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Fall Turkey Hunting: Facts and Myths

Spring gobbler season is months away. Autumn turkey hunting can be compelling and enjoyable too. Debunk these fall turkey myths yourself.

Myth: You can’t call fall longbeards.

Not unless you try. Pete Clare of Turkey Trot Acres had several fall New York turkey flocks – a big family group and a gang of longbeards. We targeted the latter bunch. Gobbler yelping — yawp, yawp, yawp — tipped us off. It wasn’t long before Clare’s Byrne turkey dog Clyde found them.

Barking with alarm putting and flushing turkeys followed. The gobbler flock was separated. We’d set up near the break site. Scott Basehore, the well-known custom call maker, joined us with his turkey dog Jenny. Our buddy Daryl Stubbs watched one side of the setup, gun ready. I covered the other.

Fall longbeard hunters know a post-scatter wait can take time. They can come back gobbling, yelping and even strutting after a flock break. Sometimes it happens fast; often longer if at all. Pete gobbled. Scott tagged jake yelping on the end of it. Two hours later, we heard one turkey fly down out of a tree near Clyde’s flock scatter; then another. We waited, calling some more.

Suddenly Basehore hissed: “Turkeys to your left. Don’t move.” Two gobblers cruised down the incline, stalking the calls like two Count Dracula imitators wearing black capes. Stubbs made the kill. The survivor sprinted down the hillside. After fist bumps, Daryl and Pete left while Scott and I hatched a plan – our hunt concludes this article.

Myth: Spring turkey hunting is traditional.

Actually fall and winter turkey hunting has a longer tradition. As a kid, I heard veteran turkey hunters say how turkey hunting in the spring was cheating, even easy. You see, my native Pennsylvania had just legalized spring turkey hunting in 1968. Times do change.

Spring turkey hunting has taken over. As reported by the Pennsylvania Game Commission: “Since 2000, the number of spring turkey hunters has exceeded that of fall turkey hunters in Pennsylvania. This switch is not only the result of fall hunters switching to spring turkey hunting, but also an influx of new turkey hunters who hunt only in the spring.”

The truth is, both fall and spring hunting are now traditions – one older; one trending; depending on when you started turkey hunting.

Myth: Fall turkeys are too easy.

“Hunting fall turkeys is just too easy. I’d rather hunt spring gobblers,“ certain hardcore spring hunters say. Some turkeys are. Some aren’t – just like spring gobblers. Autumn turkeys can sometimes be easy once found, but locating flocks isn’t always a sealed deal.

Fall food sources can be widespread. Fall flocks can roam widely. You may find fresh turkey scratchings, tracks, droppings and dusting areas, but never locate birds. When you do, it’s like spring turkey hunting – you have a hunter’s chance.

I’ve tagged fall turkeys on opening day not long after fly-down. I’ve hunted autumn flocks on wooded ridges for days, with fresh scratchings all around me, without filling a tag. Just like spring hunting, right?

Myth: Fall gobblers don’t strut or gobble.

Fall turkeys roost gobble, ground gobble and after an intentional flock break as they regroup during your call-back effort. This includes longbeards, super jakes and young male turkeys.

Fall gobblers strut too. Super jakes — male fall turkeys born two springs ago, but not yet two years of age — seem particularly committed to strutting in autumn. Each fall I’ll usually find a gang including several strutting full-fan gobblers, and a nearby group of adult hens with a family flock.

And it’s not just the male birds. During one autumn Vermont hunt, my buddies and I called in a strutting adult hen. Doubt it? We filmed it.

Myth: Fall turkey hunters just kill young birds or adult hens.

Don’t want to kill a young turkey or adult broodless hen? Set your sights on a longbeard or super jake. To some, taking a fall tom is the ultimate experience.

Sure enough, I’ve enjoyed hunts for legal either-sex fall turkeys, young and adult. We decide what turkey to pull the trigger on. Letting a young hunter take a fall hen can instill the love of this tradition.

My fall turkey buddies have a saying that goes: “In the spring we hunt gobblers and in the fall we hunt turkeys.” You choose the legal bird.

Myth: Hunting autumn turkeys with dogs is unfair.

Dogs are as fair as any other hunting tool. Sure, turkey dogs find and flush turkey flocks better than we do – but then you have to hide them for the call-back session. That’s the great equalizer. A dog eager to get close to those turkeys again might have a hard time staying still. My dogs have scattered far more fall turkeys than we’ve killed – sure we tag some too, hunting multiple states. Even young 8-pound turkeys can beat you. Canines provide companionship. Seeing your dog find and flush turkeys is a measure of success. It’s all good.

In truth, dogs are like hunters. Some are good; some works-in-progress. Using turkey dogs effectively is usually done best by a serious fall turkey hunter.

Myth: You can’t call a fall (or spring turkey) back after a shot.

Okay, let’s rewind. Stubbs dropped his New York fall longbeard. The scared survivor hustled out of there. “I’m ready to wait here all day if you want,” Basehore, who had put a tag on a bird days before, smiled and said. Game on. As fall turkey hunters, we routinely scatter fall flocks to try and call separated birds back to the gun – even after a kill shot.

The scene was right out of a Ned Smith painting – a gorgeous hardwood hillside in turkey heaven. Scott floated well-timed gobbler yelps then laid on some silence. We sat a long time – calling, waiting. Then from the direction the surviving gobbler ran, came yelping, coarse and steady. Another gobbler started yelping above us. I wheeled, shotgun facing that turkey’s direction.

Movement through saplings: a black body and the sight of a gobbler coming. The bird bobbed and weaved, stalking our setup and the calling. The longbeard stopped, looked. I pulled the trigger – two hours after Stubbs killed his turkey.

Fall turkey hunting is a great thing. Try it.

Steve Hickoff

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