To say they are paranoid would be underestimating the obvious.
With that preface in mind, then, the effective scouting of the wily wild turkey is a fine culinary-like mixture of art and science, or more appropriately woodland skills. Pick up a dozen or more turkey-hunting books, and you'll find 12 or more chapters on tactics for scouting wild turkeys. From time to time some of them actually work, too. Every turkey hunter has his own favorite playbook when it comes to scouting toms.
A blind hog finds an acorn
Paul Meek of Raleigh has been hunting turkeys for over 40 years. He has been so good at it that he has been in the business of making his own turkey calls for commercial resale for 28 years. When he started Paul Meek Outdoors (http://www.paulmeek.com/) many years ago, he never thought he'd develop a call-making hobby into virtually a fulltime business, but that is how it worked out.
Now he makes some very unique turkey calls out of exotic woods plus turkey call pots with colored rock tops. He also does turkey-hunting seminars and teaches youth hunters how to turkey hunt. Along the way he still gets to turkey hunt a bit, as well. He's good at that, too.
"So you know the old saying, 'A blind hog finds an acorn every now and then:' I guess by now I have managed to pick up a bit of experience and am qualified to pass on a little advice," Meek chuckled.
What turns Meek on about turkey hunting is the face-to-face aspects of finding a good tom to call.
"That's the way it is turkey hunting," he said. "You call, he gobbles and imagine this: He is gobbling to your calling. You and him, one on one; if you mess up you lose; if you play it right, you beat him at his own game."
Of course, all this activity is predicated on the fact that the hunter locates a turkey and maybe he is gobbling, or maybe the hunter can get him to gobble. It's the finding of a wild turkey to hunt that is the tricky part.
The art of scout hunting
"Locating a wild turkey gobbler ain't that simple," said Meek. "In fact, that may be the hardest part of the entire hunt. You got to hit the woods to find turkeys. Sitting in your truck at the end of the road or alongside a farm field next to the woods isn't going to get it done.
"A lot of turkey hunters like to roost birds late in the afternoons or early evenings. The theory is that if you observe turkeys or a gobbler settling in on a branch high up in the treetops just at dusk, then he is going to be there at dawn in the morning. That's the theory anyway, and I guess it works some of the time. But that's a lot of investment in time searching for that perfect setup or waiting for a bird to fly up to a roost.
"I don't roost turkeys."
Meek uses his time more efficiently.
"I like to hunt for turkeys," he said. "Scouting and hunting is pretty much the same thing for me. That is one of the other good things I like about turkey hunting. You get to move around a lot, so it's anything but boring."
Meek said every time he goes in the woods, he is looking for turkey sign.
"I pay particular attention to scratching in the leaves where turkeys have been tilling the ground looking for food resources," he said. "They will literally tear up the forest floor, but not like a wild hog. They use their feet to kick back the leaves and debris as they walk around. This uncovers leftover acorns, bugs, grubs, other insects and fresh, green sprouts.
"I also look for dusting areas along the edges of fields, farm roads and sunny spots in the woods. The spot will look like a dust bowl with tracks and small feathers in the mix. Turkeys like to throw dust up on their backs to get rid of bugs and stuff. I also watch for wing strut marks in the dusty soil too. All of these signs indicate turkey traveling activity. These are positive signs that turkeys are working in the area."
One of Meek's favorite places to look for turkey sign is along sandy creek beds and crossings.
"The tracks will be obvious, and the direction of travel will be easy to determine," he said. "This might indicate a hangout place if lots of tracks meander all over the bank area in every direction. This could be a good place to set up an ambush ground blind.
"All of this scouting is what I call prospecting. All the while I am doing this I will stop and call until I locate a gobbler. My time frame for this is about 20 minutes or so, and then I move on and start the same process again. If there are turkeys there, you will find them."
Finally, Meek assured me the best part of turkey prospecting is that "you get to go back and try again the next day, 'cause that gobbler is still going to be gobbling and looking for that hen that got away from him the day before."