Spring turkey hunting season in Ohio is just around the corner. This is the time of year that we shake off the rust from the long winter, get our gear together, and start getting ready to hit the woods in search of the elusive wild turkey. Now that Ohio has reduced the bag limit from two birds to one, it is even more important that hunters scout the area they will hunt to improve their chances of getting the perfect tom while the season lasts. We will share some of our top tips for pre-season preparation so you’ll be ready when the season starts.
Before you decide when, where, or how to hunt wild turkeys in Ohio, ensure you have a valid hunting license and a permit to take turkeys. Without these important documents, hunters risk being labeled as poachers and losing the privilege of hunting in the state. You don’t have to like the rules, but you do have to follow them.
Step One: Public and Private Land
The State of Ohio maintains and permits wild turkey hunting on designated public lands in different parts of the state. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources provides an online map that helps hunters identify public lands open for hunting turkey. These areas can offer excellent opportunities for hunters but will need to be well-scouted ahead of time. By the numbers, hunters harvest just 10 percent of the turkeys taken each spring hunting on public land.
Private land offers much better chances in the spring. Hunters must strictly follow the rules to prevent unlawful harvests that can result in fines, confiscation of killed turkeys, and the loss of hunting privileges. Before hunting on private land, hunters must get written permission from the landowner, even when the property is posted as open for hunting. While hunting on private land, hunters must have a form signed by the owner. The form is available on the OhioDNR website.
Ohio offers a controlled-access hunting permit awarded through a randomized computer lottery. Hunters must have valid hunting licenses and permit to enter the drawing, which can be done on the OhioDNR website. The controlled access opportunities are some of the best in the state for hunters lucky enough to get a chance at wild turkey hunting.
Step Two: Know Your Turkey
It might seem obvious, but this is one of the most important things you can do to prepare for hunting season. Understanding why turkeys act the way they do, where they group and feed, and what it takes to lure turkeys is a vital skill. Many people think of turkeys as stupid, slow, and easy targets because they are familiar only with the barnyard variety. Wild turkeys are masters of their environment. They can appear and disappear like magic. One minute they are loud and visible; the next thing you know, it is like they simply vanished into thin air.
Hunters should learn to identify turkey tracks to discern how many turkeys are in an area, how often they move through the area, and where the best spots to use turkey calls might be to lure these birds into the shooting lane. Most turkeys in Ohio are Eastern Wild Turkeys which are known for being some of the most difficult to call, and one of the more elusive game birds in the U.S.One of the biggest draws for many hunters is the art of calling turkeys using different types of sounds that mimic the way these birds communicate with one another.
We recommend reading up on wild turkey behavior before heading out to the fields and woods so that you have a good idea of the types of conditions these birds prefer. Understanding how and why turkeys behave will greatly increase the chance that you will get a chance at taking a prize tom.
Step Three: When, Where, and How to Scout Wild Turkey
There are some tricks that successful turkey hunters use to bag big birds each season, and it all starts with proper scouting. We will often scout turkey areas in the winter well before the season begins.
Turkeys gather in large winter flocks and hide in dense woods and hollows to stay out of the cold. As spring approaches, the flocks break up and disperse, but winter scouting often gives you a sense of the number of turkeys in an area.
This is also a great opportunity to get out and learn the topography of an area before the season starts. Turkeys, like many animals, will move about using the easiest path possible. They use logging roads, stream beds, and similar areas to move from roosting to feeding locations.
A Few Weeks Out
Two or three weeks before the season begins, we like to head out to some of our favorite hunting spots and start looking for turkeys. The best times are early in the morning before they have come down from the trees or late in the afternoon before the birds head back to roost. It is a good idea to scout areas farther from parking areas and public roads that will likely see more hunters. An owl call or a crow call can be used to help locate toms since these birds tend to trigger a gobble. Use this trick sparingly, though, since toms will learn the trick. It is also important to avoid spooking roosting birds because they rarely return to that spot once startled.
Where to Focus
Hunters should look at areas that offer the best habitat for turkey populations. These areas will include areas of dense woodlands, creeks, ridges, and fields. Look for the large, three-toed footprints and the scrapes on either side that indicate a tom dragging his wing feathers. You’ll also want to look for scat. Hen scat tends to curl up, while toms drop J-shaped scat. It makes sense to look for turkey signs between areas with stands of old oak or white pine and corn fields and other agriculture areas from which they feed.
Scouting local hunting areas for signs of wild turkey narrows down some of the best locations, whether hunting on public or private land. It can take many years to hone the skills needed to properly identify the signs of turkeys and anticipate where the best birds can be found. Regularly scouting an area will give you the best chance to bag a great tom during Ohio’s spring wild turkey season.
For more tips, make sure to read our 15 Expert Tips for Spring Turkey Hunting.