10 Advanced Fall Turkey Hunting Tactics
Whether you target an either-sex turkey from an autumn flock or set your sights on an adult fall gobbler, the multi-dimensional tactics that follow will increase your hunting pleasure and overall success . . .
1. 24/7 Scouting
Theres no substitute to spending regular time out there with the turkeys.
Damp droppings tell you fall birds were there recently. Concentrated feathers can indicate a roost site when slightly dispersed, or a predator kill when tightly compacted in a small area. Mixed sets of new and old tracks indicate flocks use the area regularly. Raked areas in the woods, especially along field edges or in food plots, often indicate autumn feeding zones.
Track size reflects the sex and age of turkeys. Gobbler flocks lay down large footprints, while family groups might reflect a range of sizes depending on the hatch date that year. Many droppings, tracks, and scratchings indicate bigger turkey flocks, while spare evidence reflects fewer numbers.
Dusting bowls are fresh if the soil is loose, and other sign — the term used to speak of evidence left behind by the quarry youre hunting — in them or nearby is new. Old sign may indicate turkeys have left the area for other food sources.
Study these changes for the best fall hunting success.
2. Setup Tactics
As with spring turkey hunting, fall setups are situational.
Plant yourself near locations where youve found evidence of flocks while scouting. Arrive early to position yourself close to roosted birds. In autumn, birds fly down and move directly to feeding zones. Establish yourself between these two spots.
If youve scattered an autumn group, quickly study the terrain and pick a calling setup that chances at drawing turkeys to you from many directions as they regroup. Since fall opportunities are often all-day affairs, gravitate toward those roosting sites in late afternoon to intercept birds before fly-up time.
3. Fall Calling Diversity
Three groups of wild turkeys generally roam the fall woods: family flocks, composed of a brood hen and her poults, broodless hens, and all-gobbler groups. Identifying what flocks youre hunting defines your autumn calling strategies. On occasion, youll see mixed-age groups, too, and several brood hens together with their young.
For family flocks, the kee-kee and kee-kee-run are typical vocalizations made by hunters to draw in birds-of-the-year. Broodless hens can be called using the range of hen vocalizations, from clucks to yelps, since these fall birds are more responsive to same-sex turkey talk. All-male groups can be called with gobbler yelps, and gobbles. All turkeys, gregarious as they are, chance at coming in for a look at the broad range of fall hen and gobbler talk.
One rule applies in fall: Call like the hen or gobbler, juvenile or adult, you want to pull to your position.
4. Bowhunting Autumn Birds
Extended archery-only seasons for autumn wild turkeys allow hunters to capitalize on scouting, setup sense, and calling diversity. Nowadays, compound bows offer such fluid mechanics that taking a bird with a bow is a reasonable choice. Traditional recurve and longbow enthusiasts can too.
The trick is to:
Draw your bow undetected.
Take a shot that anchors the turkey.
Track that arrowed bird to tag it. Blinds help you draw on birds. Shots directed at the wing butt, spine or neck provide three location options. Some archers also incorporate headshot-only attitudes: hit or miss.
5. Flock Scattering Strategies
On foot, you can rush flocks to scatter birds that are just out of gun or bow range, setup at the flush site, and attempt to call turkeys back. Where legal, dogs — trained to find and flush turkeys — can scatter birds more effectively than you can. The hunting tactic plays on this reliable fact: scattered groups of turkeys will want to regroup. Be there when they do.
6. Blind Ambition
Have you patterned fall turkeys that fly down and move to predictable feeding zones each day? If so, establish a blind somewhere between point A (the roost) and B (the food source). Get in there early, and wait for action to come to you. This style of autumn turkey hunting is particularly effective for bowhunters, as it affords relaxed concealment before the shot is taken.
7. Take the Jake
Dont want to shoot legal fall hens? Identification rules if you wish to take a growing gobbler. To distinguish a fall jake (a young male) from an autumn jenny (a young female), turkey hunters can focus on these specifics: face color, comparative physical characteristics, overall size, and vocalizations.
Jakes born that year often have recognizable pink faces by the time most autumn turkey seasons arrive. In shooting range, this quality can be seen as a skull-to-throat pink band that starts behind the beak, and stops before the turkeys ear. If not, chances are its a hen-of-the-year. Hens, both young and adult, have gray to grayish-blue faces, and more head feathering as well. As the young gobbler grows into winter, his head and neck become brick-red.
A male turkeys breast feathers are black-tipped while a hens are brown-edged. By late fall and winter, males-of-the-year carry visible beards. Ive found emerging 1/4-inch beards hidden beneath the breast feathers of pink-faced jakes taken in early autumn. By winter, when the young male turkey is likely a half-year-old or so, the beard usually becomes visible to the onlooker, and as mentioned, the head has grown even redder. Tail fans are ragged on both young gobblers and hens.
As other similarities go, juvenile turkeys born that year have brown legs, as opposed to the scaly pink legs of year-and-one-half-old super jakes and jennies, adult gobblers, and mature hens. Gobblers born that year are larger than the young hens from the same family flock. Depending on when their flock hatched, jennies tend to run six or seven pounds on average, while young jakes can run several pounds more in the heart of autumn, and stand noticeably taller than their female flockmates. Smaller and larger weights might be noted.
Even when young, turkeys are large when compared to other gamebirds. By winter, the visual size difference between flock members is even easier to determine as turkeys grow.
Beyond visual confirmation, turkey vocalizations — kee-keeing, hen yelping, the familiar gobble, etc. — help with identification. In fact, the fall jakes tendency to gobble on the end of a kee-kee (albeit a work in progress) adds to their appeal during autumn and winter hunts.
By definition, a gobbler under two-years-old is called a jake. Two kinds of jakes roam the fall and winter woods: the aforementioned pink-faced males that were born that particular year, and the super jake that hatched more than a year ago on the previous calendar.
8. Youth Hunt Options
More turkeys roam the fall woods than at any other time of the year.
Youth hunts for either-sex birds provide opportunities to introduce young hunters to our tradition. If theyre starting out, consider targeting family flocks composed of birds-of-the-year. If that young hunter is advancing, maybe an adult gobbler should be your target.
Autumn turkey hunts can also be combined with outings for other small-game species such as squirrels.
9. Adult Gobblers Only
Hunt fall turkeys often enough and youll soon learn that adult autumn gobblers sometimes strut.
They occasionally gobble too – especially on the roost. They will sometimes come to your calls, answering a mimicked reply as they do so. While full-fan autumn gobblers arent always as visible as they are in spring, pecking order insists male turkeys settle the daily score with fighting. Youll sometimes see strutting on such occasions. Gobbling on the roost and after fly-down also helps fall toms gather together in their male-only groups.
Calling autumn toms includes the raspy three-note gobbler yelp, simple clucking, and gobbling.
10. Make It Last
One and done? It doesnt have to be that way.
You dont have to tag out on opening day. If time and your schedule allow, let a turkey walk, especially if its a young bird or hen. Make it tougher on yourself. Try for an autumn longbeard. Toward the end of the season, you can still pull the trigger on one of those other birds. Its your call. Have you filled a fall tag? Go out with others who havent. Is your turkey hunting too easy with a shotgun? Take a bow to the fall woods.
Done on your home ground? Its time for a road trip. Chances are a neighboring state has a fall turkey season that might still be open.
— Steve Hickoff