How to model turkeys with trail cameras

It feels weird to talk about turkey scouting. After all, a lot of longbeards are killed every spring by people who get out of the truck in the morning with no intelligence and no real plan. There is no great need for the big country run-and-gun crowd to engage in much turkey reconnaissance, but for many turkey hunters, yes.

If you bowhunt from a blind spot, have plans to take out some youngsters, or are relegated to small holdings where the burnout factor might be high, hunting for turkeys makes sense. The best way to do this is to install some trail cameras in places with high probability.

outdoor turkeys
Exodus Outdoor Gear co-founder and president Chad Sylvester recommends turkey scouts familiarize themselves with their camera settings. “When you’re talking about field edges and other openings, there’s no better setting than time lapse,” Sylvester said. “Set them up to take pictures during certain windows of the day and at a time that allows you to see who is eating or strutting in their spots.”

Time Lapse is perfect for this task because it will take photos regardless of a triggering event. If a bird struts 200 feet away on the opposite side of your food patch or field, time-lapse footage will show it even if it never gets close enough to trigger the camera.

These images can also be viewed in chronological order, like a stop-motion movie. This allows you to quickly look at each day to see when the turkeys are, how they get to your spot, and how they leave. All of those details are crucial to planning hunts.

turkeys on trails
While many hunters are drawn to open areas for turkeys, if you are hunting pressured birds, you may want to think about travel routes. Like deer, longbeards (and the chickens they covet) tend to choose the easiest path from point A to point B.

Log roads, two tracks, and well defined trails through the woods will cut it. So will the tall thorns of land between swamps, hilltops, and anywhere you see turkeys walking naturally. When it comes to these areas, or any area really, it’s always a good idea to pay attention to the prevalence of signs as well. The more footprints and droppings, the more likely your camera recognition will yield results quickly.

Time-lapse mode isn’t enough to monitor these tighter spots, unless you like to fill your SD card with useless forest footage. A better bet is to opt for video mode or burst mode when it comes to gathering information on turkeys on travel routes.

Video mode is my favorite because I can set the camera to take two-minute clips at a time, all while collecting sound. This means that the lead chicken will often trigger the camera, and then whoever is behind her will eventually walk past. You will also often hear other birds singing during these clips.

Burst mode is another option, but it’s less effective. You will probably miss birds even with your camera set to take up to nine photos per trigger event. It’s still much better than a one-shot build with a long delay between brewing, which is a mistake Sylvester warns against.

“Whether you’re running a 90-second video or in burst mode, always check the shutter lag on your camera,” Sylvester said. “Reduce to the fastest option, so your camera is ready to go almost instantly, no matter how many times the birds trigger it. For most cameras, this will mean a five-second or one-second delay.”

what to do next
Let’s say you’ve been using cameras for a few weeks and have a decent amount of videos and photos. The next step is to find patterns.

How often and when do turkeys walk each location you are monitoring? Are you dealing with a morning spot, where they fly, or a strut zone that sees its most action during the lunch hour? Are the birds consistent regardless of the weather, or do they only appear when the sun is shining and the wind is calm?

Pay attention to whether you’re catching entire flocks, lone toms, or small packs of jakes, and consider any turkey setups in your yard. That information can guide you on where and when to hunt and what lures to use.

But most of all, this type of turkey scouting allows you to be efficient and tip the odds in your favor to be in action no matter what. That’s the real point of using tracking cameras to pinpoint current turkey activity, and it works well.

Featured image via Matt Hansen.