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Columnists : Wild Turkey
Last Updated: Feb 22nd, 2007 - 18:37:03

Fall Wild Turkey Hunting Tips
By Jonathan Harling
Dec 20, 2006, 06:00

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Fall Turkey Hunting Offers Fun, and Sometimes a Great Centerpiece
A plump, juicy turkey is a popular center piece during dinner during the holidays. While most people purchase their birds down at the local supermarket, others prefer putting a bird on the table by testing their woodland skills against one of fall’s most cunning creatures– the wild turkey.

Finding Wild Turkeys
Wild turkey flocks are much more silent during the months when trees make the woods ablaze with yellows, oranges and reds. Unlike spring, turkeys are driven by food in the fall rather than the need to reproduce. Therefore, one of the most challenging parts of fall turkey hunting is finding birds.

According to Dr. James Earl Kennamer, National Wild Turkey Federation senior vice president for conservation programs, scouting food sources is one of the best ways to find turkeys in the fall.

“Like all wildlife during autumn, turkeys are preparing for the coming winter,” Kennamer said. “So the best way to find them is by learning their food sources and why they are feeding on them. All turkey hunters should be able to identify at least three preferred foods.”

During autumn, turkeys feed primarily on hard mast dropped by oaks, beeches and maples, as well as other trees that produce nut-like seeds. There are also varieties of soft mast such as hawthorn, dogwood and crab apples available in the fall.

However, trees don’t produce every year, so the trick is to know the foods turkeys prefer and to find which foods are available.


The NWTF’s Turkey Hunting Safety & Success curriculum is available as a two disk CD-ROM and DVD set with videos, lessons, articles, tips and PowerPoints for visuals to help people become better hunters and reduce turkey hunting incidents. To order the two disk set, click here.

The curriculum is offered to hunter safety instructors free of charge and will supplement more than one million pieces of hunting safety information developed by the Task Force and distributed by the NWTF since 1991.

Some of the foods that turkeys’ prefer in the fall are:

  • American Beech
  • Grape
  • Oak
  • Black Cherry
  • Crab apple
  • Hawthorn

However, turkeys are opportunistic feeders. They will eat almost any seed, fruit, nut or insect that can fit down their throats.

“It’s pretty simple,” said Bob Hotchkiss, USDA-NRCS NWTF liaison. “Find the food, find the birds.”

Burn it Up
Looking and listening for signs of turkeys feeding by burning shoe leather is another way to find birds.

“Turkeys range over a large area searching for food, especially in the fall and winter,” said Bryan Burhans, NWTF director of land management programs. “Where you find birds one day, may not be where you find them the next or the next.”

Look for long scratch marks in the leaves to show where turkeys have been and often where they will return. Some hunters set up and wait for birds to swing back through feeding areas, but the most popular tactic in fall turkey hunting involves busting flocks.

Scattering birds by running toward them and yelling is a common fall tactic, but you should never run with a loaded firearm. Another way to bust a flock is by sneaking as close as possible and shooting into the air.

While it’s important to scatter the birds in many directions, never forget safety should come first, and if shooting above them, be careful not to cripple a bird.

If successful in busting the flock, set up in the vicinity and wait until you hear the birds trying to re-gather by making shrill whistle-sounding kee kees and yelps. If not, don’t give up. Mark their landing area, then quickly follow the birds and try again.

Fall Calling
After busting a flock, sit down and start calling. The most common lost calls are the kee kee and the kee kee run. Boss hens also use the assembly yelp to gather flocks.

“Often hens and young birds will return to calls right away, especially if you sound like the boss hen,” said Rob Keck, NWTF CEO. “While mature toms usually take longer to come in, they will occasionally come right in as well.”

Another tactic is to wait until the birds start calling and simply mimic the sounds they make. The most common fall calls are the kee kee and the kee kee run, whistle-like sounds made by young turkeys, and used by older hens to gather their flocks.

Equipment
During spring, the woods are exploding with new life, but in autumn, forest colors darken as trees go dormant. Camouflage needs to reflect that change to be successful.

Be sure to dig out your most drab camouflage to blend into the grays and browns of the fall woods.

The hunters’ blind is also useful in the fall. With less vegetation to use as cover and birds flocked together providing more eyes to see movement, blinds can be the difference between going unnoticed and getting seen by a bird that slipped in from behind.

However, a broken in, comfortable pair of boots is probably the most important piece of fall hunting gear. Be sure to pick boots that will keep your feet warm as the weather cools, but never forget the old adage, “a pound on the foot is worth two on the back.”

The Ultimate
One of the attractions of fall turkey hunting is that in many states both males and females can be taken – check your state’s harvest regulations.

“Taking gobblers in the fall is the ultimate,” Kennamer said. “Doing it requires patience, knowledge of turkeys and more than just a little luck.”

Characteristically, adult toms make very little sound in the fall, so if you bust a bachelor group, call sparingly. It’s best to use gobbler clucks with just a few raspy yelps mixed in, but you have to judge each situation separately.

Whether you’re working a mixed flock or a group of toms, stay still and patient, it takes time to bring turkeys into range.

 

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