How to Clean Your Wild Turkey

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Turkey hunting can take you through the complete spectrum of extreme emotions.  From zero to hero, then back again.  Just when you thought the gig was up, and your opportunity was fading, you connect on the spring gobbler of your dreams.  After the high-fives, texts, and immediate calls to buddies are over, and a heaping plate of pancakes has been eaten, you should be thinking about what you’d like to do with your bird.  Well before the celebration even, you might consider just how you’d like to preserve the memory, and prepare the meat.

The good news is that you usually have a few hours, especially if the weather is anywhere south of the 50 degree mark.  Even in summer-like temperatures with an afternoon-killed bird, you’ve got a bit of time to decide how you’d like to prepare your bird.  In any scenario, keep him in a cool, shaded place, out of direct sunlight.  In most states, you’ve been required to legally tag him by now, but you also need to register that bird for your state fish and game department.  This is a crucial, and legal step, don’t forget to do it as wildlife managers rely on self-reporting of these statistics to help determine tag numbers and success rates.

If the weather is warm and you won’t have time to process the bird for a bit, at least remove the internal organs by making a small slice between the rear tip of the breast bone and the vent.  Reach in with your hands and remove the entrails, being careful to fully remove the heart, kidneys, intestines, and pesky lung matter.  Usually the lung bits nestle between the rib bones towards the front and bottom portions of the chest cavity, so it pays to run your fingers like a rake down the gaps of these ribs to pull out all the lung matter.  Especially if you’ll be cooking the bird whole, you’ll want this step done well. 

For me, the road forks at “to pluck, or not to pluck.”  An adult wild turkey sports somewhere between 5,000 – 6,000 feathers, and if you’d like to roast, smoke, or otherwise cook your bird whole, you’ll get the chance to pull out all of them.  I can tell you from hard-won experience that plucking a turkey is never as bad as you last remembered it, and goes quicker than you might expect provided you do so in the “sweet spot”; a period of time that persists one hour after kill time, and no more than 2-3 hours later.  Pluck too soon after you kill the bird and you tend to rip the warm skin when trying to pull multiple feathers.  Pluck too late, and you’ll find that more of the pin feathers stay with the turkey, making for a poor looking bird with inedible skin. 

Of course you can always scald a turkey to make plucking go more quickly.  This process involves removing the head and wing sections of the bird while you heat a large cauldron of water anywhere past 150 degrees or so.  At that temperature, you can soak the bird a good 20 or 30 seconds, but if you use boiling water, a couple seconds in the bath is all you’ll get before you start to cook your turkey.  Good kitchen gloves allow you to handle the hot bird and help with maximum feather removal.  I’m not a huge fan of scalding the bird, mostly on account of the extra materials and time it takes.  I’ll admit it probably does a better job than just my claws alone can, but I can do a reasonable job in quicker time without too much hassle overall. 

My process for plucking starts by timing it correctly, between one and three hours after the kill, and starts with removing the tail-fan, beard, and spurs for momentos.  To properly remove the tail-fan, collapse it and hold near the base above the vent.  It’s somewhat independent of the rest of the turkey’s body.  Grasp near the base, then slice between the vent and tail-fan base, then down to the backbone, being careful to leave some skin (with feathers).  It’s fine to come up the back a bit, as some of the nicest feathers for display come from there.  Pull the beard slightly, and cut just behind the waxy and fatty base, leaving just ¼ inch of that trim attached to the beard.  For the legs, straighten them, then cut the front of the knee joint and straighten firmly until you feel it dislocate.  Cut and remove the entire foot from here.

The tail-fan needs some careful attention and fat removal around the base of each feather, and there are some great online tutorials for this step alone.  Borax is the preferred preserving agent I use, and feet, beard, and fan each get a liberal dose while they sit and dry atop some cardboard in my garage for a few weeks.  Take a little bit of extra time here and you’ll always have options, but do it poorly, quickly, or both and you’ll find that bugs will get the best of your bird.

Remove feathers by the neck of the bird working back towards the breast and back.  I like plucking up to the wing joint before removing it.  Straighten the wing, then cut the webbed skin toward the open part of the joint before breaking it by hand.  From here, the knife does the rest of the work to fully remove the wing.  Continue until all feathers have been removed, and have a goal for this thing to be as pretty as a store-bought bird.  Remove any bird shot just below the skin, and if you haven’t already removed the entrails, do so now.  Lots of clean water is now required to wash your bird, inside and out until it runs fully clean.  If you have the opportunity to put it in some salty water and refrigerate overnight, it’s a good option.  My mother always preferred this with poultry and usually the salt both drew out blood and slightly brined the meat.

