By Josh Boyd
While sitting against a towering oak on a crisp autumn morning, a distant sound becomes audible. As you strain to decipher from which direction this sound is originating, it becomes apparent that a raking and churning of leaves underfoot is almost certainly the source.
In time, this scratching of leaf litter becomes louder and intermingled with the robust sound of intermittent gobbler yelps. This revelation sends your heart into a sprint as you realize that these toms are closing the gap quickly as they feed. Then as if out of thin air, a group of six rope beard clad gobblers materialize from the woodline.
With the morning sun glistening off of the iridescent feathers of the toms as they feed, you shoulder your shotgun while being painstakingly careful to avoid detection. With a steady hand, and a smooth but confident trigger pull, the report of the shotgun signals the conclusion to yet another extraordinary day afield.
Experiences such as these, highlight the abundance of splendid opportunity that fall turkey hunting has to offer. Although many associate turkey hunting with the spring of the year, fall turkey hunting offers its own unique set of circumstances and opportunities.
One thing that all forms of fall turkey hunting have in common is that scouting is crucial. Unlike spring turkeys who appear to move about with little in the way of forethought, fall flocks of turkeys are usually highly routine oriented. Although some deviation regarding times and courses of travel can vary daily, fall flock’s roost sites and preferred food sources tend to stay fairly consistent.
Because of this, a hunter is wise to scout an area prior to heading afield. One viable way to conduct these efforts is by glassing fields and pasture ground. With a quality set of binoculars, a hunter can situate themselves atop an elevated vantage point and assess the comings and goings of individual flocks.
Additionally, a hunter can locate likely fall turkey roost sites by carefully listening during the sunrise hour at fly down. By listening carefully in areas of high turkey densities, the sound of fly down cackles and assembly yelps are often audible. The knowledge of roost site locations allow a hunter to situate themselves within close proximity to a flock’s core area.
Once thorough scouting has been conducted, an individual can formulate a strategy and take to the woods in an effort to bag their bird. Favored fall turkey hunting strategies are numerous and can be highly variable by situation.
During the fall of the year, turkeys tend to be heavily flock oriented. Toms are often found together within singular groups of four to eight members. Likewise, jakes during the fall group together as they attempt to sort out their own pecking order hierarchy. Groups composed of brood hens and their poults are often a common sight during the late summer and early fall months as well.
Because of the fall turkey’s flock minded mentality, a hunter can base their strategy off of the knowledge of a flock’s need for social interaction. Weary fall turkeys can often be lured within gun range by mimicking the natural sounds that are expected to be heard from their flock mates.
While a fall turkey hunter should not expect to call birds from great distances, as they potentially could during the spring season, turkeys can often be lured just close enough to facilitate a shot opportunity at reasonable distances.
Many hunters also find success when attempting to scatter a flock and then call its members back together within gun range. This can be accomplished by disrupting a flock either in your own effort, or with the use of a specially trained turkey dog where legal.
Once a flock has been scattered, a hunter sets up in the approximate location where the flock had been initially located. After a wait of ten to twenty minutes, turkeys are then lured within gun range through a series of hunter issued yelps and kee-kee runs.
As flock members attempt to communicate their location to one another in an effort to reassemble as one unit, they are unknowingly responding to the hunter’s calling, thereby bringing the flock within acceptable distance for a shot.
An alternate means of fall turkey hunting strategy takes a route that closely resembles that of deer hunting. When prior thorough scouting has been conducted, a hunter’s observations can serve them well when attempting to choose where to set up on any particular outing.
With a working knowledge of the day to day travels of a flock, a hunter can properly position themselves in an attempt to intercept turkeys along their route.
While this might not be the most action packed standard of fall turkey hunting, it is certainly a highly effective way to fill a tag.
Since turkeys during the fall of the year are typically operating on a consistent pattern, if an individual spends multiple days in a predetermined location laying in wait for a passing flock, the probable odds of being afforded a shot opportunity are high.
High impact areas to focus your efforts when applying a sit and wait approach include, field edges, favored spots for crossing under fences, acorn producing oak stands, and ambush points in close proximity to roost sites.
Some states now have archery deer seasons and turkey seasons that run in parallel with one another. If your state features coinciding season of this nature, this can also become an optimal way to bag a fall turkey. Because turkeys often traverse the same trails and frequent the same areas as deer, this creates the potential for a multi-species outing.
Perhaps one of the greatest attributes of fall turkey hunting is that it is a diamond in the rough. Although the spring of the year is renowned as the true turkey season by many, for the longbeard fanatic, the fall offers ample opportunity to scratch an ever present turkey hunting itch.
As the first chill of fall begins to linger in the air and the leaves turn crimson, don’t miss your chance to experience all that this often overlooked turkey hunting gem has to offer. If successful, not only will you be eating your own turkey this Thanksgiving, but you will be giving thanks for the multitude of new memories made while afield as well.