These strategies for autumn flocks are great for helping new hunters learn the second-season game
It's tough to beat the sheer beauty of October sunlight falling through the red and yellow leaves of hardwood timber – unless, of course, you add to it a dose of kee-keeing and soft yelping from a scattered flock of turkeys. Then you have the recipe for something unrivaled in terms of pure hunting action. At times, fall turkey hunting is as lively as spring hunting ... and sometimes even more.
But fall hunting strategies are a shade different than those tactics used in the spring. You surely know this if you hunt second-season turkey flocks. And you can either learn it from these tips if you don't, or pass along the insights to someone new to the tradition. Though there's no substitute for what wild birds will teach you, these approaches might help you out this autumn.
Setting up with your back against a broad tree trunk (as in spring) also works just as well in fall. © Bill Konway photo
On fall hunts, the traditional approach is to find and scatter flocks, often on foot, using terrain to get near birds. It’s a fair-chase tactic. If you can get that close, why not just shoot a bird? Of course, that’s an option – but one that's usually not nearly as enjoyable, as you’ll likely miss out on the calling aspect of the fall hunt.
After, you can set up at the break site, conceal yourself and attempt to call the separated birds back into range. To a non-hunter, this likely seems crazy. To a turkey hunter, it’s practical strategy.
Where legal, turkey dogs, which find and scatter flocks, offer an advantage. As with many forms of hunting with dogs, the companionship afield is a big part of it. A dog scatter is a measure of success. The possible kill punctuates the memories. You hide the dog. Let the woods settle. Begin calling or wait for separated birds to start kee-keeing or yelping.
And the sound of multiple vocal turkeys closing in from all directions like the spokes of a wheel is exciting.
But there are many other options, too.
You can sit in a comfortable blind, with a shotgun or bow, and wait on patterned birds to arrive. Turkey tag in your pocket, you might want to take advantage of deer and fall turkey seasons that coincide, trying to arrow a wild turkey from your treestand. In some states, slowly walking a ridge with a rifle and looking for birds is legal and part of the fall turkey hunting tradition, too. And, of course, setting up with your back against a broad tree trunk (as in spring) also works just as well in fall.
Hunting Tip: Stay legal. Hunt safe, with fair-chase strategies. Teach these practices to young and new hunters. Be a good example. Follow the letter of the law. That’s how you play the game right.
Teach new hunters the difference between a deep, raspy gobbler yelp and a higher-pitched hen yelp. © Bill Konway photo
As a rule, you call like the fall turkey you want to bring in.
As a result, turkey-calling variations are many. And it’s a great learning situation. Kee-kees and kee-kee-runs can be made with a mouth call, but also a long box or a pot and peg. Teach new hunters the difference between a deep, raspy gobbler yelp and a higher-pitched hen yelp. Assembly yelping. Lost yelping. Fighting purrs from gobblers. Show how, when, where and why to make these calls, based on situational tactics.
Scouting for turkey sign is also a great teaching tool. It’s a puzzle many of us love to assemble. While scouting, the mystery of decoding these clues is an important part of the hunt. It’s fun and addictive.
Scratchings show where turkeys have fed, and often what they’re eating. Tracks tattooed in mud, big or small, indicate a gobbler gang or family flock. Dusting bowls often represent where fall turkeys stop to loaf. Droppings, in many variations – often but not always j-shaped for gobblers, popcorn-shaped for hens, and smaller for growing juvenile birds – are keys to studying turkeys, as are molted feathers left behind.
Hunting Tip: Give your young hunter several different calls to use. Fill your own vest as well with many options. Box calls, and pot-and-peg options, are often easiest for beginners. Let them call when you hunt.
Fall and winter gobblers are the ultimate turkey-hunting challenge. © Steve Hickoff photo
Following spring hatches, there are often more wild turkeys in the fall woods. Mindful of this, wildlife managers schedule and coordinate fall (and even winter) turkey seasons. Often, either-sex turkey permits are the norm (always check game laws). Nevertheless, this can still be a teaching tool. Young gobblers are often pink-faced, black-bodied and they sometimes wear visible budding beards during late-year seasons. New hunters can learn to distinguish young hens from young gobblers. Even though hens are legal, shooting one is an option.
You see it all in the fall, from young gobblers and hens running with flockmates and their brood hen to gobblers ghosting through the woods together to jake-and-a halfs, which yelp, gobble, fight and even strut. You can detect the many changes since spring. Remembering henned-up hunts, you’re now more grateful and accepting of life’s circle. Hens with young charges offer the promise of turkey hunts years down the road. It’s all good.
Hunting Tip: New hunters can take a legal either-sex turkey, or practice selectivity with fall birds, letting some walk. Veterans in this tradition can elevate their games by hunting autumn longbeards.
Turkey Day is coming soon. © John Hafner photo
Eating wild turkey extends the hunt. And there’s no better time to do this than Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday centered around turkeys.
Thanksgiving is a time for reflection and for being grateful. And for enjoying family and friends. A few states even offer fall turkey hunts on Thanksgiving Day – another way to celebrate the hunt and the holiday.
Hunting Tip: Have your kids (or new hunters) spend time with you as you prep the wild turkey for cooking. This starts in the field, right after a bird is taken. Breast out meat. Keep the thighs and legs. Even wing meat can be cooked and eaten. Go further, and save the heart, liver and gizzard. All can be cooked – and a turkey broth can be reserved from the process. Take the wing bones to build yelpers. Use the feathers in all the many ways we do, including as fly-tying materials. Give thanks for the wild turkey by utilizing it.
Realtree's Timber2Table Wild Turkey Recipes
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