Sitting with my shotgun on my lap, I heard the sounds of leaves rustling under the feet of a flock of turkeys. I quickly raised my gun and prepared for the shot. As the group of birds broke through the thick brush, I put my bead on the first bird I saw and pulled the trigger. The rest of the flock started to fly, but one remained flopping on the ground. The bird was just what I was after—a young hen.
It was the middle of October and I was hunting fall turkeys with Mick Bowman, a Knight & Hale Pro Staff member and my caller for this hunt. Coming out of the brush alongside me, he smiled and shook my hand. He knew I was here for a hen because I wanted to make a wingbone call—a young hen’s bones make a great mouthpiece for the call. In the fall, it is legal to take a hen in most states and in the states that have an abundance of hens, I will gladly take one.
Most people associate turkey hunting with the spring when toms are gobbling and strutting their stuff for the hens. Over the last several years, hunting turkeys in the fall is something I have grown very fond of. After all, Thanksgiving is in the fall and there is something special about walking out of the woods with a gobbler or hen draped over your shoulder as the leaves are changing color and the moon is full. For hunters who haven’t chased turkeys in the fall, there are a few tactics to use to get within gun or bow range of a flock of turkeys. The preferred tactic for most hunters is calling them in. It’s possible to call turkeys in during the fall, but the method is different. Gobblers don’t come running to calls like they do in the spring.
The most successful way to call in toms and hens is to break up a flock and call them back in. I have seen this method work well several times. Simply sneak up on a flock of turkeys that are bunched up and run towards them as they are feeding or wandering through the woods. If you can surprise them successfully, they will take off flying in several directions. In states where it is legal, hunters often train dogs to do the flock busting for them.
Once they have left the area, set up where you busted them up and start doing loud yelps. When a flock gets split up, the boss hen will start calling the young of the year and other hens to her. If you bust up a flock of hens, calling them back is relatively easy. When calling to a flock of hens and young birds, do a few kee-kee run calls. This is a high-pitched yelp that young, immature turkeys do when they call. If you aren’t a good caller, it doesn’t matter, young turkeys aren’t either and they often make mistakes.
When the turkeys take off after being spooked, they usually don’t fly far before landing. When they hear a hen yelping, they typically start yelping back and come into your setup. In many cases, if you can shoot more than one bird in the fall in your state, it is possible to call in a few birds from a busted flock and harvest more than one bird. If the flock gets busted up again before you can shoot a second bird, the flock can typically be called back in after they spook. Hens are very vocal and easy to call in after they are separated.
The same practice can be applied to flocks of toms. It is not uncommon in the fall to see large flocks of toms together. Once a flock is broken up, the easiest way to call them back to you is to use a super raspy diaphragm call that has a low pitch. If you are trying to sound like a tom, yelp slowly since they don’t yelp as fast and as high-pitched as hens.
I enjoy bowhunting fall turkeys. In my experience, the best way to harvest a turkey in the fall is to pattern them like you would a whitetail. When going after a fall gobbler with my bow, I try to figure out where a flock of toms roost, where they feed, and which travel routes they regularly use. After figuring them out, I sit and wait for them at a feeding spot or near their roost area. When using this method, I rarely call and prefer to wait them out. Fall turkeys have a regular routine after you realize that getting a shot at one can be easy. One way to determine what time of day turkeys are using certain areas is to place a scouting camera near a roost location or feeding area. If your camera clock display tells you what time the turkeys arrive daily, you know when you need to set-up.
Nothing beats tagging a cocky spring gobbler, but harvesting one in the fall can be very enjoyable. I enjoy patterning a flock of birds as it reminds me of patterning deer or other big game. Whether or not you like calling, patterning a fall turkey, getting out in the fall, and chasing America’s favorite game bird is a lot of fun and is a great way to spend an autumn day.