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Author: Tom Carpenter
You pack every other kind of hunting into a fall. Here's how to make time for turkeys too.
Fall gets sort of crazy. With so many hunting seasons open - archery deer, upland birds, waterfowl and small game - it's easy to forget about turkeys.
Yes, there's always spring hunting, but I'm not about to pass up any chance to pursue the king of gamebirds.
You can hunt fall turkeys too...even amidst all the other wonderful hunting that autumn brings. All you need are a few days and a handful of strategies.
Know Fall's Birds
In fall, any legal turkey you shoot - gobbler, hen, jake (young gobbler) or jenny (young hen) - is a trophy.
If you can kill a gobbler, great. But with Thanksgiving dinner on the line, I'll go for fall's "bread-and-butter" birds now, and duel the toms next spring. Fall's target birds include hens and their young, ganged up in big brood flocks; jake groups that break away later in fall; and broodless hens.
Most of us have only a few days to devote to fall turkeys, so start by "power scouting" when you arrive at your hunting grounds. Talk to as many people as you can - landowners, bus drivers, mail carriers, farmers and others who work the land - to learn the when's and where's of turkey sightings. This cuts valuable hours off your search for birds.
That evening, sit high on a ridge in, or cruise the backroads around, your hunting area. Use the tips you gleaned earlier and look for birds. The goal is to find some turkeys to work in the morning.
Traditional fall turkey hunting involves finding an intact flock of birds, sneaking close and rushing them wildly to bust up the flock in all directions, then setting up and calling back the scattered birds as they try to regroup.
I find more satisfaction calling an intact flock. Plus, if you don't achieve a good scatter and the birds all fly in the same direction (which happens often), you've just run off the very birds that were yours to hunt.
So stick to low-impact hunting strategies like these, at least to start.
Hunt the Roost - Dawn
If you saw turkeys go to roost, sneak in close before first light the next morning and set up. As fly-down time nears, call with clucks and yelps. Try to lure the birds your way after they fly down. It helps to be between the roost and where the turkeys want to go (their feeding area).
After the sun rises, set up at feeding areas - the corner of a harvested grain field is great, as are meadows. Or set up where you or others have seen turkeys traveling, or at spots they're likely to pass: a point of timber, along a fenceline, beside a finger of brush, in a funnel area between woods, fields or hills.
Put out a decoy or two, to give visual assurance to incoming turkeys or attract attention from birds that don't hear your calls. Make purrs and clucks. Belt out a few lonely yelps every so often. Fall turkeys like company and will often come to investigate the calls or check out your decoys.
Spot & Get Ahead
If your setups aren't working, go to the turkeys. Get to a strategic vantage point, spot birds, and try to determine their travel route. Sneak ahead of them and set up. Put out some decoys, get comfortable, make a few soft yelps. Don't call non-stop, but purr and cluck a little between yelps. Be patient.
Hunt in "hanging out" cover - mature timber where birds are likely to loaf away the mid-afternoon hours. Make setups for an hour or so at strategic spots. Call with soft purrs and clucks. Yelp occasionally to see if you can attract some attention.
If the weather is unseasonably warm, go to an area with spring seeps or other dampness. If the wind is howling, head for calm areas on the lee side of hills and in hollows.
As the afternoon begins to wane, move on out to feeding areas again - harvested grain fields, hay fields, and overgrown or fallow meadows where the bug hunting might still be good.
Hunt the Roost - Evening
When the sun really starts sinking, sneak into a roost area at least an hour before sunset, set up quietly with a couple decoys, and wait for birds. Purr and cluck only lightly - like you're an early bird already in the bedroom and everything is safe.
Calls for Fall
Fall turkeys are both vocal and gregarious, and calling need not be complex. Yelps are essential; put some emotion in them, as if to say "I'm lost," "I'm lonely" or "Where are you?" Kee-kees - the three-note, whistling "lost" calls of young birds will attract both juvenile and mature birds. A jake's kee-kee run consists of a three-note kee-kee with a couple of coarse yelps at the end. Purrs and clucks are always important, as they are sounds that safe, contented turkeys make. Scratch a few leaves like a feeding turkey would.
Autumn's Finest Prize
Last fall I spotted a group of feeding turkeys, looped ahead of them, climbed a low oak ridge and set up. Nothing happened for a long time, but I was very happy with a couple decoys out, October's sun warming my bones, and autumn's woods ablaze with color around me.
Then some soft yelps answered my plaintive calling. I perked up, adjusted my facemask, got the shotgun set, picked up the box and called again. Yelps replied from half the distance! I laid the box down and waited, my heart pounding as hard as it ever could.
At 18 yards, a good bird stepped into an opening, and the gorgeous adult hen folded at the shot. I limped over on stiff legs, a happy man, to claim autumn's finest prize.
After admiring the bird for awhile, I slung the 10-pounder over my shoulder and walked out of the woods with a day to spare on my time budget. I was already making an appointment with a very eager Brittany and some cagey pheasants down in the creekbottoms.
Gearing Up for Fall Turkeys
Fall's turkey hunting gear isn't very different from spring's. Here's a checklist:
Shotgun and shells - Shoot a well-camouflaged pump or autoloader, choked as tight as it will go, in 12 gauge or larger. Shot sizes from 4 to 6 are good, in magnum shells. I like 12-gauge Winchester Supreme Turkey Loads with 1-3/4 ounces of number 5 shot.
Camouflage - Wear brown-patterned pants to blend with the forest floor, and patterns that mimic tree bark for your outer shirt or jacket. A camouflage facemask and gloves are essential.
Turkey Hunting Vest - Fill it with license and tag, flashlight, knife, turkey calls, camera, pruning shears for clipping branches and creating blinds, and raingear. Carry lunch and water or juice, and hunt hard all day.
Calls - I like to carry a couple of box calls - one raspy, one sweet and clear. Mouth calls are essential for making kee-kees and kee-kee runs; simple double-reed models are best. Pack at least one reliable slate call. I also lug various push-button, scratch box and other calls that rarely get used but fall under the "you never know" category.
Decoys - They may or may not work, but you can't use them if you don't have them. I always carry a hen and a jake decoy, using one or the other according to the birds I think I'm working. When field hunting a big group of birds, I'll haul a half dozen Feather-Flex hens and jakes in an orange-mesh bag. It's quite a sight to see them all lined up!
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