Eight days from now, West Virginia’s spring turkey season will begin.
Tens of thousands of camouflage-clad hunters will head off into the predawn darkness, all focused on the sizable task of calling a gobbler within shotgun range. Some will succeed, but most won’t.
Hunters who consistently succeed are, for most part, those who head off into the woods fully prepared for the task at hand. Before the season began, they spent checking and re-checking their equipment and finding out where they’re most likely to encounter their quarry.
An informal poll of veteran turkey hunters turned up a consistent theme. Almost all of them touted the value of preseason scouting.
“Scout,” said Dave Truban, a former Natural Resources Commissioner from Morgantown. “Get on a high ridge. Listen to them. Know which direction they want to go. Locate loafing spots or strutting areas. Know where they will be late [in the] morning.”
Nathan Taylor of Sandyville echoed Truban’s sentiments.
“Scouting is the most important thing you can do [during] the last week before the season,” Taylor said. “It’s a lot easier to call a bird to where he already wants to go. Do your homework and find that spot.”
And where would a gobbler want to go? According to Tim Beller of Teays Valley, it’s wherever he can find members of the opposite sex.
“What do gobblers want most this time of year? Hens!” Beller said. “And what do hens want? Food and secure nesting sites. I seek locations that offer the most benefits to the jennies. Find those, and the toms won’t be far off.”
The best way to scout is to get out into the woods just before sunrise and listen to where the birds are when they call. Gobblers often gobble while still on the roost. After sunrise, they fly down and commence their daily routines, which usually involve two things — feeding, and finding hens eager to mate.
Some hunters prefer to scout at dusk, when turkeys go to roost. Locating a flock’s roosting trees is a turkey hunter’s equivalent to finding gold, especially in the days just before the season opener. There’s no guarantee the birds will remain in the area, but there’s a good chance they will.
Sometimes scouting is easy, especially if a hunter knows the terrain and already has a good idea of where turkeys tend to congregate. For the most part, however, scouting requires a lot of walking and listening.
Larry Campbell, a Clothier native who now lives in East Avon, New York, said having time to scout is one of the benefits he receives from being a retiree.
“I hike the state hunting lands, checking for turkeys and turkey sign,” he said.
Campbell said he also spends time watching and re-watching turkey-hunting DVDs and working on his calling technique.
“Practice, practice and practice calling a little more,” he suggested.
Equipment care also plays into some hunters’ preparations.
“Make sure the reeds in mouth calls are still operational,” said Cory Boothe of Mount Nebo.
Over the course of a winter, the latex reeds used in mouth calls can deteriorate or become stuck together. Finding that out the hard way — on opening morning — is an exercise in frustration.
So is discovering that you left the striker to your pot call on the workbench where you were sanding it. Wise hunters check and double-check to make sure they have all their equipment before they leave the house.
Boothe also said hunters should take time to pattern their shotguns. This is especially important for hunters who plan to use a new gun, a new choke tube, a new brand of shells or a new size of shot. Knowing exactly how the gun’s pattern spreads at a given distance can spell the difference between a clean kill, a wounded bird, or an out-and-out miss.
A common and irritatingly alliterative axiom among athletes is that “proper preparation prevents poor performance.”
It’s wise advice — not only for athletes, but also for those who wish to hike out of the turkey woods with a big old longbeard slung over one shoulder.