Of course you’re not required to pluck a turkey.  Especially when I’m traveling to hunt, it’s simply more convenient to pull back the skin and slice out the breasts.  The innermost portions of are the “tenders” and have a long, sinewy tendon that starts up near the wing joint and continues through the length of it.  I like to leave that tendon connected to the bird and slice the tenders off of it, both sides contain some of the choicest meat on the bird.  These are prime candidates for immediate cooking.  The legs come out easily by splaying them outward to dislocate the hip joints, then cutting between and down to remove the whole leg and thigh portion. 

Whole birds I wrap in freezer paper (several layers), tape up, and label well for the deep freeze, while breast meat I like to put in two layers of freezer bags.  Remember to label well if you are freezing, as different cuts deserve different treatment.  Breast meat cooks up very well, though definitely benefits from a brine of any sort to help retain moisture in the meat and add flavor.  The leg meat works really well when braised, especially in a crockpot.  Whole birds smoke very well, and can be roasted like your Thanksgiving turkey, but again, benefit from a stint in brine and continual basting. 

If all of this sounds like a lot, it can be, but the trick is to keep grinning.  Realize you’re among the lucky few who get to tag one, and take your time as you enjoy the process.      

Early Season Turkey Hunting Tips

Open patches of ground were key to taking this turkey, as they provided the best feeding areas for this gobbler’s hens.

Open patches of ground were key to taking this turkey, as they provided the best feeding areas for this gobbler’s hens.

Early Birds

“Birds of a feather flock together” has a figurative meaning, but in regards to early spring turkey hunts, the phrase applies in a more literal sense. Across the country, if you’re hunting early, you’re more often than not hunting groups of birds rather than individual toms. That’s especially true in years where unseasonable cold and winter weather patterns stretch far into spring, pushing back the breeding season and putting more state hunts into the “early” category.

Sure, you’re hunting birds that haven’t seen a decoy or its owner since last year at the earliest, but you’re also facing the hardest competition of all, and that’s a live hen. In the event of a late spring, mother nature applies extra pressure to pack in as much breeding activity when more favorable weather does come, making it that much more difficult to go against the real thing. For those reasons or more, you need a set of strategies to deal with the 80/20 rule, being that the majority of the turkeys are bunched-up in a very small part of available habitat.

A Fresh Scout

First and foremost, you can’t kill a turkey where they ain’t, so the value of scouting is dramatically more important early in the season compared to late. In the latter portions of the season, forlorn gobblers are wandering aimlessly, looking for the last hens of spring as the majority have been bred and are sitting on nests. Striking up a conversation then with a random bird is easier as they’re looking for you, whereas early, most toms have already found what they’re looking for.

Not all scouting is created equal, and especially with changing weather patterns and a rapidly progressing breeding season, the freshest information is best. While it’s good to have a flock located, along with a “Plan B” property or two to fall back on, the few days and hours directly before your season will provide the ultimate in actionable intel. You’re not just looking to find out what fields or openings these big flocks are working, you’re getting there early and keeping your distance, scouting with optics preferably. It’s difficult to beat multiple sets of eyes, and you want a vantage of the entire operation to see how the entire organism moves, retreats, and flows from one area to the next. You want precise information, like field-edge openings, funnels, and specific fence-posts or trees that the majority of birds move past.

Blind Appeal

As you hunt birds in these fields, even old pros of the turkey woods are well served by some sort of blind to conceal movements. Big groups are notorious for enveloping your position, as hens or jakes abound within range before picking you off, while the toms stay just outside of what it takes to put them down. In a blind, you have some flexibility to move, throw your calls in differing directions, and the ability to use scratching, hat-flapping, and other high-movement type calls you’d never be able to get away with out in the open. In the north, a blind will also handily house a small propane heater, something that may be a requirement for a sit of any length during the early youth seasons.

Perhaps the best part of this type of hunting early season, is that you’re going to see birds. Setting up in a well-scouted open area, where you are likely to see birds throughout the day, offers some unique insight into a turkey’s world. So much of what I’ve learned about calling, specifically what types of calls to make, and when, comes from the lessons learned huddled inside a blind as birds work all around me. So often we focus on gobblers and how they interact with your calling, how they decoy, or ways to best hunt them overall, we miss out on how much hens really run the show during the early part of the year.

