Roosting Turkeys

The Florida Osceola can be one of the most difficult of the turkey sub-species to harvest consistently. He is noticeably more wary and typically does less calling than his northern cousins. Besides these facts, he prefers to live in an environment that is thicker and very wet compared to other turkeys. There are some important tip you need to know when setting up on these “swamp toms” if your plans include harvesting one.

Location, location, location!

Your setup can be one of the most important keys to bagging a trophy tom. I am sure you have heard the old realtor,s saying, “location, location, location as being the key to real estate sales. Well, if you want to close the deal on a wary old Osceola, you need to apply this same principal to where you set up on these birds next spring.

Roosted turkeys always have a plan for where they are headed when they fly down! This is a very important point to understand and you have to develop a plan to deal with this.

During the early season both the gobblers and hens will be roosting deeper in the swamps and usually over some flooded real estate. Sometimes it can be difficult to find something dry, above the water line, to actually keep your butt from getting wet. Usually, you are going to have to sit on a small tussock. I have even been reduced to sitting on my heels up against the swell butt of a big cypress or gum tree when no dry land could be found. This can be really uncomfortable and is a poor choice but if that’s all you have to work with, you bare with it and make the most of it.

Typically, the turkeys will move to the edge of the flooded ground just before fly-up and mill around picking until its just the right time to fly out over the flood water to roost. They will usually fly out a hundred yards or so and lite high up in the leafy canopy. The next morning they will fly right back to this same spot . If you have some historical knowledge of a preferred roost spot like this you can be there that evening and listen for the turkey to fly up then move to the edge of the flood water to see where you need to be the next morning. You probably will not even need to call! This is hunting through sheer skill and woodsmanship!

Don’t try to get so close that you get over flown at fly down!

Occasionally, the turkeys will wade out into the water if it is a broad flat of ankle depth before they take wing. In this case, they sometimes will pitch down into the water the next morning. You can still wait at the edge of the flood but if you prefer maximum excitement, then move in as close as you dare keeping in mind not to get so close that the turkeys over fly you when they pitch down. If that happens you are all but out of the game as they will already have a destination in mind and they will not back track to you. They will call to you trying to get you to assemble with the flock but within 20-30 minutes they will be moving on. You have to place yourself in between the turkeys and where they are going when they are flocked up at this time of year.

Use the flood water to your advantage for a silent approach!

Some of my most memorable hunts took place when the situation dictated an awkward and uncomfortable setup with mosquitoes eating me alive and my body in utter pain from being pinned down by a tom that was just out of shotgun range for an extended time and me unable to move. I don’t know if you have ever had your hand go numb under the weight of an 8lb autoloader bearing down on it while propped on your knee, but It’s coming and the throbbing will have you praying for that tom to move behind his fan or step behind a tree so you can move and gain some relief! When you have endured and over come such a situation and managed to take a tough tom like this you will feel like you have been in a battle of wills and I promise you, the success will be sweet.

If you are lucky enough to harvest one of these dark, long legged toms you will count him among your most treasured trophies.

My hope here is that you will gain a better sense of the importance of roosting and can incorporate this information into your own hunting methods.

Best of Hunts,

Larry Stephens

 

P.S.  If you have any turkey hunting questions or comments, take a few moments to jot them down and I’ll be glad to respond with any help I can provide, L.S.

Hen Turkey Roosted in a Cypress Tree
Photo by Larry Stephens

There is one technique when it comes to turkey hunting that is responsible for producing more turkeys than any other! It requires a considerable amount of extra time and effort but you will learn more about turkey hunting and woodsmanship than you ever dreamed!

I am talking about Roosting and if you are not implementing this into your turkey hunting strategy  you are missing out on some of the most exciting turkey hunting you can imagine!

If you are following my writing, you probably are picking up on the importance that I place on Roosting. It is the keystone of my turkey hunting strategy.  It’s hard for me to imagine turkey hunting without roosting. Truthfully, I think I have as much fun tracking roads and roosting in the afternoon as I do actually hunting. When you cut a big set of gobbler tracks walking down a graded road, headed for a roosting area and it’s on top of all of the recent vehicle wheel sign, you know your in the drivers seat for the mornings hunt. It is that much more exciting when you know you have that waiting for you when you wake up. Of course I will always go to a bird I actually heard gobble from the roost over the set of tracks. After all, there is always a chance that the tracks could belong to a jake though as a rule jakes will travel in small groups so a lone set of tracks is a real good bet. I am always suspicious of 3-4 tom tracks traveling together. These are seldom mature gobblers. I would only hunt this kind of sign if I did not have anything more promising.

Big Gobbler Track on a Sand Road

There are two schools of thought or primary methods for hunting turkeys. The first is to locate yourself in a location that turkeys frequent and try to call them to your location and the other is to take the fight to the bird, roost him and move in as close as possible for the kill!

  • Whats in a Turkey’s Head?

Roosted turkeys always have a plan for where they are headed when they fly down! This is a very important point to understand.  If you are dealing with a flock of turkeys and you can’t locate yourself in between the roosted birds and where their headed you have lost the fight before it even began. I won’t say you have no chance at all at this bird but you won’t kill very many gobblers with this setup, especially older Toms. If you are lucky you might pull in a two year old satellite tom but the mature tom that rules the flock is headed where the flock is going and you will very seldom persuade him otherwise.

  • Rely More On Your Woodsmanship and Less On Hunting Gear for More Success!

