Thursday, March 1, 2018

Using Trail Cameras To Pattern Turkeys

It’s probably fair to say that most hunters use trail cameras primarily for deer hunting.  Finding and patterning big bucks, surveying the herd, seeing which bucks survived and monitoring when deer start dropping antlers are all common ways we use our cameras.  Once the horns drop, a lot of guys seem to put the cameras away until August.

Not us, we keep the cameras running and just change our focus to turkeys.  Late winter and early spring is an excellent time to run cameras and you can learn a lot about your local flock in preparation for spring season.  Here are a few ways we use our trail cams to get the drop on our turkeys.
  1. We move our cameras to areas we plan to hunt when the spring season opens.  For us, in northern MO, this means a lot of field corners and edges.  By doing this, we can gauge the times of day that turkeys show up in the fields.  Turkeys can range far and wide, but we seem to notice a cycle to their movements - sometimes we see that birds are showing up every 2nd or 3rd day at roughly the same times. 
  2. We put cameras near known roosting areas.  Where we hunt, this means hanging cameras on logging roads, ridge lines, or open glades inside the timber.  When we get pics of birds in the first or last hour of the day, we assume they are roosting close to the camera location.  Sometimes birds will roost in the same area several days in a row, other times they seem to cycle through roost areas once every few days.  The cameras can even help us figure out which way they go after fly down.
  3. We also try to gauge how weather affects the birds’ movements.  One way we do this is to put cameras in areas protected from the wind such as hollows or leeward slopes.  These are the toughest camera spots to peg and we don’t get as many pics on these cameras as other more predictable spots.  But we always get some really windy days during the spring season and it helps to have some clue where the birds might be in those conditions. 
  4. From trail cam pics we can also see when the flocks seem to break up - we'll go from getting pics with big groups of birds one week to getting pics with small groups or individual hens and toms the next.  As the season progresses it's amazing how few pics we get of the hens - it's like they go underground - in reality this signals to us that they are spending more time on nests.
It’s a little different than deer season but your trail cameras can be a great turkey hunting tool.  We are not really patterning specific birds, but the easiest way to put a big tom gobbler in the logbook is to be where he wants to be, and the trail cameras help us identify those places and times.  Getting a pic full of big tom gobblers at 7:00 am is very useful and gets our blood pumping as much as any big buck pic.

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Friday, February 23, 2018

What Can One Land-Owners Learn from MDC's Turkey Research?

For the last few years the Missouri Department of Conservation has been conducting a study on wild turkey populations.  As a land-owner in NE Missouri, we’ve done everything we can to improve the habitat on our small property for all game – especially wild turkeys.  So, when the MDC asked us to participate in the research we immediately said yes.  It’s been a great experience for us and we’ve learned a lot about turkeys along the way.

Last year, the MDC trapped 6 jakes on our place. One traveled so far that they couldn’t locate him, leaving us with 5 birds roaming the woods fitted with backpack transmitters and ankle bands.  Six weeks after trapping, during the 2017 spring season, we had several encounters with these jakes – getting close enough to see their ankle bands – always letting them walk.  One day we ran into them over 1 mile from where they were trapped.  By talking to the guys who monitor their movement, we learned that the birds have been tracked as far as 2-3 miles north and 5-6 miles south, usually returning to our place every 2-3 days.  I knew turkeys ranged far, turns out they cover more ground than I thought, and they cover that ground more frequently than I thought too. 

According to one biologist, we have created such good habitat that we are literally drawing in birds from all around.  When turkeys roam across the landscape and stumble across our farm, they will often start to make it the center of their range due to habitat!  Talk about reinforcing the importance of doing habitat improvement work.  Even on small farms, you can have a big impact.

Just last week, the MDC was successful again, this time trapping, tagging and releasing 14 hens.  In a stroke of good timing, I arrived on the farm just after the rocket nets went off, so I got to watch the team process the birds.  I was surprised to learn that all 14 were adults.  We had a relatively good hatch in our part of the state last spring, but that doesn’t always translate to good recruitment. 

We asked the biologists if we should expect the banded jakes to disburse before the 2018 spring season, now that they are 2-year-olds.  He said they would probably always use our property.  That’s good news, because we really hope to “remove” 1 or 2 of them from the study program (if you know what I mean).  As jakes, they acted very dumb and gullible – I doubt they will be so cooperative this spring, but we will let you know if we put a banded tom gobbler in our logbook 😊.  For more info on the MDC study:

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Duck data:  Sunny days or cloudy days, which is better? 

One of the things my duck hunting friends like to argue about is which type of day is more productive for duck hunting.  Some guys swear by the sunny, blue-bird days while some guys despise those days opting for the cloudy overcast days.  

Well we crunched our own data, from 2 years-worth of hunting logs to see if we could determine which type of day really produced the best duck days.  This is not some official research study, but as it turns out, we put just as many ducks in the logbook on sunny days as we did on cloudy days – literally almost an equal amount.  Not surprisingly, the more important factors in our data were temperature and wind.  

We didn’t settle the argument for or against sunny days – at least not where we hunt - now the argument is "if the wind and temperature are in the right range, does it even matter if it is sunny or cloudy?"  Sunshine sure does seem to help us hide from the ducks' eyes better.  But otherwise, we at least did confirm that either type of day can be equally productive.  

So, whether you prefer blue bird skies or cloudy days – keep your hopes up, you can put birds in the logbook on either day.  Better yet, start building your own data set of duck hunting logs so you can analyze which days are better for the places you hunt.  I guess we'll have to come up with something else to argue about when the birds aren't cooperating.

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