In spring, you make hen yelps to fool gobblers. When you're fall turkey hunting, it pays to do the opposite. You should call like the turkey you want to pull into range. Want a young fall gobbler? Call like one. Targeting autumn longbeards? Gobbler cluck, yelp and gobble.
Let’s break down calling strategies for tagging fall birds be they jakes of the year, super jakes, longbeards, young hens or broodless turkeys. We’ll even discuss hens with broods. They might ruin Thanksgiving dinner plans if you don’t run them out of there during a call-back session. Unlike our intentions, the last thing a brood hen wants is for you to have success.
The Second Season
Surprise, surprise ... you can call up fall longbeards, too. © Pete Sucheski illustration
In late spring, gobblers — both longbeards and jakes — begin changing toward their summer and fall modes. They gobble, gobbler cluck and yelp to contact each other and run together. Some hens, on the other hand, are either nesting or raising broods, and vocalizing with poults. The young turkeys know their mama’s voice — first heard inside the egg as a hatching yelp from the outside world — and she in turn knows theirs. The young turkeys also talk with brood mates once hatched and while growing. Broodless hens might also run together.
This difference between seasonal vocalizations influences how we call during fall turkey hunts.
7 Kinds of Fall Turkeys
An autumn longbeard is the ultimate fall turkey for many. © John Hafner photo
There's a chance of interacting with different kinds of fall turkeys on any given hunt. It’s sort of like a menu to fill your tag. Some might prove easier to call and hunt than others. You decide the goal for your hunt.
Fall Jake of the Year: In the early season, jakes born in the late spring and 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 mate, 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.
Fall Hen of the Year: The juvenile female turkey might be the easiest to kill of all. She kee-kees and is usually the smallest of the turkeys listed here. But don't get complacent. She can still outsmart you.
Super Jake: This turkey is the jake you may have passed up last spring. His beard is now six or seven inches long, his tail fan is full, and he’s nearly the 2-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).
Super Jenny: 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).
Autumn Longbeard: This turkey eluded getting tagged last spring. He may run alone now and seem 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. You can call him in, especially after a deliberate flock scatter, but sometimes the only way to succeed is to pattern him. Tag a fall longbeard, and you’ve done something special.
Broodless Adult Hen: Some hens fail to breed 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 getting a member of a gobbler gang.
Brood Hen: 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.
Either-Sex Fall Turkey Hunts
Where legal, scattering flocks with a dog gives you a calling advantage. © Steve Hickoff photo
“In the spring we hunt gobblers and in the fall we hunt turkeys,” my buddies and I like to say. In states where it’s legal, hunters can kill an autumn gobbler or hen. As a result, a variety of fall calling options are used. Even though all turkeys are legal, in the end you decide what bird to fill your tag on. Call vocalization choices can influence options.
Flock configuration determines this. If you’re hunting young family flock turkeys, you’ll kee-kee or kee-kee-run to try and pull one in. If it’s a group of broodless hens, the clucks and yelps you used in spring to lure gobblers will work now for these birds (admittedly, they draw attention from boss and nesting hens in spring too). The brood hen on the other hand is less likely to come to your plain hen clucks and yelps, as her focus is on keeping her juvenile birds assembled.
As male-only flocks go, they use the calls of gobblers: clucks, yelps, gobbles and even fighting purrs — especially right after fly-down time as pecking order is once again tested. Hunting situations will allow you to tell what turkeys compose flocks and then what calls you can use.
Let’s cover some fall calls you’ll hear and use to pull birds in.
Roost Talk: Treed hens softly cluck, purr and yelp. Gobblers yelp and gobble, age depending. You’ll chance at hearing more fall turkey talk as birds converse right before and just after fly-down than at any other time during the day, with the exception of a post-scatter call-back session.
Kee-Kee and Kee-Kee-Run: The kee-kee is the maturing lost whistle of the young turkey in fall. The “run” part is a yelp or yelps added on the end.
Plain Hen Cluck and Yelp: Hen clucks are typically high-pitched. Hen yelp cadence is steady. Lost yelps are longer and often louder.
Plain Gobbler Cluck and Yelp: Gobble clucks are low-pitched. Yelps are slower, often three notes.
Contented and Fighting Purrs: Purrs indicate feeding contentment and/or spacing tolerance while eating, and aggression while fighting. Some are subtle; some loud. Fall gobblers often purr while fighting after fly-down.
Gobbling: It’s the same one you hear in spring. Fall jakes often tag a gobble-in-progress on the end of a kee-kee-run.
Cold Call Fall Turkeys
Cold calling from a blind can pull fall turkeys into range. © Bill Konway photo
Cold calling for fall turkeys — whether while on foot or from a blind — is a tactic to locate or pull in birds you don’t see. You have likely picked a spot where you’ve found fresh turkey sign, or even seen and heard birds.
When on foot, you can kee-kee, cluck, hen or gobbler yelp to strike a bird. Think of this as fall locator calling. In such situations, a variety of “wild turkey sounds” can draw a response. Often you might simply hear birds in the woods or fields while listening intently when you’re not calling. As safety goes in either-sex fall turkey states, lean against a tree as you make a call, or even temporarily set up on the ground as you might in spring.
The typical stationary ground setup these days often includes blinds. These “hides” are often erected in areas where turkeys are on the move. A pinch point with a game trail in the woods or an entrance to a field can both be good locations. Ideally fresh turkey sign is nearby. It’s also important to put your blind somewhere between the roost and food source, especially in fall. Calling to birds you strike can pull individual turkeys or the entire flock your way. Making contact as they approach can also help you determine when a shot opportunity might come.
Wild turkeys call every day of their lives. The mistaken idea that fall turkeys don’t is just that. The trick is to think like a turkey. Call sparingly or enthusiastically, then adapt your calling once the age and sex of the autumn turkey that responds is clear.
And yep, longbeards often gobble in the fall and winter, too. © John Hafner photo
Some say they don’t fall turkey hunt because they don’t want to kill young birds. You don’t have to take an autumn bird of the year. Target an adult hen from a broodless flock. Better yet, make your goal putting an autumn longbeard on the Thanksgiving table. Calling like the turkey you want can make it possible.
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