Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Scouting –Turkey Sign

© By Othmar Vohringer

This weekend I start of my turkey seminar season and to make sure I haven’t left anything important out I went though everything I wrote down again. Sure enough I forgot something that is very important to turkey hunting success and that every hunter should know about. Knowing what sign turkeys leave behind and how to read it.

Hunting is like a stew. To cook a good stew several ingredients are important. Leave one or two out and stew will not taste right. It’s the same with hunting. Several key ingredients are necessary to become a successful hunter. Miss one or several of this ingredients and hunting success becomes a matter of luck. In any hunting endeavor luck is a important ingredient too but it should not be the main ingredient upon which the outcome depends.

One important ingredient in the hunting success stew is learning to find and correctly interpret sign turkeys leave behind. This is an aspect that for some reason gets very little coverage in hunting articles and turkey hunting books.

Turkeys, just like deer, leave tracks and valuable sign that let the observant hunter conclude what route the turkeys take from their roosting tree to the feeding area and back to the roosting trees. From the sign you find you can learn about the birds daily routine, where they eat, where they strut and what they are eating.

In this post I will explain some of the turkey sign we can expect to find and how it can be useful to scouting for the upcoming spring season.

Feathers by themselves don’t tell much but they can provide information that in combination with other sign can give the hunter a pretty good understanding of what is going on. Finding a single turkey feather is always a thrill, finding several feathers in an area will tell the hunter that turkeys are present. If a you find several feathers littering the ground in an open area you likely discovered a favorite strutting zone where jake turkeys fight a lot and the big mature toms strut to attract hens.

A large amount of feathers in one small place and some of them bloody means that a predator killed a turkey. This in its self is no big deal, turkeys regularly fall prey to a predator. However, if you find several places in a given area where turkeys have been plucked by predators, you may want to reconsider hunting that area. A few years ago I discovered such predator sign on several locations within a quarter mile and found that the few turkeys that still inhabited the area were extremely skittish and highly paranoid. We hunted for four days and never got a tom close enough for a shot. The only animals that came close, uncomfortably close, where the predators. That area was home to a strong cougar and wolf population. Never again will I hunt an area where I discover more then one spot littered with bloody turkey feathers strewn about within a mile radius.


Roosting trees are easily identified because the base of the tree and immediate surrounding are littered with turkey dropping. But the is much more to turkey scat then just identifying a roosting tree. Experienced turkey hunters can tell what sex the turkey is and what the favorite food source is just by looking at turkey droppings.

Tom scat resembles cigarette butts with one end darker and the one lighter colored, often with a hook shaped like the letter “J” at the lighter colored end. Hen droppings usually have no definable shape. By looking closer and breaking the scat apart with a little twig you can see seeds and other hard or indigestible matter that can give you clues to the birds favorite food source. Also the color in combination with undigested food matter can give you clues. Reddish colored scat containing tiny seeds may be an indicator that the turkeys predominantly feed on rosehips.


Just like any other animal turkey leave tracks in soft ground or snow covered areas. Just like the feathers, a track by itself doesn’t tell much other then at some time or other turkeys walked here. If you follow the tracks they might lead you to a roosting tree, a strutting or feeding area and that in turn will give you clues how the resident turkey population navigates the terrain. Knowing the travel routs of the turkeys lets you pre establish the exact location to set up the perfect ambush, provided the birds still use the same roosting tree and feeding area when you hunt that given area.

Turkey tracks also can give you clues to the sex of the birds. A mature tom’s middle toe is generally longer than 2½ inch. Jake and hen and hen middle toes are less than 2½ inch long.

Dusting Areas

If you see a shallow depression in dried out sandy streambeds, along old logging roads and field edges in the dry dirt you probably discovered a turkeys dusting area. As I said dusting areas are shallow depressions in dry sandy or dirt ground but often you also can see feathers in them and scratch marks from the turkeys claws. By mid- to late morning turkeys often treat themselves to a dust bath, it helps them to get rid of fleas and other creepy crawlies that pester the birds.

For that the turkey seeks a dry spot as described in the paragraph above. The bird lays down and with his feet scratches the sand or dirt loose and then proceeds to throw the loosed dirt or sand with the help of the wings allover its body.

Drag Marks

When toms leave the roosting tree they strut and gobble as they make there way to the open fields in search of hens. A strutting tom often leaves distinct wing drag marks to the left and right of his tracks on the soft ground or in the snow. Remember where you have seen this drag marks and note them on your map or in the GPS as a waypoint. The drag marks can provide you information of a toms favorite strut zone or route he walks.

Othmar Vohringer Outdoors
Founding Member of Outdoor Bloggers Summit

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