Tips on Turkey Hunting — #14: ROOST SITE CHARACTERISTICS
Turkeys roost in relative safety every night on tree limbs from thirty to sixty feet off the ground. In terms of timing, turkeys are very consistent—each evening they fly up into trees at dusk. In terms of location, they are not consistent—they roost where it's convenient. Because turkeys move throughout the day, they find themselves at different places at dusk. That means roost sites can be hard to find.
Turkeys need security through the night where coyotes, foxes and other ground-based predators are no threat. But in the tree they are still vulnerable to hawks, owls, and predators that climb trees such as fishers. (Hawks and owls are a bigger threat to young poults than to mature birds.) Roost trees give turkeys much greater safety than they experience on the ground through the day. On the limb a turkey can relax, stick his head under his wing, and sleep through the night knowing that what he hears on the ground is no threat to him.
Hunters sometimes debate the characteristics of a roost site. Some think turkeys will roost on eastern slopes to take advantage of the first rays of the morning sun. Sometimes they do. Some hunters believe turkeys will roost over water. They will, but many places have no water, or no trees where the water is.
What are the most common identifiable characteristics of a turkey roost site? Here are four. There might be more:
1. Look for trees with limbs heavy enough to hold a 15 to 25 pound bird. Keep in mind that turkeys sometimes perch on limbs no more than a couple of inches in diameter.
2. Look on the ground for feathers, particularly wing feathers. When turkeys spread their wings to elevate to the limb, they put lots of stress on their primary wing feathers and occasionally they lose them. (However, finding a wing feather does not mean you have found a roost site. Turkeys also lose them when fighting and when strutting.)
3. Look for scratchings. Turkeys often feed briefly before flying up to roost. But spring roost scratchings won't look like fall scratchings for several reasons. The leaves on the ground have deteriorated under winter snow and rain, so they don't fluff up as much. Turkeys won't always scratch in the same direction under a roost site, so the bare spots turkeys scratch won't have the leaves piled up on one side. Also, groups of turkeys will almost always be smaller in number in the spring.
4. Look for droppings. You won't find many, but normal excretion happens in the trees as well as on the ground.
You might find none of these signs. The trees may not look as suitable to you as they do to the turkeys. They may not lose wing feathers, or deposit visible droppings, or leave much in the way of scratchings. So the best avenue to finding roosting sites is scouting and experience. Know the territory you're hunting, and keep track of where turkeys roost.
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.