Turkey Hunting: Use Trail Cameras to Pattern Spring Gobblers

Trail cameras aren't just for whitetails anymore. An increasing number of hardcore turkey hunters are making them part of their spring-scouting tool kit--and for good reason. As with deer, a well-placed camera can tell you how often and at what time of day your gobbler visits a particular spot. It's a huge advantage. But the key is putting the camera in the right place. Here are three red-hot spots where high-tech surveillance can put you onto a big spring tom.

Strut Zones
You suspect a certain wooded hilltop is a strut zone. Maybe you've found a loose wing feather. The question is, are gobblers using it now? A trail camera set low on a tree and pointed at the middle of the suspected zone can tell you. But it doesn't end at yes or no. The camera can also reveal how hot the area is and when it's most active. Also, sequential images can show the direction from which gobblers approach.

Conversely, a camera can tell you when a strut zone has gone cold. "Gobblers commonly change strutting areas unexpectedly," says Mike Mattly of Moultrie (800-​653‑3334; ­moultrie​­feeders.com). "When grass grows too tall for gobblers to see along a field edge, they may move to an open, hardwood ridge. A few cameras can really help you stay on top of hot zones and not waste time in cold ones."

Hunt Plan: Simply hunt the hottest zones at the time of day your camera says they're most active. These areas are highly visible by definition, so bring a decoy or two.

Dusting Areas
A dug-out, dusty bowl of fine dirt marked with tracks, feathers, or droppings can make an excellent ambush site, as hens come to powder and the boys follow. But you never know when birds are going to hit a dusting area--unless you put up a camera. "If you leave it up for a week or more right before the season opens and pay close attention to the time-of-day readout when you check your photos, you'll see a pattern that will tell you when you need to hunt over that dusting area."

Hunt Plan: Pop up a ground blind and get comfortable. A camera takes a lot of guesswork out of when birds will visit a dusting area--but not all of it.

Roost Routes
For the sake of surveillance, it's usually best not to crowd the roost to the point where you risk spooking birds. Instead, back off a bit and focus on the travel routes birds use to get to and from the roosting area. "Funnels--such as creek crossings, fence openings, or logging roads--are some of my favorite and most productive camera sites," says Mattly. "When pictures confirm that these spots are active, they make almost can't-miss ambush sites."

Hunt Plan: Set up along an active route, using multiple hen decoys, which put birds at ease and help direct them toward your hide. Spare calling should put a gobbler right in your sights.