In-Season Scouting: Finding and Analyzing Turkey Sign
Turkeys, much like any game animal, will leave behind signs as they carry out their daily routines. As hunters, these signs are important to us because they help to determine roosting areas, feeding areas, strut zones, and daily patterns…all key components in the grand scheme of tagging a bird. Visually scouting turkeys is sometimes difficult as they move about during the day throughout their home ranges and often spot a hunter and flee before you spot them. Finding signs of turkey activity can be paramount in locating areas where these witty birds routinely spend brief periods of time in specific locations.
Below is a list of common signs that turkey’s leave us as clues to what they are doing and where they are going. Study the signs and use them this spring to help you locate more birds.
Droppings – Turkey feces are easily identifiable and most hunters see them frequently when in the field. A gobbler’s feces are usually bigger than a hen’s feces and shaped like a fishhook. Hen poop is more circular in shape and a bit smaller than gobblers. Fresh feces is moist, green and splashed with white coloring. Older feces is can look gray/white and noticeably drier.
Feathers – A turkey has 5,000 to 6,000 feathers and they will lose these feathers when they fight, molt, fly, and groom themselves. In the field look for wing feathers, tail feathers and breast feathers. A tom’s breast feather will be iridescent and have square black tips. A hen’s breast feather will be brown and drab with a rounded tip.
Roost Trees – A roost tree is a tree that turkeys frequently use to spend the night to escape the danger of ground predators. Roost trees in Iowa are usually large sturdy trees, such as oaks and cottonwoods that provide a good distance of safety from the ground and a long line of sight that the turkey can use to see approaching danger. To locate a roost tree you should be looking for a number of signs on the ground around the tree such as, feces, feathers, and scratches. Turkeys will generally have three to four different roosting areas within their home territory.
Tracks – Turkey tracks are unmistakable, they start with a small ball shape imprint that is the metatarsal pad. Extending from this pad are three appendages that are the toes of a turkey. Turkey tracks are great indicators to figure out where turkeys are going to and coming from, not to mention the sex of the bird. A Tom turkey will have a larger track then a hen. The middle toe will most likely be longer than the other two toes. A Tom’s tracks are usually 3.5” or longer.
Scratches – A turkey will use its long claw like feet to rake the ground in search of food. Look for unearthed leaves, grass, and dirt and you will know that turkeys are using the area for feeding purposes. Turkey scratches usually have a “V” or “U” shaped