The Turkey Hilton
Sixty mile an hour winds were hitting the house.
All things that hadn’t been nailed down were sailing to places east as the storm front pressed through after blasting across the wide open spaces of Wyoming and Montana. Turkeys were only going to be able to hang on in their roost trees if they happened to be in a very protected location.
For dedicated turkey hunters, the location of favorite roosts is protected information akin to the location of a secret fishing hole, the family treasure maps, or the nation’s nuclear codes. Once a hunter has a turkey located, they have the entire evening to anticipate the hunt and plan their approach. Bull elk will sing their locations the night before a hunt but then break your heart by following the herd to places unknown. Gobblers will stick to their roosts and allow you to dream like a kid the night before Christmas.
I have only one spot on my place that meets all of the criteria that turkeys are looking for. I had gone out over the weekend to listen, hoping to locate some birds for the boys and I to chase. I clamored up the ridgeline through the pines and up the sandstone cliffs. The higher elevation would allow me a better chance to locate their direction if I could get a bird to respond.
Once a gobbler is on its roost, it will give away its location by shock gobbling or answering to a hen’s call. A raucous crow or the howling of coyotes will sometimes provoke a bird to startle in response. A few southern clients have entertained me with the call of an owl, and one of my personal favorites requires the least expertise as I have heard birds respond to the slamming of a car door or the honking of a horn.
But that night I was not calling at all. Catching my breath seems to be of greater importance these days than proving my calling talents. In between gasps for air, I picked up the telltale putts that told me the jig was up. I turned and had just enough light to see the long beard hanging from the bird’s chest just before he launched down of his perch and glided through the twilight and into the valley.
Roosts in our area are most often on south or east facing slopes. There has to be a ridgeline to block the wind. The trees themselves have to be mature. A young tree has too many branches and they aren’t thick enough to provide a sure grasp. Even older trees sometimes have branches that block access. Branches need to spread out horizontally and most young trees rise at steep angles from the trunk and are unsuitable for roosting. Turkeys like to be able to glide from above down to a roost. They will fly up, but the biggest birds find this more difficult. A level branch of proper diameter to fit a bird’s feet and allows access from above is a favorite for big gobblers.
I took the pole saw and my son-in-law back to the roost over the weekend. By stationing Nate above on the ridge, he could guide me into blocking branches that kept a bird from accessing a likely branch. I spent half an hour trimming and opening up the roost sight to make it even more attractive to birds in the future. It might not produce this season, but I know that it will provide many exciting hunts in the future.
To be even better, a roost also should have an open clearing nearby for a gobbler to glide down to and start their morning strut. Impressing the hens is the order of the day and the closer the stage is to his arm chair the better. The older a bird gets the less energy he wants to expend traveling.
Finally, the roost should be close to water. Singing and strutting are serious business and a gobbler needs to cool his pipes after doing all of the heavy lifting associated with pulling the sun up over the horizon.
A few sheets of tin to collect the morning dew and funnel the occasional rain shower into a collection basin and this roost will be just about perfect.