All About the Hens

A lead-hen’s stomach, and the patterns she finds most convenient or safe, will often determine the manner and location of your hunting during the early season. From there, even if you’re in the right place at the right time, calling too aggressively or during the wrong time can have you shunned as a wise-old matriarchal hen leads her group of turkeys, gobblers and all, in the opposite direction. Flock talk then is of the utmost importance. Soft contented clucks, with some check yelps and purrs mixed in are the order of the early spring, especially with birds in sight, as you’re trying to mimic a group of feeding hens to fool the live hens, not an upstart jenny looking to steal toms.    

Roost Options

Field hunts can also be frustrating, sometimes taking you so close, yet still too far. For that reason, you also want roost locations, and not just general information, but specifics down to which trees the toms will favor vs. the rest of the flock. Keep in mind, it’s a dangerous play to be anywhere too close to these locations in-person, both scouting and hunting, but if your field or strut zone play is a low percentage one, your best bet is often to get on them right from the roost.

With early being the order of the season, think about getting within 100 yds of the roost a good hour or more before first light, minimizing your chance to spook birds. Cover is sparse early, so use your own best judgment on exact distances, but keep in mind that you may be hunting this group throughout the season, so it’s often best to stay conservative. Depending on how tight the toms roost to the hens, try to get near a reasonable landing zone or just off of it while putting your back to those hens. Avoid overcalling and hanging a tom on the limb, offering him just enough to drop out of the tree and hunt you down, without keeping him up on the branch while waiting for all the hens to fly down and saunter up to his roost tree.

Whether your move is a field-edge or the deep woods right off of the roost, early birds will test your patience and require you to hunt the hens just as much as the toms. If all else fails, see what you can do to get that lead hen talking. A loudmouth lead-hen has been the downfall of many a great tom, and do your best to mimic her. As her frustration and volume grows for the home-wrecker jenny you’re imitating, step on her calls and cut her off a few times. While it can be a last ditch effort, it’s often the deal-maker on a tough-hunting flock that won’t move any way but away from you.   

The Bird That Changed it All

I stand at my grandma’s place in town, with cousin Todd Heinrich and the first bird we took in 1996.

I stand at my grandma’s place in town, with cousin Todd Heinrich and the first bird we took in 1996.

My introduction to turkey hunting did not play out like the fairytales you see on so many TV hunts these days.  I didn’t luck out on my first sit, or have someone that dropped me in a blind and called in a bird for me.  I was 14, and all I knew about turkeys came from some deer stand observations the previous fall.  The results showed, with my first 3 years being completely unproductive, at least in terms of harvesting a bird.  At that time, I wasn’t always lucky enough to draw a license, and the only tagging I did was tagging along with friends and family as they struggled through the learning process as well.  I’m thankful for those failures however, because the impact of our first then left an indelible mark.  It was a defining moment for me, and more importantly, a hunt that continues to teach, as have many of the hunts I’ve journaled over the years.  Some are more memorable than others, but each one has lessons embedded deep within the story of that experience.  This article describes the first in a series of hunts that changed the way I think about turkey hunting, and shaped my strategies and tactics forever. 

I knew calling was a “big-deal” in turkey hunting, as the few resources that were out there in the early 1990’s made heavy mention of it.  That, and most calls you purchased at the time came with an instructional cassette tape.  I couldn’t blow a mouth call well, but a slate was easy enough to get both good sound, and a number of different turkey vocalizations out of.  Still, against my ear, and that of the turkeys, I continued to beller and blast ridges and valleys with the poor sounds of a diaphragm.  I remember the sound being more similar to an upset goose than any self-respecting hen turkey, but I persisted nonetheless.  Faint and far off gobbles was all I’d ever hear while hunting multiple days that first season.  I never saw a bird, and what hearing of them I did could’ve been shock gobbles more than an interested tom anyway. 

Year 2 was far different.  I cut my teeth, and found a way to blow no less than 10 separate chances at toms.  It was an embarrassment of riches, at least from the perspective of the sheer number of birds I contacted.  They were everywhere, and I was terrible.  I had one bird come from the top of a ravine all the way to the stream and valley floor below, many hundreds of yards straight to my calling, only to hang up on downed brush throughout the pasture I was sitting in.  I had another bird literally rush me as I was setting up along an open field edge.  Still another I hung in the tree 40 yards from me as it gobbled at every noise I made, before making me, and flying down the opposite direction.  If there was a way to mess up a bird, I became good at it.  Yet I was seeing birds, and even attracting them to my position, getting better and better with that mouth call as I heard hens wake up around me and go about their daily business. 

