Learning About The Lucky Turkey ‘Lek’

This is the first gobbler the author took at a lek. It’s also the first gobbler he tagged using his homemade scratchbox turkey call. Photo courtesy of Steve Sorensen

Suddenly the word is gaining popularity among turkey hunters. We’re talking about the turkey “lek.” What is a lek? It’s a place where certain bird species gather to display courtship behavior. It’s about impressing the opposite sex, a little like going to a party.

The word “lek” has recently entered my vocabulary, but it’s neither a new word nor a new concept. It’s a shortened version of the Swedish word lekstalle, “lek” for mating and “stalle” for place.

I discovered a turkey lek back in 2011, but I didn’t realize it was a thing and I didn’t know it had a name. I just thought I lucked into a hot spot, teeming with turkey activity. Both gobblers and hens were there nearly every day.

I began to think back to other years, to places where I either killed gobblers or had lots of action. I recalled two such spots on the hill behind my house, about a mile apart. The terrain has changed completely due to heavy logging activity, so they’re gone.

I did a few seminars on the lek, even though I didn’t know what it was called. I talked about preferred places for hen-gobbler meetups. I said the place had to be at least a little higher than other spots around it. It had to be a place where the gobbler’s vocals would carry through the woods. It had to offer visibility for hens to see the gobblers they were coming to. And the immediate area had to be open enough so that a gobbler tending to business would be unlikely to be surprised by a predator.

A lek might be an acre, or it might be ten acres. It could be a field, a logging road, a clearing in the woods, or open timber without underbrush. In my seminar I compared these preferred spots to the type of cover deer use. A deer likes to lurk around edges–places where two types of trees converge, or one habitat gives way to another. Deer frequent utility rights of way, clear cuts, borders of old fields, and any location where two types of vegetation converge. It’s not only food that attracts deer.

One difference between a turkey lek and edge habitats that deer use is that a turkey lek is a courtship site used only in the spring breeding season, while deer use edges constantly. Every turkey knows the lek is there, though all may not visit it every day.

And it probably isn’t the only lek in the area. That’s one reason a gobbler might fly down from a roosting site and not head the same direction two days in a row. He might head to one lek on Monday and another lek on Tuesday because he knows where he will meet girls. And it might be one reason the phrase “Roosted ain’t roasted” is true. You might know exactly what tree he’s roosted in, but if he flies down and heads for a lek, you lose.

Scientists who study bird behavior have long known about the lek. It seems common with species that carry on a pageant-like courtship. But turkey hunters seem to be just catching on now. Apparently, turkey hunters are slow learners. I should speak for myself–when it comes to turkey hunting, I’m a slow learner.

Chances are, if you’re a turkey hunter you’ve discovered a few leks, but maybe you were like me–you didn’t realize what they were. You won’t find them by stopping along the roads to listen for gobbles. And topographic maps probably won’t reveal them to you. You’ll find them only through boots-on-the-ground scouting, listening, watching.

The lek isn’t the only place to kill a gobbler, and killing a gobbler at a lek becomes less likely in the late season, when most hens are on nests. That’s when gobblers are roaming, looking for a receptive hen.

Many years ago, a well-seasoned turkey hunter told me, “Don’t hunt the turkey; hunt the habitat.” Maybe he lucked into a few leks, but didn’t know they had a name.

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When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015, 2018, and 2023 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.


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