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
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
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:
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
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.