By the latter part of my third season, I’d seen a few tricks that birds can play, but never had that magical moment where a bird strutted across a wide open space, lured to the call as if entranced.  That is, until a fine April morning in a steep-sided pasture of grass and cattle.  The birds roosted in a ravine through which we had to sneak, early enough so as not to wake them.  That left us in fine position at the upper end and head of the pasture, as birds sailed down and out of trees to the bottom corner of it.  They had no interest in us, and proceeded to work in circles throughout the lower end for nearly an hour.  They chased each other, strutted, gobbled, fought, and ate.  Truly it was an incredible sight as cardinals boomed, and the sun eventually cut back the haze hanging throughout the valley. 

Every few minutes or so I offered a couple yelps, to no avail, as birds eventually worked further down the valley and away from us.  At least until I broke out an old slate.  Cheap plastic in construction, with a soft but hollow sound, it certainly didn’t sound good to my ears.  To a young tom that day in 1996, it was the best thing he’d ever heard.  Eager to put on a show, his first move was to reveal himself, 150 yards below us, emerging just from the timber to dance and gobble without approaching.  This kept on for long minutes, though by now I was learning to shut up as much as call.  Patience came harder to me then, but over the course of the next 30 minutes, I’d watch him continue his processional in a two-steps-forward, one-step-back type of march.  Up the hill he came, quite silently save the intense “pffffffffffffffft, vvvvvvvvrooooooom” sound I’d later come to know as spitting and drumming.  It took an eternity for him to reach the 30 yard mark, and the Winchester pump that poked between the top two strands of barbed wire rang throughout the valley.  It was this bird’s end, and my beginning. 

It was an “aha” moment for me as a hunter, and a student.  When something clicks like that spring morning did for me, it sinks into your grey matter and leaves you wanting more, making you anxious to learn more in the process.  That bird hated the “better” sounding call, favored the “poor” sounding one, and even then approached in a cautious, measured manner.  The more I’d call, the harder he’d strut.  Luckily for me, I believed that call sounded bad, so I used it far more sparingly than the one I was more confident in.  As long as he was coming my way, I wasn’t talking, and it made all the difference.  So did our early approach.  Hanging a bird in the tree on that same ravine roost the year previous reminded me of that. 

It was the first in a number of landmark hunts that I’d like to share with readers, as each was a complete breakthrough for me and the way I approached the sport.  I’m guessing that many of you who’ve hunted them a few years have had similar experiences.  It’s these hunts that continue to mold our hunting future, often for better but sometimes for worse.  The amazing part is that no matter how many states I’ve hunted, weapons I’ve used, or turkeys I’ve taken, I still have these hunts from time to time.  Most recently, a Wisconsin hunt last season, again forever changed the way I’ll look at field birds.  More on that story to come, and until then, break out your turkey gear and think of warmer days and gobbling turkeys.                    

Getting to the Bite - Deep Snow Strategies

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

I’m staring at some heavy flakes right now out the office window, and like the rest of my ice fishing brethren, I’m thinking about how it’ll impact my ice journeys during the remainder of our season.  It’s a reality of February, and especially March, that especially when traveling to different bites across the ice belt that you’ll contend with heavy snow.  Mere days ago we had open ice travel on many lakes in central and southern Minnesota, a rarity for this time of year for sure.  Now we’re settling in on a more traditional portion of winter that involves dealing with limited travel and the consequences that go with it.

Northern portions of ice-fishing-land had their snow early, around the Christmas Holiday, which is always tricky given the propensity of heavy snow to sink ice and create slush conditions.  No matter your machine or manual travel methods, slush is a killer.  On a bite in Hackensack around New Years, we high-stepped through a foot of snow, only to stand in inches of water.  Drill the ice, and you only make situations worse as water flows onto the ice and under the snow, only to create more of the slush that hampers foot and vehicle travel alike. 

So how to best attack conditions like this?  Well the answer depends on how you’re fishing, what equipment you have at your disposal, and ultimately the amount of work and effort you’re willing to put into the finding vs. the fishing.  Of course, there’s some shortcuts learned over the years that’ll hopefully help as the snow continues piling on over the winter. 

