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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Early spring chores important part of preparation for wild turkey, deer hunters

It’s that time of the year.

Early spring is prime time to complete a number of important, annual chores on your farm, or hunting property, for the benefit of wild turkey and white-tailed deer.

There are several reasons why now is the time to be out there, finishing wildlife management and habitat projects, scouting and getting re-familiarized with areas not visited that often.

It’s a sure sign that breeding and nesting of wild turkeys is about to start when you see hens wandering around on their own, or gobblers strutting for hens. (Photo from KDFWR)

The days are getting longer, and thanks to Daylight Savings Time, there’s about 12 hours, 25 minutes of daylight in Central Kentucky now, and sunset isn’t until about 8:00 p.m. Get out after work, or in the early mornings on the weekends, to do what needs to be done.

Temperatures are moderating fast, so you don’t need to wear heavy clothes. The woods are still bare and visibility is good since there are no green leaves on the trees, as the spring green-up is weeks away.

But most importantly, there’s no bothersome mosquitos, chiggers, or potentially dangerous ticks out yet.

It’s been a wet, windy winter and arguably it’s shaping up to be a late spring.

Scouting for Wild Turkeys

It’s time for some on-the-ground scouting, to look for fresh wild turkey sign.

Opening day of Kentucky’s spring turkey season is almost here.

This year, the youth-only season is the weekend of April 6-7. The start of the 23-day general statewide season is Saturday, April 13, and the season continues through Sunday, May 5.

As we get closer to the opening day of the general season it’s best to keep your distance and “scout” by listening for gobbling early in the mornings and by glassing fields with binoculars in the afternoons.

Here’s what to look for in woods and fields:

• Warming weather brings new food sources for turkeys

They spend less time in the woods and focus more on greening fields and wet areas along creeks or wetland edges, where vegetation greens up first. Sign made by foraging turkeys is clearly visible.

• During the winter wild turkeys are in flocks, segregated by sex, but as the weather begins to warm up with the arrival of spring, these flocks begin to break up.

It’s a sure sign that breeding and nesting is about to start when you see hens wandering around on their own, or gobblers strutting for hens.

• Look for turkey tracks along dirt roads, trails, plowed fields and creek bottoms. Also look for droppings, dusting areas, scratchings in the leaves, roosts and feathers.

A heavy concentration of droppings under trees can indicate a roosting area. Scratchings are an important indicator of recent activity. If leaves are turned over and the ground is moist, birds are actively using the area. Leaves will often be piled directly behind a scratching turkey, indicating the direction of travel. Dusting areas are small, oval depression in dry soil.

• Trail cameras are a good way to monitor turkey use of clover plots and fields, mowed trails and open hardwood ridges.

As the season approaches, stay out of the woods early in the morning to avoid spooking gobblers and hens as they start to pair up. Use binoculars to scout fields in the afternoons and listen for gobbling activity at first light.

Scout for Deer Sign

The ground is soft so it’s easy to find deer tracks.

Thoroughly search your hunting area to find out where deer bed, and how they travel through the woods, thickets and fields to feeding areas.

Examine buck’s core areas, the secretive bedding areas you wouldn’t dare visit pre-season, or after hunting is underway. (Photo by Brandon Broderick)

With deer season more six months away there’s no fear of running off the deer you plan to hunt. Go ahead and stomp around in a buck’s core area, the secretive bedding areas you wouldn’t dare visit pre-season, or after hunting is underway.

Look for staging areas near food sources, where bucks wait until dark to come out into the open to scent check does in late October. These spots are often marked by numerous antler rubs, or a concentration of scrapes in the dirt. As the rut approaches, bucks need to work off a lot of sexual tension, and in the process they are tipping you off to where they are hiding in the late afternoons.

This time of year the scrapes and antler rubs made by rutting bucks last fall are still plainly visible, as are the little-used, shortcut trails bucks often take when searching for does, just as they go into estrus in early November.

If you find one of these buck trails, which are often used year after year, you’ve unraveled one of the mysteries of your hunting area, and located a prime spot for a treestand on ground blind.

It’s also a good time to groom hunting spots by trimming shooting lanes, and clearing out an entrance and exit route, so you will be able to quietly access the area. Recent high winds have knocked over a lot of dead ash trees that might be blocking access trails. Get your chainsaw ready.

In the process of walking around your hunting area you’re likely to find some shed antlers, which are a key to where a buck spends most of his time. In Kentucky, where food isn’t a problem for deer, bucks spend a majority of the day in their beds, usually in isolated patches of heavy cover—brushy draws, woodlots, cedar thickets, and out-of-the-way spots.

Deer drop their antlers in the winter and begin growing new ones in the spring.

Shed antlers won’t last long in the woods. They get chewed up by squirrels and other rodents, and are eventually covered up with vegetation, as new growth starts in the spring.

The best place to find a shed antler is a buck’s bedding area, and the nearby trails. Other good spots are cedar thickets on warm south-facing slopes, water holes, and a creek or ditch crossing — any place that causes a deer to jump and jar loose a wobbly antler.

Make good use of the sunny, warm days of early spring.

Post-season scouting for deer sign will pay dividends this fall and pre-season scouting for turkeys will teach you a lot about where turkeys roost and feed.

It’s always possible to learn more about your hunting area, even if you’ve hunted the same ground for years.

Plowing and Planting

Another impact of our wet winter has been later than normal plowing and planting.

In mid-to-late February, when ground for food plots is typically turned, it was just too wet.

As a result, plowing has been about three weeks later than normal.

Kentucky spring weather is usually a warm up, followed by rain, then a cool front, sun and another gradual warm-up. Watch the weather carefully.

Turkeys like to forage on plowed ground so get your plowing done as soon as possible, dry conditions permitting.

As for planting, broadcast a mixture of one part spring oats, to two parts red clover and white clover, after the soil has been tilled.

The spring oats act as a nurse crop to shelter the clover.

Something tells me it’s going to warm up fast in the upcoming weeks. Get your chores done now, so you’ll have time to go fishing later.

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Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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