One of the most important factors in hunting is knowing where your target sleeps. This is true for turkey hunters, too. Gobbler enthusiasts need to know where birds roost. Being able to set up close to the roost is the best way to shoot a bird right after it flies down from the limb. But the question remains, do turkeys always roost in the same place?
The answer might be surprising.
Much like deer bedding in specific locations, turkeys roost in areas that meet their basic needs. These include food sources, water sources, and security. Turkeys roost in trees to evade ground predators. Therefore, finding the best roost trees where you hunt will increase the likelihood of encountering turkeys and filling tags.
General factors aside, where turkeys roost is necessary information for turkey hunters. There are general guidelines that hunters can go by when trying to locate potential roost sites. The following are some of these.
Under normal conditions, while tightly packed trees with heavy limb cover — such as cedars — aren’t great roost trees for turkeys, other species, such as pines, spruce, and mature hardwoods with horizontal limbs and open spaces are very attractive to turkeys.
Of course, geographical factors can impact how many roost sites turkeys use, too. For example, in open prairies where roost trees are limited, turkeys commonly use the same ones due to scarcity. This is common in parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, etc.
Other factors, such as aridness, can limit roost trees, food sources, and water sources, too. All these things can decrease the number of available roost trees as well. This factor is common in western states.
In contrast, many places in the Southeast, Northeast, and parts of the Midwest, have an abundance of trees and roost sites. In these areas, turkeys use more roost trees than their western cousins. This can make it more difficult to pinpoint roosts.
Forest cover aside, terrain also plays a role. In flatter areas, turkeys tend to roost in the tallest trees. In hill country, birds oftentimes roost along ridge lines, or about ¾ of the way up the ridge. If there’s high ground, that’s where turkeys tend to perch for the night.
Turkeys also prefer to roost close to open areas, whether these are small areas inside the timber or on the edges of larger fields. Turkeys aren’t very graceful, and they need cleared spaces to fly up from and down to.
It’s also important to analyze other reasons why turkeys choose given roost sites. It all starts with turkey home ranges. These can range from several hundred acres to more than 1,000. All of this is impacted by the turkey population density, and how readily available (and close together) their basic needs are.
Food sources greatly impact roost sites. Turkeys consume a wide range of grub. They eat grasses, hard mast, soft mast, and bugs. More specifically, they love things such as acorns, brassicas, beetles, berries, chicory, chufa, clover, fruits, grasshoppers, larvae, nuts, wheat, and much more. While turkeys will cover vast distances to reach food sources, birds oftentimes roost within a quarter to a half mile of good food.
Furthermore, gobblers oftentimes roost where the hens are located. Some gobblers also roost in areas where gobbling acoustics make them easier to be heard on the limb. At least, this commonly happens, whether intended by the birds or it being a byproduct of other roost site selection factors.
While the above things impact more frequently where turkeys roost, other things do as well. Sometimes, certain things can even cause them to change roost patterns. It’s important to be flexible when such things occur.
Weather is one of these factors. Tornadoes, straight-line winds, and even lightning can fell roost trees that turkeys use. Forest management work can impact roost trees, too. Logging can remove popular roost trees that were used by generations of turkeys.
Roost-killing events aside, weather can still impact where turkeys roost. High winds can cause turkeys to roost in lower-lying areas, such as ravines and hollows, to get out of the wind. On very rainy nights, turkeys might also choose trees that offer better canopy cover, too.
Predators can impact roost sites as well. High concentrations of coyotes, but especially tree-climbing meat eaters, such as bobcats, can cause turkeys to uproot and roost elsewhere. Heavy hunting pressure around roost sites can do the same. This makes it important to not overpressure individual spots.
Interestingly, turkeys can even change roost locations in the middle of the night. If something spooks them from the roost, or incoming weather spurs a change, it isn’t uncommon for birds to take flight and relocate to other trees that are more suitable or offer more favorable conditions.
The Big Question: Do Turkeys Always Roost in the Same Place?
Overall, the answer to the big question is that turkeys do not always roost in the same place. Turkeys are much like deer in that they shift to different parts of their home range throughout the year. That said, they do seem to favor certain ones, and spend more time roosting in favored locations than anywhere else.
Looking at different areas of the country, there is a range of roost site loyalty, with turkeys in open terrain being more affixed to specific sites, and turkeys in heavily forested areas are less attached to specific sites.
That said, once you find a good roost site, it’s generally used on a frequent basis, even if it’s by different turkeys. For hunting purposes, in spring, turkeys do commonly fixate on their favorite roost trees and spend nights in these more often than others. As you hunt a property, over time, you’ll determine where turkeys like to roost, which is great information to remember.
How to Find the Best Roost Sites
All things considered, the best way to determine where birds are roosting is to scout. Listening for gobblers at daybreak can reveal the general areas of roost sites. Then, after birds have flown down and moved off, it’s easy enough to walk around these general areas and find the roost trees. While the above checklist is part of it, you’ll also likely find droppings and feathers under and around roost sites.
This spring, focus on the popular roosting areas that turkeys seem to prefer. But don’t be surprised if you go one morning and see birds roosting elsewhere. Gobblers can be creatures of habit, but they make changes, too.