Sign Language Scouting as Described by Steve Hickhoff from the NWTF
Hunters use the term “sign” to speak of evidence left behind by the quarry they’re hunting.
Tracks – Track size can indicate the sex and age of an autumn and winter flock’s turkeys. Mixed sets of new and old tracks say flocks regularly use the area. Note them on field edges, muddy access roads, and wherever groups favor a food source.
Droppings – Damp droppings say wild turkeys were there recently. Typically we assign j-shaped leavings to gobblers, and bloblike ones to hens, but sometimes that can vary. Dry, decomposing sign says turkeys were once there, but may have moved on, likely to another food source.
Feathers – Concentrated feathers can reveal a roost site when slightly dispersed in likely cover below big-branched trees, or a predator kill when tightly compacted in a single small area. Biology tells us turkeys molt according to age and sex. Poults lose and replace feathers as they grow toward fall. Juvenile turkeys stop molting come winter, then start again in spring. Adult turkeys shed feathers into summer when molting peaks. Breeding gobblers do so after their mating activity passes, and hens molt after broods are hatched, or nesting is unsuccessful.
Scratchings – Raked areas in the woods, along field edges, or in food plots, often indicate autumn and winter turkey feeding zones. These scratchings can show the number of birds in a flock. Tracks, droppings, and feathers may also be found among this feeding sign. Old sign of any kind may indicate turkeys have left the area for other food sources.
Dusting Areas – Early autumn, pre-freeze dusting bowls are fresh if the soil is loose, and other sign in them or nearby is new. Seasonally, wild turkeys around the country dust spring, summer, and fall.
More or Less – Abundant sign indicates bigger flocks, while spare evidence reflects fewer numbers.
— Steve Hickoff