Trail Cams for Turkeys - by Bruce Wilds

There is no doubt that trail cameras have a multitude of uses. The vast majority of these kinds of cameras are used by deer hunters seeking to capture the image of that trophy buck. Trail cameras are used by trappers, duck hunters, homeowners, etc. One group of folks that you don’t hear much about regarding trail cam use, are turkey hunters. For those of you chasing an elusive, call-shy longbeard, you may want to consider setting up some intel-gathering sites.

You may ask why setup a trail camera for turkeys? There are three great reasons why you should be using cameras for turkey hunting. The first is locating strut zones. Turkeys are creatures of habit for the most part, and during the spring, gobblers will often have what is referred to as a strut zone. This is an area where a gobbler will strut for long periods of time. They will strut from one end of the zone to the other, gobbling periodically, trying to attract hens.

These strut zones can vary in size and often have some characteristics that a turkey prefers, such as a big opening inside of the woods, or an open hilltop or hillside, where there is a bench.  Another great area is an open river or creek bottom. These are all great spots to locate an old longbeard. If the birds are call-shy and don’t gobble, any trail cam that is set up on these strut zones will capture all of the information that you need to put a tag on that elusive gobbler.

The second reason why a trail camera should be used, which coincides with the strut zones, is to capture the time and dates that the birds are using these areas. Oftentimes, right after flydown, a gobbler will have a strut zone very close to his roost tree. He will stay there for the first little bit of the morning, strutting for his hens, awaiting them to fly down. Once they all have flown down, he gathers them up and the hens will begin feeding and moving off and he will follow. As the season goes on and hens begin to nest, these gobblers will often find amid-morning place that they like to strut and gobble from, to attract any unbred hens. This becomes routine for the gobbler and he will often be in the same area, around the same time each day. Capturing a photo with the exact dates and times allows a hunter pattern a turkey. It is amazing how often a turkey will be in the same spot, at the same time each day. The one critical element to this, is to make sure that the date and times are set correctly on your camera. There is nothing worse than getting to a hot spot, only to find out the bird is already there.

If a hunter is not having any luck getting the bird off of the roost, the next best option is to let the turkey do his thing. Use the information that the trail camera has collected and set up in that strut zone that he comes to every day. It is very important to be there before he is. Oftentimes, it is a waiting game, similar to deer hunting, so have patience.

I have noticed over the years that the vast majority of birds that I have shot with spurs over an inch and a half, do not gobble much and are very call shy. The key to hunting these old trophy birds, is to be there before them. Set up ahead of time. Put a couple of hen decoys out and use deer hunting strategies and wait them out. Resist the urge to call, especially if you know the birds are coming to these strut zones routinely. You know this, because you have photographs of them. Put the calls down and simply scratch the leaves with your hands to mimic a feeding hen. The turkeys will hear it, I assure you. Expect these types of gobblers to come in silent and be listening for the tell-tale sounds of the spit and drum as a gobbler struts into range.

Lastly, a trail camera is a huge asset to learn the direction of travel of a group of turkeys. Not only can you pinpoint strut zones and the exact times that birds are using an area, but a trail camera allows you to see the direction the birds are going.

As I mentioned earlier, turkeys are creatures of habit and will often work the same route each day. A camera may not capture a strut zone if it isn’t placed in the correct area, but it may catch the group as they head to a feeding area, or a strut zone. Utilize these cameras and the times to see which direction the birds are headed. Knowing this information can narrow down areas to scout in order to locate those strut zones or areas that the birds are feeding in.

As you can see, if you are not utilizing trail cameras to your advantage, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn so much more about the flocks of turkeys in your area. Be sure to get these cameras out well in advance of hunting season, as birds often begin to breed well ahead of opening day. The longer they are out, the more data you can collect. Not only will these tools get you great photos of the birds you are hunting, but they will tell you when the birds are moving through and which way they are going. Don’t be afraid to set up multiple cameras in an area to give yourself the best advantage to tag an old, call-shy longbeard this spring!

- Bruce Wilds