If you served your family a farm-raised, store-bought, hormone-injected turkey for Thanksgiving, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. You’re a hunter, aren’t you? You probably have lots of birds in the woods you hunt, and most states with healthy turkey populations offer a fall season. That’s all the motivation you need to go out and bag your own.
If you’ve never tried fall turkey hunting you’re in for a treat. It’s a challenge, all right, the ultimate test of woodsmanship, hunting skills and perseverance. It’s also highly addictive. When you call in that first fall bird, you’ll be hooked. Are you up for it?
The most difficult part of any fall turkey hunt is finding birds. They gather in flocks and gobblers rarely gobble this time of year so you’ll have to rely on woodsmanship to locate them. Scour the woods for any sign of turkeys, especially scratchings. That’s where turkeys turn over leaves as they search for acorns, insects and other food. If you find fresh scratchings and droppings, you are in the right place. Turkeys can wander throughout the day, but they tend to stay in the same general area if the food sources hold up.
Even better, hit the woods at first light and ease along ridges and near creeks, two places turkeys love to roost. They may not gobble, but they are vocal. Listen for the unmistakable yelps and clucks of a flock of young birds, especially at first light or right before dark. Turkeys will call throughout the day, but they aren’t nearly as talkative as they are when they are on the roost.
Once you locate a flock, you then need to scatter the birds. A great way to bust a flock is to walk under roosted birds in the waning hours of daylight. Turkeys, especially young ones, will be anxious to regroup the next morning and are highly vulnerable to calling. Bumping them off the roost at first light can also be effective. If birds are already on the ground, get as close as possible and run directly at them.
The key, no matter when you bust them, is to scatter the flock instead of scaring it. The difference? A scare is when all the birds fly off in the same direction. When that happens, you’re in trouble since they have no need to regroup and it can be all but impossible to pull an entire flock to you. When they all scatter, or even if one or two birds peel off from the main flock, you’ve overcome the biggest obstacle to success.
If the entire flock scatters, just find a big tree and sit down right there. However, if a few singles break off, get between them and the main flock and be patient. It may take 10 minutes or it may take an hour but eventually those scattered birds will start to call in an effort to locate each other. When they do, start talking back. Fall turkeys use a variety of calls, but one of the most common, at least after they’ve been scattered, is the lost call, known in turkey hunting circles as the kee-kee run. It’s most often used by impatient young birds urgent to regroup. The kee-kee is a rapid series of yelps that starts coarse and ends in a high-pitched whistle.
You don’t have to master the kee-kee run. In fact, the beauty of fall birds is that they are pretty forgiving and will respond to even the most basic turkey calls. A few yelps is often enough, but if you aren’t sure which calls to use, simply mimic the sounds of the real bird that is working its way back to you.
If you get a response, get your gun up and stay ready. Make a good shot and you’ll have a nutritious, tasty and meaningful Christmas dinner. Your family will be proud of you.