March 24, 2022
Last spring found me hunting turkeys on a Central Nebraska farm I had never visited before. I had been invited on the trip by my good friend and BOWHUNTING Editor Christian Berg, and I couldn’t wait to hit this new-to-me ground running!
The first day of the hunt was extremely windy, making it difficult to hear birds gobbling and almost impossible to call them in. Given the conditions, our group decided our best bet was to split up and cover ground in search of turkey sign. Hopefully, at least one of us would run into some action and could help the others refine their plans for the remainder of the week.
As I set off across the vast prairie landscape interspersed with brushy draws, it wasn’t long before I discovered a gorgeous, wooded ridgeline loaded with oaks and turkey sign! From the amount of droppings under the big oaks, it was clear birds were roosting here. And considering how much scratching could be seen in the leaves, they were feeding here too.
As I considered the turkey-hunting possibilities, I couldn’t help but notice how much deer sign littered the area as well! Rubs and scrapes were plentiful, and given the south-facing slope of the terrain, I knew it was probably a well-used deer bedding area to boot. I had traveled many miles from home to hunt gobblers, but suddenly I found my mind drifting, with visions of big bucks dancing in my head. Only minutes later, as I continued along the ridgeline, the unmistakable white color of antler caught my eye. There on the ground was a big main beam sticking up from beneath the grass. My heart skipped a beat as I ran over and bent down to grab my prize. To my disbelief, both sides of the buck’s shed rack were lying on the ground at my feet! Regardless of the outcome with the turkeys, this trip had already been a success, and I had a trophy to take home with me to Ohio.
While walking back to our RV turkey camp that evening, with the sheds held firmly in my hands, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for the opportunity to chase turkeys and scout so much great deer sign all in a single day. That’s the kind of double duty a bowhunter can get used to, and in this article, I will focus on how you can find turkeys for this spring and big bucks for this fall at the same time.
As far as I am concerned, there isn’t much better than finding an antler from a mature buck that eluded me last season, all while listening to some gobbles echo through the timber! In the days leading up to the spring turkey opener, scouting your local flocks will really boost your odds for springtime success.
At this point in the year, you’ll likely still find birds congregated in large groups, and that gives you a great starting point for figuring out where the birds will be during the first few weeks of the season. Although turkeys will undoubtedly disperse over the course of the spring, this pre-season scouting will give you valuable intelligence on the size of your local turkey population and help you set realistic expectations for the season ahead.
Just because turkeys are next up on your kill list, however, don’t forget about those whitetails! In addition to keeping your eyes peeled for shed antlers, early spring is a perfect time to read and evaluate the deer sign from last fall, as all the trails, rubs, scrapes, beds and other sign will be extremely visible without any green foliage to conceal it. Study this sign carefully and take mental notes — better yet, take written notes or log significant finds in your favorite hunting app as you traverse your hunting areas. From sheds to beds and rubs to travel corridors, I use onX Hunt to mark all my important findings.
Early spring is the absolute best time to scout a property for deer, not only because the sign is so visible but because your physical intrusion means nothing to the local deer herd at this point; you’ll be long forgotten by the time archery deer season opens seven months later. Again, this is also a great time to scan the ground for sheds. South-facing slopes, bedding areas, feeding areas and trails leading between those areas are all great bets to snag some bone!
In addition to scouting new land, putting boots on the ground during this time period is a great way to re-think properties you have hunted for years, and the whitetail information I glean during my spring turkey trips really helps me connect the dots when buck hunting in the fall. It is often said that when maximizing the use of your time, you can “kill two birds with one stone.” In this case, however, I think it’s more accurate to say you can “kill one bird, and one buck, with one rock!”
Once the turkey opener arrives, it’s time to shift your focus to locating a hot tom that wants to play the game! Early in the season, many gobblers will be “henned up” on the roost, meaning they are in a flock that includes numerous females that have not yet been bred.
Given this, your morning setup is critical. My favorite strategy is to locate roosted toms in the evening and then make a plan to quietly slip into the area well before daylight and set up where I think the gobbler is likely to fly down. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, you’ll be home in plenty of time for breakfast!
If you aren’t lucky enough to kill your gobbler as soon as he flies down from the roost, it’s quite likely you are in for a slow morning until the tom breeds some of those hens and then starts wandering around in search of new girlfriends. As a bowhunter, you have two choices; go find another gobbler to hunt, or wait him out. Personally, I am a big advocate of staying patient, as experience has taught me that if I bide my time, my odds of getting the tom fired up later in the morning are high. This is when gobblers are most vulnerable and willing to come to your calls.
Lots of my turkey hunting occurs close to my Ohio home, so it’s not unusual for me to leave the field if I don’t kill a bird right off the roost and then return several hours later. Upon my return, I slowly work my way around the perimeter of the property, softly calling from time to time to mimic a real hen feeding her way through the area. Once I get a tom to respond to my calls, it’s “game on.” And if I don’t? Well, that’s where the whitetails come back into the equation.
Deer on the Brain
There are many times when it is not practical to leave the field during those slow morning hours. For example, maybe the property where you turkey hunt is too far from home to leave and come back again the same day. Maybe you only have one or two days each week to turkey hunt and need to maximize your time afield on those days. Or maybe you’re on an out-of-state turkey trip and you have nothing else to do all day. Regardless of the reason, the long hours of hearing no gobbles in the spring woods are a great time to slip back into deer-hunting mode.
In addition to shed hunting and studying sign, turkey season is a great time to re-active your existing mineral sites or start new ones. I keep bags of minerals, a shovel and a supply of trail cameras in my truck throughout turkey season, and during slow periods, I’ll often return to my vehicle for these supplies as I freshen previously used mineral sites or start new ones when I stumble onto an area that looks particularly promising.
As deer come out of their winter patterns and begin to feed heavily on the newly emerging green vegetation, they will also welcome the opportunity to replenish depleted mineral reserves that will aid in the development of antlers on bucks and production of milk for does that will soon be giving birth to fawns. Of course, this also gives you some great camera locations as you begin the yearly process of inventorying your local herd and figuring out how many mature bucks survived the hunting seasons and harsh winter weather.
Putting It All Together
It’s really hard to beat springtime in the woods. The opportunity to chase turkeys, hunt for shed antlers and run trail cameras all at the same time is pretty much my definition of the perfect day. Doing this not only makes you more efficient with your time, it will save you money! Let’s face it; gasoline and diesel fuel aren’t getting any cheaper, so finding ways to make our gallons go further is something we can all appreciate.
This spring, pull double duty on the turkeys and the deer to make the most of your valuable time afield. You’ll be happy you did, both now and this fall when it’s finally time to go chase that big buck!