The turkeys just weren’t cooperating. No matter how many location calls I threw out or how many times I moved to a different location, the gobblers were already locked down with hens and there was no reason for them to be interested in the noise I was making. Being more of a whitetail hunter, it doesn’t take long for my patience to wear out and my turkey hunts to quickly turn into scouting missions for the next deer season.
As someone who has targeted only mature bucks over the years, I learned quickly that scouting doesn’t begin a few weeks prior to the season. In fact, some of my more disappointing turkey hunts have turned into highly productive whitetail scouting missions. The information you can learn in the early spring can easily become an important piece of the puzzle that has you standing over a bruiser buck in the fall.
Being prepared to scout whitetails during turkey season requires just a few additional tools. These include a camera, GPS unit, and a notebook. In fact, if you carry a smartphone with you there are a number of good applications available nowadays that can do the jobs of all of these items.
There are two big advantages to scouting a mature buck in the spring. First, you don’t have to worry about pushing a particular deer out of the area during hunting season. Let’s face it; the simple fear of possibly chasing your target buck out of the area and to another hunter is enough to paralyze any thoughts about attempting fall scouting. Second, signs tend to show up very well right after snow melt, and just prior to green up. Rubs, scrapes, and trails that you may have missed during hunting season suddenly stick out like neon bar signs. This is a prime opportunity to photograph and mark their location, and add them to your diary.
One particular buck that tormented me for a couple of seasons I affectionately named The Ghost because he had a knack for avoiding trail cameras and hunters. In fact, I only ever got one trail camera photo of the deer and saw him in person during hunting season on two occasions over two seasons. Both of those sightings occurred after information I obtained while spring scouting revealed where the old monarch spent most of his time during the rut.
Once I was able to determine which tracks belonged to the deer, I was able to find a series of scrapes that he visited as well as some rubs that were likely his doing. It was a very small core area, but it provided everything a mature buck needed to stay alive, such as cover, food, and a good vantage point for danger. I used this information to set my stands for the following season, and it nearly paid off.
In late October during a strong wind storm the massive 10-point was heading my direction but eventually turned away before coming into range. I watched helplessly as he disappeared back into the thicket he was bedded in. A couple of weeks later, I had the perfect scenario with an all-night, drenching rain and the wind perfectly in my favor. I knew the rain was going to stop around 10:00 a.m., and when it did, I would be ready. Sure enough about 30 minutes after the storm I could see The Ghost heading in my direction. When he finally stepped into the open and within range I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Apparently he had to take care of business with some other bucks in the area, which resulted in him losing the left side of his rack. I just couldn’t bring myself to shoot him in that condition, and as it turned out, I never saw the buck again.
I enjoy turkey hunting in the spring, not just because of the thrill a fired up gobbler can provide, but also for the prime opportunity to scout for the following deer season. With the busy schedules we have to maintain nowadays and the limited opportunities to get out in the woods, hunters should take full advantage of every opportunity. A great way to do that is by multi-tasking during spring turkey season by spending the down time collecting information about a buck on your hit list. With any luck you just might leave the woods with a gobbler in the bag, and the key piece of data the leads to a trophy buck on the wall in the fall.