Tips on Turkey Hunting — #13: FINDING ROOST SITES
We hunt four subspecies of wild turkeys in the United States. The most common is the eastern turkey, scientific name meleagris gallapavo sylvestris. That word "sylvestris" has nothing to do with Sylvester the Cat. It’s a Latin word meaning "forest." So the eastern turkey is the woodland turkey. He spends a lot of his time—especially nights—roosting in timber.
Back when I first started hunting turkeys some outdoor writers recommended the hunter scout to find a roost tree, and then set up nearby and call the gobbler off the roost at first light. The trick to locating that roost tree was to find feathers and droppings beneath it.
Good idea, except that I've never known turkeys to roost regularly in the same tree, and I've never found turkey droppings that accumulated under a roost tree. They might roost for a few days in the same area. Unlike Rio Grande and Merriams turkeys in some areas in the American west, Eastern woodland turkeys have plenty of trees to choose from, even in farm country, so they don't habitually use the same tree.
Where plenty of suitable trees are available, turkeys will roost wherever they find themselves at dusk, but they generally roost in tall, strong trees that won't bend a lot in the wind, with stout limbs they can sit on comfortably. While they can sit on small branches and limbs that angle sharply up, it’s common for them to roost in trees with branches more horizontal to the ground in open woods where the turkeys can see what's around them before they fly down in the morning. The forest floor under the trees will often show signs of turkey scratching, though it may not be obvious.
If you find such a place, gobblers may or may not be roosting there. They might have a dozen or more roost areas they use, and it might be a few weeks until they use the one you found. Keep looking, try to find other roosting options the turkeys have. If you know the options the turkeys have, your odds of scoring go up.
I’ll be posting more “Tips on Turkey Hunting” as often as I can until the end of May. I don’t claim to be the best turkey hunter around, but I’ll share what I know. It might be helpful to those who pursue America’s greatest game bird. While you're at it, check out my gobbler-killin' Northern Scratchbox turkey call at EverydayHunter.com/turkey-call. It's full of deadly sounds.