Fall turkey hunting. Well, some say it’s not as exciting as the spring version, but maybe it’s not all about the thundering gobbles and full-strut toms. Fall is more of a numbers game—an ultimate test of your skills as you battle an untold number of paranoid eyes. Turkeys are always turkeys, but fall hunting poses unique challenges. It’s also highly rewarding—the ultimate time to strengthen your calling vocabulary by listening to abundant hens. A hen turkey can be one of your best teachers afield, and she’s the most vocal in the fall woods. It’s not hard to find a large fall flock to set up on and call to. And most of the time, you will get an ear full.
Where To Find Fall Flocks
I said it’s not hard to find them, but that only applies if you know a few key things to look for. In the Midwest, where the landscape is dominated by hardwood forests and crop land, I look to the trees to find big fall flocks. What I look for are tall stands of conifers (evergreens), like pines or cedar trees, that turkeys will most likely use when the weather turns harsh; this kind of cover is known as “thermal cover.”
Think about it like this: You are a turkey looking for a place to roost for a long winter’s night. Do you choose the large oak as a roost tree (where we often find turkeys in the spring), or do you take shelter in the needle-filled limbs of a tall pine? Oaks, as well as other hardwoods, lose most their leaves in the fall, while evergreens (as the name implies) hold their leaves/needles all year long. Find thermal cover close to a food source and, if turkeys are in the area, there is a good chance they will make an appearance. One other thing that pine stands are good for is the pine straw on the forest floor; it’s great for turkeys because they will spend much of the day scratching and picking for food—mostly the bugs that live in the pine straw.
Weather plays a larger part in this strategy. The colder the better! I’ll see more turkeys in this area of the forest when the temperature plunges. With that, always remember to not let the weather talk you out of hunting. Good or bad, you can’t kill anything without leaving the house. I’m not a fair-weather hunter and never will be. I hunt every opportunity I get; forget the weather. I can’t stress it enough: Every minute spent hunting is a learning experience.
To Shoot Or Not To Shoot
Now that you’ve found turkeys, you need to decide if you are willing to shoot a hen, or if you will wait for a tom. In some cases, the decision may have been made for you by your state (check your local hunting regulations). I like to hold out for a tom as long as I have time for, and that varies from year to year. Waiting gives me a better chance to see more turkeys and spend more time practicing my calling. Most years I’ll see hundreds of hens and poults, sometimes each day. Being in the woods with that many turkeys can only do one thing for your calling—make it better.
Listen And Learn
Like most people, when I started turkey hunting I was not very confident in my calling, but I found a way to change that. Three things you will get out of fall turkey hunting are: A. You’ll hear a lot of “turkey talk.” B. You’ll learn how to talk back. C. You’ll become a better turkey hunter.
Ask any contest caller and they will tell you that the best teacher is a real, live hen. I know some callers who keep live turkeys around just to learn from them. I listened to every CD available to learn, and some aren’t too bad, but they can’t beat a wild turkey’s authentic sounds in the woods.
I live for the fall turkey season. There isn’t much better than getting into a yelping match with an ol’ boss hen. I love to sit and play games with hens (maybe they are really playing games with me). All I know is that it has helped me become a better caller. It’s plain fun, and helps to pass the time waiting for a tom to stroll by.
As the years have passed, I have become a successful contest caller, but that alone doesn’t make me a better turkey hunter than anyone else. However, calling is indeed a large part of turkey hunting, and realistic calling will help you master the game.
Bottom line: Fall turkey hunting helped me improve my calling and boost my confidence, and it will help you, too. But keep in mind, just because you are a good caller doesn’t mean you will kill every turkey you call to. And no matter how good you are at calling, remember that situations still arise where calling too much can destroy a hunt. Over-calling can be especially damaging in the spring, but during fall hunts you can typically get away with more. Keep your cool, work the birds, and remember to soak up the soundtrack of fall.