Fall turkey hunting: ‘Lessons Learned’
By Gary Sefton
Henry E. Davis, in his landmark book “The American Wild Turkey,” said he believed anyone could kill a lovesick gobbler in the spring; the real challenge in turkey hunting was to hunt them in the fall. His opinion was voiced in 1949, when his book was published.
A lot has changed since then. I think he could get all the challenge he could stand trying to call up a “lovesick” gobbler in the spring on some of the public land I’ve hunted, but I do agree with his assessment of fall turkey hunting – when it is done right.
When turkey season is open, spring or fall, I’m turkey hunting. I have heard disparaging remarks from the occasional “gobbler snob” that fall turkey hunting is devastating the flock, there is no skill or challenge involved, it is too easy, and on and on. When I ask them how many turkeys they have killed in the fall they usually hem and haw until they finally admit they have never been. One pretty good turkey hunter told me he killed one turkey in the fall and it was so easy he was ashamed of it. He said he just walked up to it and shot it. Well … if you are going to be ashamed of a shot, don’t take it.
Most of the time when I shoot to scatter a flock of turkeys, I could easily kill one or more of them if I shot into the bunch. That wouldn’t be turkey hunting. If I just wanted to eat turkey it would be a lot cheaper to buy one at Kroger.
When I come upon a flock of turkeys in the fall, I shoot into the air and whoop and holler and do everything to get them up and flying. I want them scattered out – the farther apart, the better. When I get them scattered, I’ll scatter them again until I have them as separated and as far from the flush site as possible. I will then go back and set up somewhere close to the original flush site and try to call them back. That is the essence of fall turkey hunting. I wouldn’t think of shooting a turkey in the fall that didn’t respond to calling.
I will say that turkeys are more honest about answering calls in the fall. When they get displaced and separated they are desperate for companionship and they respond to calling with the eager enthusiasm of a lost pup. That is not to say you will take home every turkey that answers your calls. The scattered turkeys are eager for company but sometimes they will want you to come to them as much as you want them to come to you. You just have to keep calling and begging and pleading. I’ve worked one turkey until I had blisters on the roof of my mouth several times. And you don’t know when the brood hen or a flock mate might show up and take the bird you’ve been working away from you.
When I hunt turkeys in December, I have to change my calling strategy a little. The large winter flocks that can contain a hundred or more turkeys can present problems, especially in rough terrain. It is hard to get those large flocks well scattered off the roost and even if they flush in every direction, there are so many of them, they will always land within sight of other flock mates.
When they start talking there is so much indiscriminate calling going on that it is almost impossible to get one bird into a conversation. In that situation, I scatter them the best I can, then jump in the calling fray with my most anguished and forlorn kee-kee runs. I do two or three a minute, pleading for any turkey within hearing range to lead me back to the flock. When hens come part way and start cutting and yelping, trying to call me to them, I hold my ground and answer their calls with more heart-wrenching kee-kees. If they came part way they will usually come on in. It takes a lot of calling in the fall to get a turkey into shotgun range. If you like to call, fall turkey hunting is for you.
This flocking instinct, although still well defined, is not quite as urgent in mature gobblers. A bachelor group of gobblers may try to regroup immediately or may wait until the day after tomorrow to get back together. The males don’t talk as much as the females, so they probably won’t be too vocal when they reassemble, but they will be extremely cautious.
Hunting gobblers in the fall is as tough as it sounds. I believe hunting fall gobblers was the challenge Henry Davis was talking about.
(This article is excerpted from Sefton’s book, “Lessons Learned From the Magnificent Bird.” For more on “Lessons Learned” and archery and hunting books, go to www.targetcommbooks.com)