With summer winding down, the arrival of archery, muzzleloading, early duck, and dove season is greatly anticipated. People are tuning bows, sighting scopes and plowing fields. It could also be a great time to tune those turkey calls for the upcoming fall season. Most states offer turkey as fair game during archery and all but a few offer a fall turkey season (check your local game laws to verify your season and what is legal to take, gobbler, hen or both). Fall turkey hunting can definitely put your hunting skills to the test.
When most people hear the term “turkey hunting” they generally associate it with a strutting tom and the beautiful sound of a gobble during the spring. Learning the art of fall turkey hunting not only increases your chances of putting a bird in the freezer for Thanksgiving , it allows you to learn more about turkeys and how they live throughout the year, not solely during the mating season. This can benefit the spring turkey hunter as well. By having more knowledge of your quarry, such as their vernacular, social structure and how to locate them, you can add more to your book of strategies. Fall hunting requires more woodsman ship than calling ability. One of the most important tasks at hand is locating birds in the fall. They have a more broad range during this time of the year due to diminishing food sources.
There are two basic angles to hunting fall turkeys. Hunting bachelor flocks and hunting what I call brood flocks. Bachelor flocks consist of mature gobblers and brood flocks consist of the adult hens and their offspring.
During the fall, a hunter has to realize that he is capitalizing on a turkey’s urge for companionship, their need to establish a pecking order and just overall curiosity. He is also putting his woods skills to the test by finding his birds. Finding a viable food source and water is essential to finding your birds. Patterning birds in the fall can be quite challenging but putting food and water on the top of your scouting list will pay dividends. Turkeys will continue to use a food source until it is exhausted and will water in the same areas if available. Use this to your advantage.
Traditional roosting sites out west are a sure bet to finding your fall birds but here in the southeast aren’t as common. This is due to the variety of roosting areas that are available. Put your time in the woods scouting for sign very similar to the methods used in the spring. Look for tracks, dusting areas and scratching. Keep in mind you’re more likely to find flocks of birds and not single birds, although finding a lone gobbler is not all that uncommon. More often when you find one, you will find multiple birds, whether bachelor flocks or brood flocks. Spend time the woods and frequent areas that birds are likely to be feeding and you’ll find your turkeys. How many times have you heard deer hunters say, “you should have seen all the turkeys I saw on the stand!” Use this knowledge to your advantage.
During the spring we all know that generally you’ll have your dominant gobbler and numerous subordinate gobblers in any given area that holds birds. During the fall, take away that breeding urge and your left with the same gobblers. These gobblers will often befriend each other and flock together. Do not be confused there is still a pecking order established between these birds. Now once you’ve conducted reconnaissance on the birds in your area, your safest bet is to set up and blind call or move and call.
Blind calling is referred to as sitting in a stationary position and calling randomly, without being engaged in a conversation with a bird. Use gobbler yelps and clucks and call sparingly, but with enough frequency for a bird to not pass your position without hearing your calling. Basically every 10 to 15 minutes. Gobbler yelping is very similar to hen yelping but with a slower rhythm and a deeper tone. On paper it would appear as yawk—–yawk—–yawk—–yawk—–yawk—–yawk. As opposed to hen yelping, yelp-yelp-yelp-yelp-yelp. Gobbler clucking again is similar to hens’ clucking, but with a noticeably deeper tone. Throw in some deeper purring just to add realism. Once you get a response, call them just enough to pique their interest. Hopefully they will come to investigate the newcomer. Hunting these birds takes an enormous amount of patience.
Running and gunning can be effective but be mindful of your surroundings. Less foliage on the trees and the birds not being as vocally responsive can be a challenge. Without the birds giving away their location the chance of spooking them is much greater walking through the open timber. Once you have made contact with a gobbler, rapidly survey the area and set up in a position that’s affords plenty of visibility. If you elicit a response during the fall there is a very distinct possibility the birds will come close enough to present a shot. During your conversation with the birds, only cluck and plain yelp, thus giving the impression that you are alone and looking for companionship.
