Old or Young, Hen or Gobbler, Often Both are Legal in Autumn
If fall turkey hunting is open in your state (it is in 42 of them and some Canadian provinces as well), your chance at interacting with different kinds of autumn gobblers and hens is likely. In the end, as either-sex fall hunts go, you choose which one will wear a tag (be sure to check your regulations). Some are tougher than others.
Nope, we're not talking about subspecies, but old and young turkeys, both hens and gobblers.
First off, let's meet the male birds.
In the early season, fall jakes (juvenile males) born that late spring or summer, kee-kee-run when they call. They hang tight to the flock, listen to the brood hen when she assembly yelps, and go to her, often after calling to and meeting up with another flock member, especially after fly-down or being scattered.
In the late season, a fall jake might ironically play a big role in calling the family flock in. Young male turkeys will often kee-kee-run, gobbler yelp and even gobble — often in this vocalization order. At some point, fall jakes in a family flock will even leave the brood group and go off on their own in a young gobbler gang.
Later in winter, they’ll often regroup with all the area’s turkeys before once again dispersing in spring.
This turkey is the jake you may have passed up last spring. His beard is now 6 or 7 inches long, his tail fan is full, and he’s nearly the two-year-old you’ll try to kill next spring. He’ll gobbler cluck, yelp, gobble on the roost, strut and work to your calls. Sometimes he runs with other super jakes and longbeards.
Other times, an 18-month-old male turkey might still hang with a family group (we see this each fall season).
This turkey somehow eluded getting tagged last spring. He may run alone now and feel unkillable. He may indeed be.
Sometimes this bird might be with a super jake or two, or even another longbeard. He’ll cluck, gobbler yelp and gobble, even on the fall roost. Tag him and you’ve done something special.
Often the only way to succeed might be patterning him. Even then he might give you the slip . . .
But wait, let's check out the fall hens.
As of this writing, 42 states offer fall turkey hunts. Check your state's hunting regulations for opportunities.
The autumn juvenile female turkey might be the easiest to kill of all. She kee-kees and is often the smallest of the turkeys listed here. She’ll outsmart you too. And yes, you can let her walk.
This 18-month-old female turkey might run with broodless hens or even with a family flock. It may also have a brood (refer to our last turkey on this list).
Broodless Older Hen
Some hens fail to breed, hatch or raise broods. They run together each fall. Sometimes, too, they hang with the brood hen of a family flock. Hen clucks, yelps and purrs are often heard from this group.
Tagging a bird from this flock can prove as tough as a gobbler gang.
This turkey is raising a group of fall jakes and jennies to adulthood. She’s legal in either-sex turkey states. Is it ethical to kill one? You choose.
She will give you fits as she assembly yelps the entire group of scattered young turkeys her way and not yours. Run her off once she sets up, then sit down where she once called. You may get lucky and take a young bird.
Or again, just chalk it up to experience if you're waiting on a big ol' fall longbeard.
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.