Foot Travel

I’ll start with the toughest portion first, but also the simplest.  Advantages lie in this modest mode of ice travel, particularly in the fact that you’ll have to have less gear to haul around.  Stuff a light sled with a simple auger, several rods, and a flasher, then carry some small tackle boxes on your person as you trudge to spots.  Given your limited range, you’ll be forced to fish more strategically, and this especially applies to how you’ll be accessing spots.  Flee from the busy accesses where trucks are streaming onto the lake, and focus on secondary access more associated with first ice.  County parks, water that touches public road rights of way, and private access with permission is a great way of going after fish that haven’t seen a lure all winter, or at least since the beginning of winter. 

This is also a great time to focus on small bodies of water.  You’ll know from the tracks left in snow whether or not it’s been getting pressure, and the smaller the lake, the less deep snow trudging there is by default.  This is also a great time to focus on walk-in-access lakes, Scientific and Natural Area accesses, and catch-and-release only lakes like the one I fished a few weeks ago.  We drug sleds a ¼ mile through a snowy access, and fished hard through the day, but were rewarded with some quality gills during the last 20 minutes of the day.  I live for this kind of fishing.

ATV

The ATV vs. snowmobile debate has raged in online forums and Facebook user groups for many years, and over the years, it’s mother nature that makes the final choice as to what will operate better on the open ice.  Most years, an ATV’s effectiveness wanes through February, and especially into March, though ATV chains can extend you a few more weeks.  Still, eventually, you’ll high-center and be hung up on the frame by thick snow that no longer allows passage.  ATV’s once again have a great late-ice applications as snow melts and opens up lakes a bit in late March and April.  While slower than snowmobiles, they’re smoother and typically have better storage solutions for holding your ice gear and keeping it out of the bottom of your sled.  That said, during the heart of winter in a snowy season, it’s best to save your frustration and leave the ATVs at home.

Snowmobile

For long pokes and fast travel over deep snow, nothing beats a sled and flip-style fish-house combo.  It’s how you need to fish in much of Canada and extreme northern portions of the US.  There’s simply too much snow, for too long of the season, to expect good travel with anything else.  Still, slush is just as much a killer for snowmobiles as it is any other means of travel. 

That’s why I’m a big fan of packing down your fishing area ahead of time with a snowmobile or group of them.  Unhitch your shelter, and run back and forth between the access and all around your fishing area.  Think of it as laying a track for all of the fishing you hope to do throughout the remainder of your stay.  For long trips into the back country, this doesn’t make as much sense for the ride out, but it certainly does once you reach your fishing destination.  10 minutes spent packing down “landing” makes all the difference in the world when hole-hopping the rest of the day, and when you combine your runs with underwater contours from a GPS, you’re effectively marking out your spots before you fish them.  That makes drilling, AND fishing a much easier task, so before you ever wet a line you’re increasing the likelihood that you’ll fish longer and better. 

Truck (With/Without Wheelhouse)

Vehicles are the most limiting means of travel on ice during these conditions when you think about it, but they’re a necessity if towing a wheelhouse.  Unfortunately, they’re also the most dangerous, so good planning on previously scouted roads is a must.  This past weekend we avoided a better portion of one lake, and two accesses at another, simply because of unsafe and unproven travel.  Be especially mindful of lake neck-down areas.  So often there’s flow and thin ice in these areas, even during the coldest dead of winter.  Even a path over shallow water can be an expensive date, so consider driving on plowed roads only. 

Of course, a buddy with a plow is a huge asset in this instance.  So is a resort with a plow-driver that will work for cash.  A premium during this time of year is uncharted waters that haven’t seen any pressure, so it’s worth some dough for a custom plow-in.  Remember however, that your safety is your responsibility alone when it comes to getting out and off of the lake.  Too many people consider this plow payment an insurance policy should poor weather, additional snow, or further drifting strand you.  My advice?  Leave before it gets bad, have a “Plan B,” and check with the driver about fees to get off or out should you decide to stay if conditions suddenly change. 

Good tires go a long way on a lake, but realize the limitations of your vehicle when deep snow hangs up on the suspension and frame.  Going off-road sounds great from a fishing perspective, but big drifts, slush pockets, and hidden ice chunks can get the best of all who Baja. 

Whichever method you choose, be safe out there, focus on fish that haven’t been harassed, and get creative with your bites and access to get after the best of late winter fishing.     

Finding Fish - The Wheelhouse Drop-Zone

Using an Otter as a Scouthouse could be the very best way to find fish to park on.  Photo Credit -  Matt Addington Photography   Products featured:   Otter XTH Lodge Hub

Using an Otter as a Scouthouse could be the very best way to find fish to park on.

