Turkey Hunting with Trail Cameras: Tips and Tactics
If you don’t utilize trail cameras year-round, it’s time to dust them off and fire ‘em up for turkey season. While trail cameras are primarily used for whitetail throughout the east and midwest, they’re also a great tool to increase your odds of taking home a gobbler drastically.
However, locating areas and setting up trail cameras for turkey is a bit different than doing so for whitetails.
Here's a collection of tips and tactics to help you locate, hang, configure and document your trail cameras and turkey photos.
Locating Trail Cameras for Turkey
If you’re on a property that isn’t dense with thick woods, try using mapping tools such as Google Maps to help you identify potential scouting areas where turkeys roost, feed, and travel. While nothing beats boots-on-the-ground experience, maps offer a birds-eye view and help clue you into potential hot zones.
While we’re big fans of hi-tech solutions, it’s hard to beat knowing your property well. Walk it. Learn it. The more observations you can make, the better. Pay close attention to barriers like steep terrain, creeks and water areas, thickets, tall grass, and fences. While turkeys can fly over these barriers, they typically won’t if they’re responding to a hen.
Recommended areas for trail cameras include strut zones (typically flat and open areas that have a food source and good visibility), staging or roost zones (spots where turkeys prepare to fly up to a roost), food sources, large open fields, watering holes, and travel corridors (such as dirt roads, creek beds, and ridgelines). The often-sporadic behavior of turkey does present a challenge, but keeping your eyes and ears open for visual and audible clues can help.
Be on the lookout for droppings (males are relatively straight or J-shaped and sometimes have white or light traces), feathers, tracks (over 4 ½” for gobblers 3 ½” or less for hens), scratches, and dust bowls. Having these visuals and noting where you hear them makes it easier to determine where you should place your trail cameras.
Don’t be afraid to scout potential strut zones before and even during the season, as this can help you identify ideal trail camera placement locations. Listening for gobbles in the early morning and early evenings never hurts either. Just make sure you stay out of the way during the offseason, as you don’t want to create additional pressure on the area.
Watch the grass height. Last year’s field that produced a lot of action might not be as hot due to the height of the grass. Turkey likes to see, and if their view is impeded, they tend to move to an area with higher visibility.
Dust bowls — a place where turkeys dust themselves to get rid of parasites — are a great location to set up trail cameras. You can even set up cameras over mock dust bowls, just like mock scrapes for deer.
To identify roosting trees, get in the woods during the evening to spot and hear turkeys flying up to the roost. The goal is to try to understand where the turkeys are roosting and where they’re going from the roost. But be careful. You don’t want to get too close to a roost, or you might pressure them to new locations. We recommend staying about 100 to 150 yards away if possible. Getting busted isn’t worth it.
Camera Placement and Setting Tips for Gobblers
Once you have a good idea of where to place cameras, try to set up multiple cameras if resources allow it. This will give you an even better idea of what areas are hotter than others. Move cameras that aren’t getting a lot of action to new locations.
Due to their small size, turkeys can go by a camera without you ever seeing them. It’s important to get cameras up high, especially when they’re overlooking a large field. Even on level ground, placing cameras high above your head will help with the range and depth of your photos. This is ideal since you’re trying to identify turkey patterns, as opposed to needing close-up photos. Make sure the camera’s view captures where turkeys are entering and exiting the fields. More than likely, they will enter and exit fields at or near the same location. (This is true even more so for the Eastern and Rio Grande subspecies as they are creatures of habit).
While high camera placement is recommended for overlooking a field, low placement is the best choice for tight spots, dense woods, or along a path. Many hunters like to set their cameras just above ground level--one to two feet high--which is a great tactic to capture beautiful photos.
One of the best ways to understand movement is to set your camera on the Time Lapse mode. This enables you to capture animals that aren’t close enough to trigger the motion sensors. Setting your camera to take a photo every 10 minutes will suffice as turkey, when not pressured, will move slowly through a large field. If you’re in an area that doesn’t have an expansive view, normal motion capture is the better choice. Time-Lapse mode will allow you to see where they’re coming from, how long they stick around, as well as where they’re going.
We usually set the Time-Lapse setting to take photos from 6 am to 1 pm. After a week, you should have a handle on their locations and general patterns.
Check your trail camera manual to be sure, but most trail cameras set on Time Lapse will also take photos when there’s movement so that you won’t miss any action.
Checking and Logging Your Trail Camera Data
The best time to check your camera is mid-afternoon when the turkeys aren’t as active. However, even in low activity times, be sure to spend as little time as possible getting your SD cards. The less pressure you put on the turkeys, the better. We typically bring a blank SD card to replace the old one and place the used card in a labeled zip-lock bag.
Check your cameras often. A few days or a week is plenty of time to gauge activity. If there hasn’t been any, either adjust the angle or move the camera to a different location to increase your odds.
Having a detailed log highlighting appearance dates and times can help you this season and future seasons.
While DeerLab's trail camera software was developed with deer in mind, it’s also a great tool to keep track of your turkeys. Put our tagging features to use by just uploading photos. DeerLab will automatically tag the photos with the keyword “turkey” so you can filter turkey photos by date and weather conditions. You can also create a profile for the turkey tag, which will tell you what cameras turkeys are going to and when they are most likely to be seen.
This is also helpful during the offseason when turkey photos may tip you off to new areas.
Hopefully, these turkey trail camera tips and tactics will help you have greater success this season. We wish you luck this season and encourage you to start using your trail cameras for turkey if you haven’t already.
If you have other trail camera tips related to scouting and patterning turkey or would like to share from your own experience, we would love to hear from you below.
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