One of the great opportunities that exist in Colorado when it comes to spring turkey hunting is the diverse terrain we get to play in when it comes to chasing long-beards. The Rios’s of the riparian corridors hang to the cottonwood bottoms, feed in fields of old grain or newly rising wheat/oats, while the Merriam’s of the foothills and further up the western slopes find open aspen meadows, mountain pastures and the wooded canopies of USFS roads to spin their spring rituals. I thought I would pen this short series of articles about the concept of finding and stalking Merriam’s in the higher terrain and use a specific geographical location to highlight some of the points I am making in the article.
Working From Home
Just as we network in business to find clients or others in the same business, we do the same in the turkey hunter world. A guy knows a guy who found some birds up in that area last year while scouting. Yes, there are a ton of places that are dead ends but some pay off.
Now we scout from home a bit to find some logical places to go look. Google Earth, the
CPW Hunting Atlas and a Colorado Atlas and Gazetteer become the immediate tools of the trade. But what are we looking for you might ask? Food, cover and roosting sites are good things to get started with from the desktop. As we define these places better, we can put some marks on the map for future scouting trips.
Look at the roads that enter and leave the small city, some paved, some forest roads and some two-track but all give you vehicle access to scout. TIP: If you can drive and look/listen for birds, you will enjoy scouting more than long hikes over many miles.
Look for places you could use as a glassing location along your drive, so you can glass the ridges and bottoms of the canyons/gulches, much as if you were hunting deer or elk. Take a look at the most promising places on the map and mark them. Develop a good scouting loop you can drive and get out and hike a bit looking for sign and develop a good scouting plan.
Now that you have done some scouting via the map assets, time to hit the road and see what you can discover on the ground. Let’s talk about a few of the considerations you might make as you prepare to head to your hunting location and look for turkeys.
When Should I Plan My Road Trip?
Scouting is an art and the more time you spend at it, the better you will become through practice. However, most of us cannot afford a great deal of time to devote to preseason scouting so choosing the right time is key to making the trip worthwhile. At high elevations the snow line generally moves up pretty quick in the spring. This is an important concept as the turkeys will follow the snow line moving up in altitude and not stay in deep snow for too long. Generally you could begin scouting in early March and find birds in the drainages and ridges. Many of the main forest roads may be clear of snow by mid-March, allowing you to drive vice walk into areas. But it is good to get out of the vehicle and walk some, looking for sign that may be missed if you are driving.
Do not worry about trying to drive to scout too early in the morning so you can find birds on the roost. Early spring scouting has two main purposes; 1) validate that there are turkeys in the area, and 2) allowing you to watch daily movements so you can get an idea of the daily pattern the birds may follow. Arriving mid-morning so you can see the birds feeding in open areas, traveling roads and corridors by glassing from a high point will provide more benefit than trying to arrive before sunrise to look for birds.
Finally, plan your road trip for a day that you can spend the day or even two; SCOUTING. Looking for sign, checking out roads, talking to locals, talking to the postman, the garbage man and the UPS driver.
What To Take On The Road Trip
Scouting gear can be simple but you will need to take the important stuff. Make a checklist specifically for your scouting trips. No need for camo, face paint or calls on this trip. A good set of maps, binoculars, spotting scope, camera, GPS and notepad will be great for starts. Adding a small daypack, walking stick, couple of wedges of cheese and a baguette is a great addition, if you can convince your significant other to tag along.
You will find that you get to take more road trips if it can also serve as family time…worked for me for over 30 years. Gear is a personal decision but it is important to be able to take notes, mark locations and really understand the terrain. If you spot birds, it is important to watch them for a long time, try to understand why they are heading in the direction they are heading, what they are eating, etc. The more you understand about the birds, the easier they will be to find later.
If you have spent the day looking for birds and found none; no birds, no sign and no one you have spoken to has seen any either, it may be time to reassess and delete this area from your scouting log. Remember, this hunting thing is a process and it will take work to locate good places to hunt. But, if you find some promising signs, see some birds or get some good tips from the locals, you may need to look at this area again later in the month. On the way home, swing by an area near your primary scouting location that you may wish to come visit later on another scouting trip, just so you know where to head the next time you are coming up to scout.
Next entry, we will look at scouting this same area before we plan to hunt it in early May. For now, go practice your locator calls, you are going to need them.