Photo Credit - Matt Addington Photography

Products featured:

Otter XTH Lodge Hub

It always amazes me how a sea of anglers can be so willing to sit over a featureless, and often fishless, chunk of underwater real-estate.  Such is commonplace among wheelhouse anglers who are as interested in the ice experience as much as they are the actual fishing.  Far be it from me to tell them where or how to fish, but with a little bit of preparation and planning, you can have your fish and cook them too.  Here’s a few ways to maximize your time in the wheelhouse and stay on fish.

Scouthouse

The best scenario involves setting up a basecamp in a likely area, but one you are not married to.  That is right, setup with the intention of eventually moving.  Especially in the toy-hauler editions, wheelhouses these days go hand-in-hand with portable shelters, ATVs, and snowmobiles.  Use these tools to go out and find actively biting fish, with the hopes that you will eventually move basecamp to the active biters.  The Scouthouse concept is something I detailed a few issues back, and has been successful in the past for me.  It’s also something that’s fun with a group of like-minded anglers, all willing to search out a great bite such that eventually you can drop the big-house right on top of a good pod of fish. 

Prep and Map-work

Dropping on fish usually comes with some good scouting and prep-work.

Dropping on fish usually comes with some good scouting and prep-work.

Of course rarely is it as easy as picking a spot on a map, even with some great scouting, where fish are going to be active.  That is where some homework comes into play.  Navionics has a free, web-based mapping utility, and there are other good paid options out there too.  Any good trip planning should focus efforts on identifying likely fish-holding areas, but big wheelhouses often can’t just roam the open ice.  That is where a discussion with your resort of choice on big lakes or some truck scouting on-lake personally can yield big dividends.  At the end of the day, with enough snow, you will need plowed roads to make it to your destination, and the resort may need to plow a spot specifically for your house.  Working with them will ensure the best result, and don’t be afraid to offer a few extra bucks for a custom plowing job.  The best waypoints on the lake will not yield results if you can’t get to them, so first identify what’s open if at all possible. 

For walleyes, so often the deep structure mid-winter (wheelhouse season) has day-long appeal, especially in stained water, whereas classic hard-bottomed structure may be too shallow to attract any fish except early morning or late evening.  All of which may be just fine if you’re only going to be fishing in the wheelhouse during primetime, but keep that in mind.  Deep water structure can mean humps, bars, and gravel, but it can also be mud or small depressions just off of that same structure.  These secondary spots are often overlooked by the crowds and can yield great success.

For panfish, you are often looking to basins for open water crappies, and the edges of them for gills in many northern lakes.  Do not forget about shallow fish however, and keep in mind that when crowds form in the community holes, there’s usually a shallow weed-bite that you can have to yourself.  Again, this is something that will take some previous scouting or expertise, as the best cabbage and coontail beds in the lake are not always easily identifiable.  These shallow fish can be trip savers when deep snow or large crowds overrun other spots on the lake.

Fish the Crowd, or Stay Away

As winter snow persists, and on-ice travel becomes more challenging, you see on-ice communities get a bit too cozy for my liking.  You would probably not be surprised then to learn that I like to avoid the crowds whenever possible.  Even in deep water, the crescendo of noise from increasing numbers of generators, augers, and vehicles can turn off fish in general.  Crappies suspended over deeper water seem to have some tolerance for it, but my experience is that there is often other areas and better fishing to be had on the same lake. 

If I do join the crowd, I try to be strategic in my placement, thinking both above water and below it.  From an underwater perspective, basin fish will often hang up on inside turns and use that to funnel from deep to shallow, so consider setting up on the edge of a community hole where such an escape route from the noise exists.  If there are some small deep-water irregularities to the contours, or bumps off the main structure that most people are on, I will park it to the edge and have those to myself. 

Think about where the traffic is coming above ice as well, as I like to setup as far to the edge of the main roads and heavy traffic as possible.  Heavy cracking and popping from vehicle noise spooks fish, plain and simple.  Simple observation for a few minutes of your ice-fishing brethren will quickly tell you who’s going to be noisy and who’s there to fish.  Do your best to stake out a spot that is kind to others on the ice, but also ensures you won’t be crowded later by newcomers to the spot.  A strategically placed shovel, bucket, and especially a tip-up will help fellow anglers keep a reasonable distance and prevent close-parkers. 

Hopefully snow will subside and we’ll get great ice and easy travel, but even if that’s not the case, some preparation and strategic placement can make all the difference for your next outing.