With the recent dumping of snow and the drop in temperature that we experienced, it is hard to believe that spring is finally upon us, at least according to the calendar. And while there is no assurance that we won’t be subjected to more winter-like conditions, let’s try to finally put winter behind us and focus on days to come. In a little over five short weeks — April 29 to be exact — the opening day of the Pennsylvania spring gobbler season will be upon us. This, then, is the time for preparation and scouting in anticipation of the opening day.
Preparation will take several forms. First, consider the lack of exercise a lot of us lived through as we “holed up” for the winter months. Of greatest importance is getting your legs and lungs back in shape before you try to tackle the uphill and downhill challenges that you will confront once the season is underway and you will want to be able to move quickly in the pre-dawn darkness to set up for a hunt at first light. Spend as much time as possible now hiking the trails and logging roads that pass through your hunting area and you will also be able to scout for signs of recent turkey activity as you do so.
Pre-season scouting will involve covering as much ground as possible. If you are fortunate enough to have places where you have already established permission to hunt, you will still need to scour the property to determine where the turkeys are feeding and perhaps where they are roosting. If you are looking at new properties to hunt, additional time may be needed to discover whether the turkeys are feeding on that property or just passing through on their way to other places to feed. Recent tracks can be found along edges of last year’s corn and grain fields and scratching areas can be spotted, particularly in forested areas under oak, beech, cherry and maple trees, as well as under grape vines where the birds are looking for old acorns, beechnuts and seeds.
If your time is limited, or you just want to expand your scouting activity, consider putting out several trail cameras to capture the image of any turkey activity. What you discover with the cameras will help you analyze the birds that are in your area — are they all hens, are there a few gobblers as well, and are there any longbeards in the bunch? If there are no apparent feeding areas where you can locate the cameras, place them along logging roads since game of all kinds, including turkeys, frequently travel these roads.
Don’t forget the landowners! One of the most valuable assets any turkey hunter has in his arsenal of tools is a good relationship with a landowner. Do not assume from year to year that you have unlimited permission to access someone’s property anytime you like. Show them the respect they deserve by making contact with them prior to every season — and not just a phone call, but a visit in person. Don’t show up empty handed — a homemade pie is sure to please any landowner with whom you would like to retain permission to access their property. Or consider a gift card from a nearby restaurant or local sporting goods store. Offer to spend a day or an afternoon helping with a project or two around the property, cutting and splitting firewood, clearing trails or lending a hand with whatever the owner needs help with. A gesture of offering your help will go a very long way toward cementing a long-term relationship with a landowner.
Opening day of our spring gobbler season will sneak up on us quickly, so take time now to revive your relationship with property owners and verify where you want to spend your dawning hours awaiting that magical first gobble of the season!