These birds have a very tight knit social grouping. They live each day, all day together. They were laid, hatched and have been flocked together the last 8-14 months. Very similar to hunting bachelor flocks, there are two basic methods: blind calling and moving and calling.
The type of calling employed is quite different than what is used to call bachelor flocks. While trying to locate or communicate with a brood flock, I’m going to produce some assembly yelping, lost yelping and kee-kee running. Assembly or lost yelping is the same basic call. They are both 15-20 note yelps given with inflection and emotion. The assembly yelp is given by the brood hen when a flock is scattered. She emits these long series of yelps soon after the flock is broken apart. This is how she gathers her brood. The lost yelp, is when a bird is all alone by itself and is looking for companionship. I don’t feel a turkey is ever lost. I feel its more of a locating call. When you are giving these yelp sequences just remember to visualize a turkey looking for company and pleading to gain there acquaintance. Kee-kee’ing is the whistle of the young birds. Long before a poult’s voice has developed enough to produce yelps, they can only whistle. As they become more mature their voice will allow them to yelp. They will then combine kee-keeing in conjunction with yelping, producing the kee-kee run. The kee-kee sounds like its spelled on paper. Kee-kee-kee—–kee-kee-kee-kee. Kee-kee running would appear on paper as kee-kee-kee—–kee-kee-kee-kee-yelp-yelp. Produce a series of this call ending with two to four yelps at the end of the whistles. Kee-keeing is best performed with a mouth call.
When blind calling you’re trying to lure the birds in by peaking their curiosity or exploiting their gregarious nature. The flock will hopefully move into your position because they are investigating the new comer. Mix up your calling with several series of assembly/lost yelps starting each series with clucking and adding clucking in between your series. The next calling sequences give a chorus of kee-kee runs. Call quite often and even call with multiple calls. Again we’re trying to use a turkeys curiosity and need for companionship to coax them into gun range.
Scattering the flocks
This is an age-old tradition when hunting fall turkeys. I feel this definitely best accomplished by two hunters. Many times a hunter will get close enough to flush a flock only to have them fly off in the same direction and regroup before a hunter has a chance to set up and call them. If you’ve spotted a flock have you and a buddy come in from different directions, then run in and spook them. Hopefully they will scatter in different directions. Once you’ve scattered a brood flock wait and quietly listen for them to start yelping and kee-keeing. If the birds did not flush too far from where you scattered them and you start hearing multiple birds, set up right there and begin your calling. Call very often. Assembly yelping and kee-kee running will be your best bet. At this point do not be afraid to call.
If the birds have flushed too far to set up where the flush occurred, then reposition to where the majority of the flock escaped your ambush and again wait and listen for them to start calling. Then begin your calling. It is imperative that you do not start calling until the birds start calling. I feel this way you know the birds are calm enough to start the regrouping process.
If you’ve busted a bachelor flock rely on your gobbler yelps and deep gobbler clucks, but calling more sparingly. A bachelor flock has much less urge to regroup than a brood flock. Many times the gobblers will not regroup, hence seeing lone long beards sometimes in the fall. But, its definitely worthy of a valiant effort.
Just remember scouting is going to be your main key to success. Fall turkey hunting can be productive with or without calling. You have to know where the turkeys are frequenting and put yourself in these areas. Many times I’ve had fall flocks never respond to a call, but my knowledge and patterning of the birds put me in a position to fill my tag. Other times the calling is what made the difference and definitely made the hunt more exciting. Fall turkey hunting generally doesn’t involve gobbling and strutting but hearing a bird kee-kee can be equally satisfying. It’s a sound that many hunters will never hear unless they put their time in the woods. Just know bagging a long beard, a jake, or even a hen in the fall is a great accomplishment. Many old timers will tell you spring hunting is great fun but the real test is harvesting a bird in the fall.
Image courtesy Scott Ellis