Fall turkeys are a different breed of bird, as are the dedicated hunters who pursue them. If it's truly a challenge you seek, few game species can match this wiley bird.
The arrival of autumn always brings an inviting change. After months of sultry summer weather, the cool and crisp mornings of fall seem to breathe new life into the outdoors.
Many of the early migrants like doves and teal are already winging their way southward. And, sportsmen are also feeling the effects of the changing seasons, as they begin to set aside fishing gear and dust off their hunting equipment.
As the final weeks of summer fade, hunting fever continues to rise. By mid-October, many sportsmen are devoting a good portion of their free time to sitting in tree stands or duck blinds.
While waterfowl and deer hunting attract their share of the sporting interest, a handful of dedicated outdoor types are undertaking one of the most challenging sporting opportunities - the annual autumn wild turkey hunt.
Unlike the spring season where Jakes (young birds) play only a small role in the harvest, fall hunters typically take a larger proportion of these young birds. This is likely due to the immature and somewhat less cautious young that are now prowling the woodlots and timber. Good hatches often result in an even greater number of Jakes in the fall harvest.
According to biologists, nesting success is primarily dependent upon weather conditions in late May and early June. The young poults are extremely susceptible to extended periods of cool and wet weather. Below average temperatures coupled with extremely wet weather nearly always results in poor reproductive success for ground-nesting birds like wild turkeys.
The spring of 2000 brought extremely dry weather to many parts of the nation. It was actually early summer, before most areas received any significant rainfall. According to some experts, this should mean an excellent hatch throughout much of the country.
Turkey hunters who have never tried their skill at bagging a bird during the fall season will find it considerably different than spring hunting.
These wily birds play by a whole different set of rules during the autumn season. And, many times they even refuse to follow these.
Unlike spring hunting when the birds are quite vocal, the fall hunter will often deal with little, if any, gobbling birds. This makes them difficult to locate and sometimes finds the hunter doubting if turkeys are even in the area.
Fall turkey hunting is more hunting than calling. Therefore, hunters must have a good knowledge of the ground they are hunting and the general daily routines of the birds that reside there.
While turkeys can usually be found in the same general areas they were in the spring, the mating ritual does not come into play, as it does in the spring. The birds typically spend a major part of the day feeding and avoiding predators.
To increase the odds of fall hunting success, experts suggest plenty of pre-season scouting time. Look for signs of scratching or any indication that turkeys are using the area.
On warm, sunny days the birds can often be spotted in grassy fields feeding on insects. Once cooler weather arrives and the insects are gone, grain and forest-type forage like acorns are utilized.
The real trick is to locate concentrations of turkeys. This can mean a great deal of walking and quietly listening for faint clucks or birds scratching in the leaves.
It's not easy and, at times, can be very frustrating. It is not uncommon for hunters to devote several birdless hours in the woods only to prepare to leave and flush a group of nearby birds.
While some hunters experience success by calling in nearby birds, more fall turkeys are bagged by hunters ambushing a flock of feeding birds. Once you locate a group of turkeys, try to determine which way they are headed and set up well ahead of the flock. This, I suspect, is among the more successful methods for hunting fall turkeys.
The avid fall turkey hunter can expect to cover a great deal of acreage when hunting fall turkeys. Its also common to return home from a day of hunting without even seeing one of these birds.
Surprisingly, fall turkey hunting attracts only a fraction of the hunters that pursue these remarkable birds each spring. Therefore, competition for top areas is less and opportunities more plentiful.
While some hunters feel fall turkey hunting lacks some of the excitement of hunting during the spring, the beauty of the season more than makes up for it. Fall colors are generally at their peak, and the sights and sounds of autumn are everywhere.
Though success rates are generally higher than in the spring, fall turkeys still remain among the most challenging game species hunters can pursue.