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Connecting with Fall Turkeys

nyone who reads my stuff on My Outdoor Buddy knows I write about turkeys and turkey hunting quite often. That’s because I’ve been involved in that pastime for over 40 years, ever since the first spring season in California in 1971. I got my first tom on the first day of that hunt in San Luis Obispo County one of only nine counties open at that time.

I’d like to say that I called that big bird in, but that wasn’t the case. I bumped into him and five more toms on my way to get some lunch after hunting all morning. Oh well, regardless of how I got the tom, I knew I was hooked for good. I’ve been an avid turkey hunter ever since.

I enjoy the challenges connected to the whole process.

3 hens, photo by John Higley
Three hens I photographed in the fall when turkeys of either sex can be taken, photo by author

My favorite time to hunt turkeys is in the spring, but the annual fall season is upon us and who am I to sit this season out? Weather permitting, I’ll be out there at least a few times looking for a fall turkey to bring home. By the way, the season runs from November 14 through December 13.

The limit is one turkey of either sex per day, two per season.

As is the case in the spring, the first ingredient in the recipe for success is to hunt somewhere where you know there are some turkeys. I say that because in the fall the turkeys usually gather in flocks and they cannot be everywhere at once even in the most ideal habitat. The flocks normally consist of adult hens with poults (including young females and possibly a few young toms called jakes), flocks of jakes without hens and bachelor groups of adult toms that usually hang by themselves. The different groups intermingle at times, often where there’s food of some sort, but they eventually go their separate ways.

In the spring calling is a big deal. That’s when a tom turkey searching for hens with which to breed will often respond to hen sounds made by hunters and come searching for what he thinks is a feathered beauty flirting with him. Some hunters swear that fall calling can be just as productive as spring, and that may be true to a point. I use calling in the fall primarily to learn the whereabouts of a traveling flock, usually hens and poults, whereby I try to get in front of them and wait.

Flock of fall turkeys, photo by John Higley
One way to get a fall turkey is to intercept a flock as the birds travel from one location to another. In that scenario a bit of subtle calling may help seal the deal by bringing the birds into shotgun range.

Sometimes I call a little to egg them on and occasionally it works. I have also had good luck at times calling to jakes, which I often can identify in advance by the throaty tone of their yelps.

One approach to successful fall hunting is for the hunter to rush a flock of turkeys, usually hens and their nearly grown poults, and to set up nearby and call them back when they commence to regroup. This really works, providing the scatter is complete, and the turkeys do not depart in the same direction. Scattering normally takes some quick movement over uneven terrain and because of that it should never, ever be done with a loaded gun in hand. Never!

A lot of things play a part in the success of a fall turkey hunt beginning with your access to turkeys at this time of year, weather conditions and the available food supply. Where they’re hanging out may be dictated by which groceries they’re scarfing up at a particular time (acorns, manzanita berries or whatever).

Mark Higley with fall jake slung over his shoulders, photo by John Higley
My son Mark with a fall jake he took in the foothills of Shasta County a couple of years ago.

There’s much more to fall turkey hunting than I’ve covered here, but the main thing is for us to get outside and participate in the pastime while we can. The season is several weeks long and it’s only just begun so there’s still time to collect a wild turkey to put on the table on Thanksgiving, Christmas or anytime you can. We’re not talking Butterballs here. Wild turkeys are not broad breasted, but they lack for nothing when it comes to taste.

I roast most of the wild turkeys I kill traditionally in the oven. I stuff them with sliced apples and some onion slices and cook the dressing in a separate casserole dish. The turkey is placed breast up on a rack in a roasting pan. There’s water or chicken stock in the bottom to help keep the bird moist and catch the drippings for making gravy.

Also, I tent the turkey with foil and baste it often with chicken stock infused with melted butter.

Another thing I’ve done is roast a turkey in a turkey size brown in oven bag. At 325 degrees it takes 10 to 12 minutes per pound to roast a turkey using any method. I remove the turkey from the oven when the meat reaches 165 degrees, and allow it to sit without carving until the internal temperature rises to 170 degrees.

Obviously, this is not a cooking column. It is mainly to encourage you to get out while the getting out is good, and see what you can do with turkeys this fall. Soon I’ll practice what I preach and, yes, I’ll let you know how I do.

Author and writer John Higley is a resident of Palo Cedro. His articles have appeared in outdoor magazines hundreds of times and his columns appear regularly at Higley has written four books the latest of which “Successful Turkey Hunting” was published in May, 2014 by Skyhorse Publishing in New York. This hard cover, full color book is being sold at Barnes and Noble Book Stores and on Amazon. Autographed copies are available direct from John Higley, P.O. Box 120, Palo Cedro, CA 96073. Cost is $28.95 postage paid.


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