I wish I had a dollar for every time somebody told me they don’t hunt fall turkeys because: (1) There's no gobbling happening then, (2) They don’t like killing young birds and (3) It’s not fun (this is the worst).
In baseball, that’s a strikeout, because they’re wrong on all counts. It's a shame more people don't try fall turkey hunting. They'd likely become converts. Let's address the rumors.
1. They Gobble?!
Absolutely. Pink-faced jakes do it. Red-headed adult males do too, even in the fall. They will gobble on the roost, when assembling after a flock scatter and just for the plain heck of it. Nope, they don’t gobble as much as in spring when the breeding desire — and urge to fight for it — is at play; but gobble, they do.
Ever hear a gobble from your deer stand? You have to be out there to know what I'm talking about. I've listened to gobbling during September bowhunts, in October, November and December too. It’s not just a spring thing.
True enough, gobbling activity increases in late winter and into spring as male birds announce their positions to all within earshot: likely hens and other gobblers. And if you are, and the season is open, gobble back. And gobbler yelp. Imitate the turkey you're hearing.
Spend enough time in the fall turkey woods and this fact may pleasantly surprise you enough to try and call one up into range.
2. Pass on Peepers
That's right. You pull the trigger. You put the tag on a bird. If you don’t want to shoot a young turkey, don’t (they do taste great though). Up the stakes: Hunt, scatter, call-in and let young birds walk off with their brood hen. Catch-and-release. Or change your mind and drop one.
Yes, adult males (plus broodless hens) will answer your calls and come to them — despite what you’ve heard from some guy at the local diner. That’s cool, whatever. It’s all good, but you’re missing out. Pick a gobbler gang to chase. Don’t settle until they beat you or you kill one. Yes they’ll come to the calls — three-note raspy gobbler yelps are deadly, especially in fall.
It's fun, man. Fall turkey seasons are often long and satisfying, with many hunting scenarios ...
A patterned flock streams into the farmer’s late-summer fields, feeding toward your blind. You aim and whiff, cussing your impatience. Your dog scent trails turkeys through the painted woods, scattering a gobbler gang. After, you run a pot and peg, sitting against a broad oak. Calls ring out in response, echoing in timber. Thanksgiving passes. On a road trip to another state, winter arrives. Gobblers strut on snowy limbs, silhouetted against the orange sky. They wing to the ground. Stalking your vocalizations, they spy your decoy spread, drift into range.
And you kill one, just like that. Afterwards, your hands won’t stop shaking — and not from the cold.
From fall to winter, food sources, foliage conditions and wild turkey behavior all dictate hunt strategies. In the so-called second season, opportunities around the country begin as early as September. Others extend late, even into the New Year. Many states allow shotguns. Some permit archery tackle; others, even rifles. Deer hunters with a tag can maybe take a crack at a bonus bird, often of either sex.
Sit. Scatter. Set up. Call. Options are many, and all of them are fun. Don’t want to wait until spring? Get on those turkeys now.
I defy any hunter on the planet to tell me wild turkeys scattered in the woods, now surrounding your setup, regrouping to your calls and their flockmate's vocalizations, isn’t as much fun as hunting spring gobblers.
Each year I’m fortunate to spend some time with guys who spring turkey hunt, but who’ve never tried it in fall. To a person, nearly each one expresses how: (1) They wished they’d done it sooner, (2) How they were all wrong about fall turkey hunting, and (3) How they aim to do it again as soon as possible.
Steve Hickoff is Realtree.com's editorial director and turkey hunting editor. He’s been beaten by more birds than he can remember. Still he kills enough to eat well, and fool with beards, spurs and fans until the next season. Pennsylvania born and raised, Maine is his home base now. A full-time outdoor communicator with a couple university writing degrees, he chases spring gobblers and fall flocks around the country.