However, If you are familiar with the woods you are hunting and roosted the birds you should have a good idea where they are going when they pitch down. If you can get on that side of them and get set up without blowing them up you will more than likely get a shot at the gobbler. You probably don’t even need to call. When you start to rely more on your woodsmanship and less on calling and gear you will see your results improve without question. When you make it to this point you can consider yourself a Master Turkey hunter. Any hunter that can harvest turkeys consistently with just his woodsmanship skills and intelligence has truly mastered the art.

  • What call is more important to turkey hunting than an actual turkey call?

If I could only use one sound to turkey hunt with, it would not even be a turkey call at all! It would be the call of a barred owl! I have taught myself to owl with my natural voice and without this ability or at least being able to use an owl call, I would not have taken nearly as many turkeys as I have. The reason I would select the owl call is that it plays such a key roll in roosting. You can’t kill them if you can’t find them. On average a gobbler will only gobble for about 20-30 minutes from the limb before he flies down. Once he hits the ground, he may not even gobble again. At best, his gobbling will be cut in half. Within 30 minutes or so it will drop off by half again. What this means is that you have very little time to locate a turkey in the morning before he shuts up. This bird will usually start gobbling a little again, later in the morning but it’s probably over for a while otherwise. Now, the converse of this is the bird that don’t gobble from the limb! If he is not vocal on the roost, he is probably going to gobble good once he’s on the ground. That ones worth remembering!

  • Roosting Provide Valuable intelligence!

Another important thing that roosting does for you is to gain you valuable intel on exactly what the woods are like where the birds are roosted. Once you wait for the light level to get just right which is something you have to learn the hard way, you can approach a roosted bird fairly easily. This also depends largely on the amount of ground cover and leaf canopy above.  As a rule, when I roost a bird that is responding on the limb well, I am going to move in close enough that I can see him! I want to know what I am getting into in the morning…. is there a thicket or small creek or any other obstacle that’s going to keep the bird from being able to come to me. Sometimes, you may only learn where not to be before it gets so dark that you have to back out but that is valuable intel also. I can’t tell you how many long beards I have stood under at last light and watched them trying to shake the mosquitoes off their snood……. big ole beard swinging around!

By the way, I highly recommend a good pair of smaller binoculars, they are invaluable for turkey scouting and roosting. I have been using Nikon’s Monarch in 10×36 paired with a good Bino system for a number of years now.

This Tom pitched right back down to the road that he had flown up to the roost from. Big Mistake!

Most of the time a turkey, especially a mature tom, will roost over an area that is thick at ground level. If it is a wet area it will probably be open on the ground and you can move easily. In places where there are not a lot of open woods (which means a low turkey population) a turkey will fly up from a road and out over an old cut-over.

Here in Florida that may likely be an old bay head that has a few mature pines left  here and there. As a rule, if you don’t disturb him he will probably pitch right back down to the road in the morning.

This is just the kind of situation I fell into a couple of seasons ago. I was tracking some graded roads in my huntin’ club and I cut a pair of fat toed gobbler tracks walking down the road. I could tell they were hot tracks as you could still see the texture from the pads of their toes. I parked the truck and started tracking. About a half mile later they came to a bend in the road that had a short dead end  spur off to the south. To the left was a oak scrub, to the right was a long narrow bay head that bordered a creek strand. The bay section  had been cut over many years ago and grown back into an impossible thicket. I have tracked a crippled deer or two into this tangle and it is one miserable place to be. We call it the hell hole!

The creek strand was approximately a hundred and a quarter from the road and there were some scattered mature pines still standing. About this point, the edge of the road dropped down to a low flat that extend out into the bay. This is where the tracks ended! The creek was thick but not so much that he couldn’t have fluttered down in there if he wanted but up on the hill behind me was a big pasture that the hens like to nest around. I knew that was where he was going to want to go in the morning. That meant he just about had to fly back down to the road that he’d flown up from.

By the way, neither bird gobbled from the limb that evening.

The next morning I set up on the edge of the road about 15 yds back from the edge of the flat and waited for gobble time. Both toms gobbled the next morning but had roosted about 100 yds apart. They had flown up from the same point but angling away from each other. The bird that did most of the gobbling was behind the flat though I never could pick him out in the tree. Finally, he pitched out and sailed 125 yds and landed within 18 yds of my  position. When his toes touched the dirt and he got stopped, I sent a load or Winchester #6 down range and the hunt was over!

Inspecting the black wings of a nice Florida Osceola

Here’s another tip:  when a roosted tom starts to slow down his gobbling or stops all together, you need to be ready, he’s just about to pitch down!

The actual place I had to set up would have been ridiculous for any other situation. Literally, there was no way to get off the road and set-up. I had to just back up into a tiny pocket looking down the road though I did it in such a way that I could only see as far as I could shoot. Boy, was that gobbler surprised when he touched down and saw me sitting there!

  • Did Roosting Really Kill This Turkey?

Here’s the point of that story….. That was not an area that many people would have picked to try to strike a bird in the morning if they were hunting cold, without benefit of having scouted. Had I not roosted that night and cut those tracks, there is a good chance I could have ended up some place out of ear shot of a gobbling tom. That hunt could have easily been a bust. Get the picture?

My hope here is that you will gain a better sense of the importance of roosting and can incorporate this information into your own hunting methods and become a more successful turkey hunter.

Best of Hunts,

Larry Stephens

 

P.S.  If you have any turkey hunting questions or comments, take a few moments to jot them down and I’ll be glad to respond with any help I can provide, L.S.

 

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