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Hunt Fall Turkeys Now

hroughout the year I spend a great amount of time in the presence of turkeys, most of which are the feathered kind. I hunt real turkeys in the spring and fall, photograph them throughout the year and observe them almost daily. I hunt them with a passion born more than 40 years ago during the first spring turkey hunt ever held in California. I believe I was the first outdoor writer ever to hunt turkeys in this state, and while that’s not much of a claim to fame it has given me something to write about repeatedly. My output includes dozens-- heck hundreds--of stories about turkey hunting and two books on the subject. They are Hunting Wild Turkeys in the West (published in 1990) and Successful Turkey Hunting (published in 2014).

But that’s enough about me. In this column I simply want to point out that the annual fall turkey season is now up and running. It started on November 12 and will go until December 11. The limit is one turkey of either sex per day, two per season.

I do not believe that fall turkey hunting in this state draws as much attention as the spring season does. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, there are several other hunting seasons that are open now, including waterfowl and upland game. By contrast, in the spring, turkeys are the only game on tap unless you count wild pigs which are hunted all year. Spring hunting is also somewhat different than hunting in the fall, and some hunters would say it’s more exciting, although that’s open to debate. During the spring breeding season the goal is to lure tom turkeys into take home range. Normally that’s done mainly by reproducing some of the sounds turkeys with different calls made specifically for that purpose.

Turkey toms and hens, by John Higley
In the fall season hunters can take both hens and toms. Pictured here are hens photographed recently in Shasta County. Photos by author.

Fall turkey hunting is a bit different in that either sex can be taken and calling, while useful in some circumstances, is not as effective. In the fall, finding the turkeys in the first place is a chore. Because they are in winter flocks they are not as widespread as they are in the spring. Several adult hens with nearly grown young females, and, perhaps, a few jakes (young toms) will gather in large groups. There will also be smaller bachelor bands of adult toms. Meanwhile, jakes that are not with the hens will also be on their own.

John Higley with turkey, by John Higley
Author Higley with a young tom turkey he got during the fall season last year.

The hens and their nearly grown young of the year are obviously smaller than the toms. However, they are more numerous, and my guess is they make up most of the harvest. My own preference is to take a young tom or adult hen instead of a big tom at this time of the year. The smaller birds fit nicely on the barbecue, and I’d rather call in a big tom during the spring. But that’s just me.

adult toms, photo by John Higley
Although they do not come to a hunters’ calls as readily adult toms like these are part of the fall hunting experience.

As I indicated earlier in this piece, fall flocks are not as prone to come to calling as springtime birds are. However, the turkeys will answer calls on occasion and give their location away. When that happens I try to get set up along their travel route and wait. Because I can’t resist, I usually call a little, which I believe helps to keep the birds coming in my direction.

I’m fortunate to have a couple of places to hunt during the fall, and in-between storms you can bet that’s what I’ll be doing. I’ve talked to a few other hunters who are determined to take a fall bird. If they’ve done their homework, and know where there are some turkeys at the present time, chances are at least fair that they’ll succeed.

Remember the second phase of the coming Iead ammo ban in California went into effect in July. In part, it requires that non lead shot be used for turkey hunting. Before you go, make sure the shot you plan to use meets the new requirement and that it’s safe to shoot through whatever type of choke you have on your shotgun.

In closing, I talked to a lady the other day at the Sportsman’s Warehouse store in Redding and she said she hoped to get a fall turkey for Thanksgiving. I hope she does too. If I get one it will be after the so-called turkey day and that’s all right. Wild turkeys are good table fare anytime and the holiday season is upon us. Let's see, how about a Christmas turkey or New Years or-----.

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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