Turkey Tactics: Fire is Beneficial

Each week, Turkey Tuesday will highlight some top turkey and deer hunting tactics that can give you a little boost in the woods now and in autumn. These tips are from the “Ask the Expert” column, so check in each Tuesday through May 30 for the reports from Turkey & Turkey Hunting.

Daytime Roosting?

Will turkeys roost in the middle of the day? And will they roost at different spots every other day? We hunted a group of birds in the morning at their roost and then tried hunting them that afternoon in the same spot, but they never came back. — Chris Cherry

Controlled burning is beneficial to woodlands and provides new growth for wildlife.

Turkeys don’t technically roost at midday. They might remain on the roost during extenuating circumstances, such as bad weather or when a gobbler refuses to fly down until he sees hens below him. However, birds typically pitch down from their roost trees when they instinctively sense it’s light enough to see potential threats. Sometimes, spooked or startled turkeys might fly up into a tree — or remain on the roost — until flushing when danger approaches or flying back down after danger passes. They might also fly up to roost relatively early during bad weather.

Will turkeys roost at different spots? Yes, in areas with abundant roost trees. If the area you hunt has quite a bit of suitable timber, birds can roost almost anywhere, though they might favor some areas over others. In areas with few suitable roost trees — parts of Texas, Oklahoma and the Dakotas, for example — turkeys predictably use the same roost trees day after day for generations.

Unless you spooked your turkeys by the roost site that morning, they probably just chose — for whatever reason — to roost elsewhere that night. They will likely return to the original roost after a while. Try to locate them after flyup, and then hunt them the next morning.

How to Roost in Big Timber

In my area of eastern Maine, it’s heavily wooded, and there are not a lot of places to spot birds roosting at sunset. I set up in high-traffic areas, use a blind, stay quiet and call moderately, but 99 percent of the time, I never get any vocalizations back. Any ideas? — John Karst

Roost aggressively. Start about 30 to 40 minutes before sunset — not too early — at a good listening spot near where you’ve encountered turkeys before. High ridges, knolls and ridge tops are ideal because turkeys can hear your locator calls from such spots, and you can hear gobbling. I’ll usually start with a crow call to elicit a shock gobble. If that prompts no response, I might switch to a coyote howler or some fly-up cackles with a box or friction call. If that still doesn’t work, I’ll use an owl-hooter right at dark.

If a bird gobbles, immediately try to get a fix on his location. Cut the distance to him in half, and then try to get him to gobble again. Continue until you can get close enough to pretty much determine which tree or group of trees the turkey is in. If you know the area well, try to determine likely set-up spots for the morning. Then, wait until dark, and quietly slip out of the area. Pay attention to the easiest, quietest route to and from the roost. Some hunters even count their steps out of the woods so they can repeat their route the next morning.

Roosting can be hit or miss, so don’t be discouraged if this doesn’t work right away. Keep at it, and you’ll soon find that aggressive roosting gives you a big heads-up for morning hunts.

Controlled Burning Helpful?

Will it spook turkeys on my property if I do a controlled burn two weeks before the season opens? — Jarrett Keith

You’re probably OK. Obviously, fire — whether a wildfire or controlled burn — will move turkeys out of an area temporarily. However, they often return quickly. Further, burned areas often attract turkeys. Consider this excerpt from an upcoming Turkey & Turkey Hunting article by Brian McCombie.

“Much of Texas has been in drought for several years, and in Spring and Summer 2011, huge swathes of the Lone Star State were engulfed in wildfires. In the foothills of the Palo Pinto Mountains, about 90 miles west of Fort Worth, immense wildfires swept through the area near Possum Kingdom Lake this past summer. Research scientist Bret Collier had GPS units on several local birds. Potentially, that information could help turkey managers use the most efficient management and habitat strategies in areas affected by fire.

“’Turkeys are smart, and they get away from fire as fast as they can,’ he said. ‘After the fires swept through this area, I had birds immediately move back into the fire zones to feed. Frankly, there are a lot of dead critters when you have these big fires, and the birds find lots to eat.’

“Fire clears out overgrown habitats, including those taken over by invasive plants. New vegetation sprouts up after a fire, including numerous forbs and grasses turkeys eat. The new plant growth also attract insects, which turkeys love.”

Obviously, you don’t want to conduct a burn the day before the season. However, doing one two weeks before the hunt likely won’t hurt — and might help — your odds of success.

Doing some deer scouting while you’re turkey hunting this spring? Then you need some trail cameras to keep an eye on the wildlife, and this is a super bargain. Buy several!