By Bob Humphrey
Being a proficient caller and experienced enough to know what to do given a certain set of circumstances are important attributes of a successful turkey hunter. But nothing outweighs scouting if you want to be consistently successful. Getting out and looking for birds and sign is the best way to scout, but it’s not the only way.
Regular visitors to this site might recall some tips from early last fall on using cameras for scouting deer (Scouting When You’re not There, September 17, 2012). It turns out much of the same information also applies to turkeys. Keep foremost in mind that cameras are a supplement to, not a substitute for real, boots-on-the-ground scouting. However, they can help make the latter considerably more efficient.
Scouting cameras come in three general types, each with varying degrees of utility specifically for turkeys.
Good - Conventional trail cameras are triggered when an animal passes nearby. They’ll give you a snapshot and a time and date of when the birds passed by a particular area, but not much more. If the birds pass by on a regular basis, you can assume something of a pattern. If they pass just out of the camera’s range however, you might miss them altogether. Thus, this type is much more useful for deer than turkeys.
Better - Many of the newer models come with a “plotwacher” mode. They automatically record images at pre-determined intervals without need of motion or heat to trigger them. This makes them much better suited to monitoring activity over large, open areas like fields or food plots, which turkeys prefer. By studying the images you may be able to discern patterns of where or when birds enter or leave the area. The duality of these hybrid cameras allows more flexibility in how you use a particular camera throughout the seasons. However, they record single images, even in plotwatcher mode, and having to pore through dozens or even hundreds of single images, can be a daunting task.
Best - Plotwatchers are designed strictly for plotwatcher mode. Like the hybrids they can be set to record the action of a large area throughout the day, or at specific intervals, without being triggered. Unlike the hybrids, they record video clips, which are much more manageable, and take up less space on your cards.
With the help of cameras or plotwatchers you can maximize your scouting time. Drive the roads or hit the woods to locate birds. Then, post your plotwatchers to monitor daily activity. Give them a week or so, then view the results to see which flocks are the most predictable, and give you the best odds of being in the right place at the right time.
It’s best if you can use multiple cameras, allowing you to monitor different areas and different flocks. That way if Plan A goes awry you have a Plan B or C. You can go after a different flock, or try to intercept the same flock later in the day at a different location
You may also find it helpful to keep a log or journal of your camera observations. Note things like time of day (when turkeys are moving), temperature and barometric pressure (which some cameras record on the imprint) and any other weather data you may have access to. Over time you may start to see trends. For example, turkeys may be inclined to use a certain field during certain wind or weather patterns; or they may use certain parts of the property more at certain times of the day or the season.