location just before dawn. Be set up and ready to hunt. A turkey’s daily routine, routes and places they visit remain a constant for as long as the area fulfills the turkey’s daily needs and is considered safe.

In the last scenario where the turkeys just appear alarmed but don’t go anywhere remain absolutely still. The turkeys will look very carefully in your direction; peering over every inch of their surroundings looking for the slightest movement. How good is a turkey’s vision? Let me put it this way: a turkey can see you batting an eyelid from a hundred yards away. So remaining still for as long as the turkeys are looking in your direction is very important. Turkeys key in on movement, meaning as long as you stand still they likely will ignore you. Once the birds are satisfied that you are no threat to them they will do one of two things. Either they resume normal activity or they will remain on the cautious side and walk away. In either case you can employ the same tactics that I have outlined in the second scenario. Either go home and be back the next day or try to get within range of the flock.

It is worth remembering that whenever you decide to follow a fleeing turkey flock you must do so with the utmost caution. Should you spook the birds a second time the game is usually over for good and it could take several days until the turkeys re-visit that given area again.


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