There’s probably no better time to introduce young or new hunters to turkeys than in fall. Here are seven ways to go about it.
Scouting for turkey sign is a great teaching tool. It’s a puzzle many of us love to assemble. While scouting, the mystery of decoding these clues is an important part of the hunt. It’s fun. It’s addictive.
Leaf scratchings — fresh or old, in the woods or on field edges — show where turkeys have fed and often what they’re eating. Tracks tattooed in mud, big or small, indicate a gobbler gang or family flock. Dusting bowls often represent where fall turkeys stop to loaf. Droppings in many variations — often but not always J-shaped for gobblers, popcorn-shaped for hens and smaller for growing juvenile birds — are critical for studying turkeys. Molted feathers, too.
Tip: Slow the pace as you scout for sign. Linger on the details. Enjoy the scouting process. Ask the young or new hunter, “What did we learn from finding this?” Piece the puzzle together.
CIRCLE OF LIFE
Young gobblers and hens run with flockmates and their brood hen. Gobblers ghost through the woods together, long after the spring breeding season. You see it all in fall. You can detect many changes since spring. Remembering henned-up hunts, you’re more grateful and accepting of life’s circle. Hens with young charges offer the promise of turkey hunts years down the road. It’s all good.
Tip: Watch turkeys year-round with a young or new hunter. Ideally, start by seeing new poults with a brood hen after the spring season. Without interfering in the daily patterns of family flocks, study how those turkeys grow. Where do they roost, travel and eat? Watch these birds during the shifting autumn season. Observe as the turkeys in an area get together in winter and then as they break up again as hens and gobblers separate, and often leave, during the spring dispersal.
After spring hatches, there are often more turkeys in the fall woods. Mindful of that, wildlife managers schedule and coordinate fall (and even winter) turkey seasons. Often, either-sex turkey options are the norm (always check game laws). Nonetheless, this can still be a teaching tool. Young gobblers are often pink-faced and black-bodied, and they sometimes have visible budding beards during late-year seasons. New hunters can learn to distinguish young hens from young gobblers, even though hens are legal, and shooting one is an option. You can also target adult fall gobblers or even jake-and-a halfs, which often gobbler yelp, gobble, fight and even strut.
Tip: New hunters can take a legal either-sex turkey or practice selectivity with fall birds, letting some walk.
TURKEY CALLING VARIATIONS
As a rule, you call like the fall turkey you want to call in.
Fall offers many turkey calling variations, and it’s a great learning situation. You can make kee-kees and kee-kee-runs with a mouth call but also a longbox if a diaphragm proves too difficult. Teach new hunters the difference between a deep, raspy gobbler yelp and a higher-pitched hen yelp. Run through other calls, such as assembly yelping, lost yelping and fighting purrs from gobblers.
Show how, when, where and why to make fall calls based on situational tactics.
Tip: Give your young hunter several calls to use. Box calls and pot-and-peg options are often easiest for beginners. Let them call when you hunt.
On fall hunts, the traditional approach is to find and scatter flocks, often on foot, using terrain to get near birds. It’s a fair-chase tactic. Some might say, “Why not just shoot one if you get that close?” Of course, that’s an option, too — but not always nearly as enjoyable, as you’ll likely miss out on the calling aspect of the hunt.
After, you can set up at the break site, conceal yourself and attempt to call the separated birds back into range. To a nonhunter, this likely seems crazy. To a turkey hunter, it’s practical strategy.
Where legal, turkey dogs, which find and scatter flocks, offer an advantage. As with many forms of hunting with dogs, the companionship afield is a big part of it. A dog scatter is a measure of success. The possible kill punctuates the memories. You hide the dog, let the woods settle, begin calling or wait for separated birds to start kee-keeing or yelping. And the sound of multiple vocal turkeys closing in from all directions like the spokes of a wheel is hard to beat.
But there are other options, too.
You can sit in a comfortable blind, with a shotgun or bow, and wait for patterned birds to arrive. Turkey tag in your pocket, you might want to take advantage of deer and fall turkey seasons that coincide, trying to arrow a turkey from your tree stand. In some states, slowly walking a ridge with a rifle, where legal, is part of the fall turkey hunting tradition.
Tip: Stay legal. Hunt safe, with fair-chase strategies. Teach these practices to young and new hunters. Be a good example. Follow the letter of the law. That’s how you play the game right.
IT’S TURKEY HUNTING
Turkey hunting is something we share. Pass it on. Turkey hunters are family, and everyone who attends the annual NWTF Convention and Sport Show in Nashville, Tennessee, knows that. This meaningful excitement begins each year in February and rises during spring turkey seasons. And it continues in fall for many of us.
Turkey hunting is turkey hunting. Teaching the basics is the same in fall as in spring.
Pattern guns, and arrow 3-D targets. Teach gun and bow safety. Describe how to make your setup at the base of a broad-trunked tree. Note the difference between hens and gobblers. Teach how to know sure killing range from unlikely and crippling ranges. You can teach these fundamental basics before, during and after fall turkey hunts. And refreshers with certain aspects are always in order.
Tip: Hunting isn’t always killing. But the many wonderful aspects of our tradition can be enjoyed year-round. Becoming and being a turkey hunter is a lifestyle. Attend NWTF banquets and events with new hunters.
Eating wild turkey extends the hunt. And there’s no better time to do this than Thanksgiving, a national holiday centered around turkeys.
Thanksgiving. It’s a time for reflection. And for being grateful. And for enjoying family and friends.
Also, some states offer fall turkey hunts on Thanksgiving — another way to celebrate the hunt and the holiday. (Check hunting regulations to see if your state does.)
Tip: Have your children or new hunters spend time with you as you prep a wild turkey for cooking. This starts in the field, right after a bird is taken. Breast out the meat. Keep the thighs and legs. Even wing meat can be cooked and eaten. Go further, and save the heart, liver and gizzard. All can be cooked, and you can reserve a turkey broth from the process. Take the wing bones to build yelpers. Use the feathers in the many ways we do, including as fly-tying materials. Give thanks for the wild turkey by using it.