John's Journal...

Let’s Get Started Hunting Turkeys

Day 2: Learning to Read Turkey Sign with Lovett Williams

Editor’s Note: With turkey season starting in many sections of the South within 1-2 weeks, I want to cover basic information you need to be successful. I’ve often asked Lovett Williams, who has a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology and was a wildlife biologist with the Florida Game and Fish Commission for more than two decades, for helpful turkey information. He’s spent many years studying the wild turkey and has written two books on the subject – “The Wild Turkey” and “The Voice and Vocabulary of the Wild Turkey.”

Click for larger ViewClick for Larger ViewAfter you’ve learned what a tom turkey likes to do, and where he likes to do it, the next step is to read and interpret the sign he leaves in the woods. Often hunters have seen turkeys in a particular area and then assume that’s where they should hunt. However, this is a big mistake. When you see turkeys, they already have spotted you and are retreating from where they have been. So, there’s a very good chance they may not be in the area you plan to hunt. Finding turkey sign is a much-more reliable method of choosing a place to hunt than actually seeing the turkeys. Turkey sign has a degree of permanence. Most tracks and droppings will last until the next rain, and feathers generally will last until the next year. So, what you have in the woods, once you learn to see and identify it, is a record of what the turkeys have been doing. There’s a tremendous amount of evidence for the hunter who can read turkey sign. I prefer to hunt areas where the signs indicate where the turkeys should be, not the places where I’ve actually seen a turkey.

The quickest way to learn to read sign is to go into the woods with an experienced turkey hunter. Let him show you the differences between turkey scratchings and places where squirrels have dug in the leaves for nuts. He can point out turkey tracks and probably give you reasons why a turkey has been walking in that particular area. He can spot turkey droppings and teach you the difference between hen and gobbler droppings. He can show you how to tell an old scratching from a new one. A fresh scratching will have loose dirt around it. Often turkey tracks will be present in or near the scratching, and the ground will be relatively clear where the turkeys have been working. Also the turkey’s toenail markings will be clear and easily defined. And, if the turkeys are scratching in the leaves, the leaves will be piled-up. Often – if the turkeys have been scratching there that day – the bottoms of the leaves will still be wet. An old scratching won’t have any fresh dirt around it. The actual scratches may not be well-defined, and there may be leaves or pine straw in the scratched out dirt. In an old scratching, the leaves will be relatively compacted.

Click for Larger ViewClick for Larger ViewThe main thing you’re trying to learn when you look for turkey sign is whether there are turkeys in the area you plan to hunt. If you know you’re hunting where there are turkeys, you have more confidence in your calling and hunting. Your confidence will be much greater if you find a roost tree, get in the vicinity of that tree before daylight, begin to call and then know there’s a turkey that should answer. If you find a fresh track, you know the turkey shouldn’t be more than a mile away. And, the odds are he’ll be much closer than that. If the weather has been dry for several days, and you discover a soft dropping, you know the turkey is so close he’s liable to be looking at you. Once you start to read and understand sign, you really can sharpen your turkey hunting skills and knowledge. The main thing that sign tells you is where turkeys are. Then you can determine where to set up a blind to call them.

To get these Kindle ebooks by John E. Phillips, including: “The Turkey Hunter's Bible, click here; “PhD Gobblers; click here; and “Turkey Hunting Tactics, click here, or go to, type in the names of the books, and download them to your Kindle, and/or download a Kindle app for your iPad, SmartPhone or computer.

Check back at this website after March 10th for John E. Phillips’ latest Kindle ebook, “Outdoor Life’s Complete Turkey Hunting” and a reprint of his popular, sold-out book, “The Turkey Hunter’s Bible” 2nd edition.


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About the Author

John Phillips, winner of the 2012 Homer Circle Fishing Award for outstanding fishing writer by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), the 2008 Crossbow Communicator of the year and the 2007 Legendary Communicator chosen for induction into the National Fresh Water Hall of Fame, is a freelance writer (over 6,000 magazine articles for about 100 magazines and several thousand newspaper columns published), magazine editor, photographer for print media as well as industry catalogues (over 25,000 photos published), lecturer, outdoor consultant, marketing consultant, book author and daily internet content provider with an overview of the outdoors. Click here for more information and a list of all the books available from John E. Phillips.

Tomorrow: Learn How to Call and Shoot Turkeys with Lovett Williams

Check back each day this week for more about Let’s Get Started Hunting Turkeys"

Day 1: Develop Your Hunting Skills by Knowing Turkeys with Lovett Williams
Day 2: Learning to Read Turkey Sign with Lovett Williams
Day 3: Learn to How to Call and Shoot Turkeys with Lovett Williams
Day 4: Where Does Turkey Hunting Patience Begin and End with the Late Charles Elliott
Day 5: How Charles Elliott Learned the Patience to Take Tough Turkeys

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Entry 759, Day 2