Every show needs a star, and mine was topping the ridge directly in front of me. The lights were low and the camera wasn’t clicking, but that’s only because it had already done its job.
Due to a busy work schedule, I hadn’t been able to scout before the hunt, so I armed the area around each of my turkey blinds with surveillance equipment. On the morning of my hunt, I snuck in close to my first-option hideout. Under the cover of darkness, I slipped out the memory card from the scouting camera and checked the images with a hand-held card reader.
Perfect! The time-stamped photo revealed an exciting plot: A longbeard walked right next to my blind the evening before and was certainly roosted nearby. My blind across the meadow was in the picture’s background.
Scouting cameras aren’t just for deer hunting. These easy-to-use, modern day tools are useful data collectors no matter what you’re chasing. Use them on your next turkey hunt to increase your odds for success and add another element of fun to the hunt. Other NAHC members are making their own turkey-hunting success memories using scouting cameras, too.
Scouting Camera Strategies
At its core, turkey hunting is simple: Be in the right place at the right time. But sometimes there are a lot of right places. Scouting cameras provide visual evidence to make your decisions clearer. You can pattern a specifi c bird, learn when birds are traveling through a certain area, and identify turkey travel patterns.
Do a little footwork to start. Identify likely travel zones, roost areas, food sources, watering holes and strut zones. Search for clues that turkeys use these types of areas, such as droppings, scratches, wing marks, feathers and tracks, or maybe you have heard birds calling from an area.
Next, set up cameras in these “hot zones.” See for yourself, without sitting out there all day, when and how turkeys are using these areas. Cameras also help you scout multiple spots at once. If you don’t see birds on a particular camera for a few days, move it and set up your surveillance to another area of interest. If you still feel it’s a hot area, adjust the camera to a new angle or view.
Here are few tricks of the trade for using scouting cameras to pattern your next big gobbler.
Position your cameras low and level. Turkeys aren’t as tall as deer, so place a camera only 2 feet above the ground. Point the laser level to the ground, so the camera takes photos all the way out to its maximum distance. Setting a camera high and angling it downward will limit its field of view and reduce the number of birds you’ll “catch.”
Set your cameras to take multiple photos in sequence. Once a camera is triggered, you want it to take a series of photos. Turkeys are always on the move, so this gives you a better chance of getting a good photo.
Keep a detailed turkey log. Log the dates, times and number of turkeys “shot” before, during and after the season. You’ll also want to know where turkeys are at other times of year. Keep your records updated every year; this could identify new hot spots.
Use multiple cameras. Use as many cameras as you have access to, but even using only one adds fun to the hunt. Four to six cameras are ideal. After all, the goal is to select the best spot for your hunt, and monitoring several areas gives you the best chance for success.
Check cameras often. Do low-impact scouting during the season by checking your scouting cams during a typical mid-afternoon lull. Frequent preseason checks are important, too; involve family and friends in these excursions.
Don’t sweat the cost. Like any piece of hunting gear, buy the best game camera you can afford, and do the best you can with what you’ve got. Most cameras on the market today provide long battery life, quick trigger speeds and customized controls to help you catch turkeys on camera.
Wide-angle shooting and long range of capture are key camera features. A camera that takes pictures over a large and deep area is ideal because it’s more likely to capture turkeys moving through. For example, you’ll want to see as much of a food plot or strut zone as possible.
Set cameras to take only daytime pictures to save battery life and space on memory cards. Also, consider a high-resolution camera. You might want to choose a camera that takes high-resolution color photos that print well. A portrait of your trophy gobbler would be priceless next to his beard and spurs on your wall!
Invest in a portable picture viewer if you can. You need a portable viewer so you can look at images in the woods and make hunting decisions on the spot. The alternative is to buy cameras with built-in viewing displays.
Photos Are Fun
Scouting camera photos serve a functional scouting purpose, but they also add an element of fun during the chase. Checking cameras and seeing photos of all kinds of wildlife is quite enjoyable. And, seeing photos of turkeys fosters an optimistic attitude during the hunt. If you haven’t seen or heard a gobbler for a day or two, seeing a photo can motivate you to stay on the chase.
Photos of turkeys also add to the hunt’s thrill. For example, you might collect photos of a gobbler that has specific body markings, such as a white tail feather or a ground-dragging beard. If you harvest any bird you have a picture of, those scouting camera photos become keepsakes that complement your successful hunt. That certainly was true in my case—the scouting camera photo of my Minnesota gobbler hangs near his trophy fantail mount.
And … Action!
Once daylight broke, three soft purrs from my Woodhaven pot call proved the camera didn’t lie. The tom thundered only 50 yards from the blind and less than 100 yards from my scouting camera. Ten minutes later, the gobbler flew down.
He was walking on the same path he used the night before, but this time the blind wasn’t empty. When the gobbler appeared over the ridge, I steadied my aim. As soon as the longbeard cleared a jack pine, a load of magnum No. 5s ended the show.
The scouting camera was right. It told me this tom was in the neighborhood, and this was the blind to occupy. As I slung the gobbler over my shoulder and headed toward the truck, I noticed my scouting camera across the meadow and couldn’t help but smile.