Fall turkey hunting was the norm in the early to middle 20th century. Spring gobbler seasons were unheard of in the North and mid-Atlantic region until the 1960s. By the 1990s the interest in fall turkey hunting started to wane and by the early 2000s, spring hunters outnumbered fall turkey hunters.
The overall decline in fall turkey hunting numbers is a bit of a mystery and with the drastic fall off, some even questioned the wisdom of having fall seasons.
Should turkeys be hunted in the fall? Should hens be legal game? Can we have both a good spring gobbler season and a fall season? Can the turkey population support both? Fortunately, the answer to all the questions is a resounding “yes.”
Turkeys can and should be hunted in the fall—with the approval of the state wildlife agency biologists who manage wild turkey populations, of course.
How Fall Seasons Are Established:
Most fall turkey hunting states have set guidelines based on the spring gobbler harvest. Increases in spring harvest trends suggest that fall seasons might be liberalized, while declines in spring harvest results in more restrictive seasons or even closures. The fall harvest is managed by setting bag limits, season length, limiting hunting implements and in some cases, limiting permit or license availability. Many state wildlife agencies have developed season structures that are conservative, erring on the side of the wild turkey resource to avoid serious population impacts.
Biologists must carefully monitor population trends and develop seasons that will provide recreational opportunities, and assure that over-harvest will not occur in years of poor recruitment or when food is scarce. Knowledge of harvest numbers is essential for biologists to allow hunting without jeopardizing turkey flocks.
Wild turkey population research has shown repeatedly that the factors having the greatest effect on long-term turkey population growth are nest success, along with hen and poult survival rates.
Hens that survive the fall hunting season and winter are essential to future generations of wild turkeys. They are the source of productive nests and successful broods, which is why wildlife agencies do not allow hunters to take hens in spring.
Give it a Try!
Hunters who have never experienced fall hunting are missing a chance to learn more about wild turkey behavior. Fall hunters encounter the full range of vocalization by brood flocks and flocks of older birds. Calling up a wary brood hen with her jakes and jennies or attempting to coax an old gobbler into range is truly a challenge.