- Pennsylvania Turkey Hunting Strategy | Beau Martonik
Pennsylvania Turkey Hunting Strategy | Beau Martonik
By: Beau Martonik
Nothing gets your heart pumping like the thunderous sound of a turkey gobbling in the spring. These fifteen to twenty-pound birds have a way of wholly occupying your mind at all times of the day, making you lose focus on just about everything else.
I spend much more time scouting throughout the year than hunting. Scouring trail cam footage, looking over detailed ownership maps, and sorting through different leaf layers trying to identify core areas. Turkey are found all over Pennsylvania and hard to narrow down just by e-scouting. A combination of on-the-ground and online scouting is a formula for success. Look at data from previous years and compare it. Try to identify commonalities between the areas and apply them elsewhere.
On the Ground Scouting
For most hunters, the season doesn’t open until later this month. For the dedicated few, the strict hunting season dates don’t dictate their time spent in the woods scouting for turkey. Knowing their seasonal movements can cut the learning curve and increase your success.
Don’t look at turkey scouting as its own thing. You can easily lump it into scouting for other game animals. When checking deer cameras, be looking for turkey sign as many of their home areas overlap in PA.
Turkeys start gobbling well before the season starts, giving you the best indication of their presence. Locating an old gobbler early in the season will provide you with the best knowledge of his daily routine. Try not to be too vocal when scouting. Minimize your calling to these preseason birds. This will test your patience as they are a lot easier to call in and much more vocal early in the season.
The terrain varies vastly across the state of Pennsylvania. Whether you are hunting in the big woods or on the edge of a farmer's field, many parallels can be drawn. But, sometimes, it needs to be simplified. Turkey are turkey and like what turkey like.
There are three core areas that I focus on and base my decisions on during turkey season: Roosting trees, feeding areas, and what I’ll call strut zones. A gobbler will hit all three of these every day in the spring. Everything in between these zones can be classified as transitional.
Roosting trees are typically not the same from night to night in PA. There are tons of old trees that give the turkey plenty of options each night. However, there is no arguing that every day starts with them leaving the roost and ends with them flying up in one.
Feeding areas are places where the leaves will be turned up all over. Feeding areas are roughed up by the turkey scratching away the top layers of leaves to get to the food below. This process is loud and can be heard from a reasonable distance away.
Strut zones are areas that they like to show off in. In PA, that could be any number of things. Fields, power lines, gas lines, oil-well pads, and other openings in the dense woods are prime locations. Also, any spots that get direct sunlight give the gobbler a place to show off his fan in the sun.
Transitional zones can be best identified by tracks and droppings. Walking gas lines, forest service roads, and old railroad grades can tell you a lot. These transit routes are often used over and over again by turkey. Turkey are like people and prefer to take the path of least resistance from point A to point B.
These zones sometimes overlap and are the same. Fields and field edges will sometimes give the turkey everything they need, and they might spend the whole day in that spot. If you’ve identified fields like these, go set up on the edge of them first thing in the morning as they are likely to show up day after day.
Early Morning Strategy
My early morning strategy starts the evening before. Locating a turkey the evening before can significantly increase your success on early morning hunts. If you are lucky enough to find an old gobbler’s roosting tree for the night, you can guarantee he will be there in the morning. The key here is not to get too close that you will spook him. If you can find the exact tree, you have a big advantage.
Sitting within sight of a gobbler in his roosting tree makes for an exciting morning. They are usually pretty vocal at this time in the morning. However, I’ve found that there is no method to their madness as far as which direction they fly down. They tend to be roosted with the flock of hens from the previous night and will follow them first thing in the morning, paying no attention to you or your calls.
To be successful early in the morning, you have to win a gobbler over. If he links up with a group of hens, he will probably stay with them for a few hours and will be less likely to come into your calls. There is a tricky balance between calling too much and not calling enough at this time in the morning, and it is situational-dependent.
Late Morning Tactics
I consider anything after 10 a.m. to be late morning when turkey hunting. This is a very underrated time in the turkey woods. Hunting pressure is almost non-existent, and the gobblers are done breeding the hens they were with the first part of the morning, usually leaving the flock to find another hen to breed.
Covering ground, calling, and listening for gobbles is the key hear. Getting one to respond at this time of the day makes you highly likely to grab his attention and bring him within shotgun or bow range. Use a crow call to help locate and make a bird shock gobble giving away his position.
Highly controversial amongst turkey hunters, ambush tactics are sometimes the only way to put an old tom on the ground. It usually involves long hours of sitting, watching, and waiting in known core or transitional areas. Keep the calling to an absolute minimum when using this strategy. When calling, avoid the loud yelps and instead do soft purrs here and there while raking leaves with your hands, mimicking a hen that is feeding. Don’t expect the targeted bird to be vocal during this strategy. Instead, stay alert and keep an eye open for that white head bobbing through the woods, looking for the origin of the sound.
Pennsylvania is Challenging
The turkey in rural areas of Pennsylvania know how to survive, and that is only part of the challenge. Turkey season is right behind deer season when it comes to hunting pressure. You have to be careful when hunting to avoid mishaps with other hunters. Never try to sneak up or get too close to a vocal bird. If you hear it, there is a good chance someone else did too and may end up causing a dangerous situation. Eastern Turkey have a reputation as the most challenging species of turkey to kill. Using these tactics you can improve your odds this spring.