Pre-Season Tips

Pre- Season Turkey Scouting Tips

by Phillip Gentry

Upstate Outdoors
March 02, 2020 - 9:06 pm
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New for the 2020 season, the Upstate of South Carolina will once again be opening turkey season on April. If this doesn’t sound like news, then you missed the five-year period when state legislators succumbed to hunters pressuring them to align the season dates across the state, but instead of opening the season on April 1 statewide, the General Assembly backed the start date up to March 20.

That move was openly frowned upon by wildlife biologists, particularly for the Upstate and after much wrangling, Opening Day was moved back to April 1 for Game Zones 1 and 2 while the rest of the state was moved to open on March 22.

Regardless of when you finally get in the woods to hunt turkey this year, it’s good to go in armed with knowledge of the habits of local birds so maybe you can get one within shotgun range.

Veteran turkey hunter Chuck Mulkey from Anderson, South Carolina suggests a lot of his success is due to pre-season scouting. He spends a lot of pre-season time trying to locate areas where birds roost or strut so that he can key on those areas when the season comes in.

“Once again, turkey season in the Upstate opens April 1st so beginning about the middle of March I go to locations where I want to scout for turkey and I listen” said Mulkey. “I look for roosting areas and slip in there two or three times a week and listen for birds gobbling.”

Mulkey said the absolute worst thing you can do when scouting is to call. Calling birds off the roost before the season starts will only make them call shy because if you call that bird and he gobbles in response to that call, he’ll come check that spot out at some point. He either won’t find a hen or you’ll spook him as you leave and either way he becomes a call shy bird that probably won’t be killed that season.

The other tactic Mulkey employs when scouting is to look for signs of scratching. Even if he doesn’t hear toms gobbling on the roost during his scouting, he explains that scratching assures him that birds are in the area and will even point him towards the directions the birds when so he can refine his search. Birds scratch as they feed. To determine their direction of travel, look for the arrow-like marks they leave behind.

“One thing that’s equally as good as finding a hot bird on the roost is finding his strutting zone” said Mulkey. “If you can find a gobbler’s strutting zone, that area that he comes to every day to visually look for hens, you’ll kill that bird before the season is over.”

Both for preseason scouting and for hunting once the season comes in, Mulkey is a big believer in having a good set of binoculars with him when he hits the woods. If public roads dissect the area he intends to hunt, he’ll use the binoculars to ride the roads looking for fields where turkeys congregate from mid-morning through lunchtime. He makes note of which fields he finds birds in, knowing they’re likely to return there once the season opens, especially on rainy days when gobblers will head straight for open areas for security.

With the abundant amount of rain fall the Upstate has had so far this year, finding both gobblers and hens collectively assembled in the middle of an open pasture has become somewhat commonplace.

Most likely, the Upstate will be in for another wet season. The same occurred last year, although rain totals were not as high. The good news is that moving the season opening dates back to April 1also means a later closing date. This year, turkey season will not run out until May 10. Hopefully in time for a little drying out to occur and some normal turkey hunting.

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Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM, 101.5 in Anderson, and recently added 95.1 FM in Seneca and Pickens.

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