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Connecting with Fall Turkeys

John Higley author's badge,

udging from the number of wild turkeys I’ve seen recently in my travels around Shasta County I’d say fall hunting will be fair, if not outstanding, this year. It all depends on the number of turkeys in the area where you’re hunting, and on your understanding of the fall hunting process, which varies slightly from hunting in the spring. The turkeys are still turkeys, of course, but they behave somewhat differently in the fall because they are not in the breeding mode as they are in spring.

During the spring breeding season you expect to hear plenty of turkey talk on nearly any given day as the toms interact with hens. In the fall the turkeys still talk routinely but for reasons other than breeding.

The hens vocalize to gather flock mates, refresh the pecking order and to keep track of their broods. The toms, usually in separate small groups of like males, will converse for similar reasons. Of course, as is the case with turkeys all year round, there are times when they are quite vocal and times when they’re not. In late fall and winter it’s not unusual for several adult hens and their young of the year to roam together in flocks that can have dozens of birds. Meanwhile, some of the bigger jakes (young males) will be on their own in separate groups.

Fall flock of turkeys, John Higley,
One way to hunt fall turkeys is to scatter flocks like this and then try to call some of them back. Author Higley prefers to set up in their path, without being seen of course, and then to call to them and see what happens.

One approach to successful fall hunting is for the hunter to scatter a flock of turkeys, usually hens and their nearly grown poults, and to set up nearby and call some of them back when they commence to regroup. To scatter a bunch of turkeys you need to take them by surprise perhaps by running into their midst waving your arms and yelling. The idea is to make them fly or run away in several directions. If they depart together they won’t need to regroup. Remember this. Never, ever perform a scatter with a loaded gun in your hands. That's a recipe for disaster!

At times I still do the scatter thing, but nowadays I prefer to move slowly, call occasionally, and listen intently for any turkey response, which usually comes in the form of plain hen yelps. I then determine the flock’s direction of travel, set up in front of them, and try to rouse their curiosity with a few yelps of my own. Sometimes the lead hen in a flock will come in to investigate and bring the rest of the gang with her. If there happens to be a jake in the group, and I have a clear shot, I’ll take him home. Hens are fair game in the fall but jakes are a little bigger and perfect, in my mind, for barbecuing. If you’re dealing with a flock be careful of your shot placement. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of all the birds at once, and the danger is you’ll accidentally kill more than one at a time.

Mark Higley poses with a fall hen,

Turkeys of either sex are fair game in the fall. Here author's son Mark poses with a fall hen he got in Shasta county a couple years ago. Photos by John Higley

Some hunters would rather take adult toms in the fall than hens or jakes, and that’s okay too. Toms can be called in the fall much like they can in the spring, providing you know where they roost and can be set up close by when they come down in the morning. Instead of typical hen yelps, try gobbler yelps, which are lower pitched and slower paced. Depending on the situation, you might want to toss in some cutting and fighting purrs to stir them up. The toms are constantly reestablishing the pecking order among themselves, and they will often come in to challenge an intruder, which might as well be you.

With so many other hunting opportunities in the fall it’s hard for some hunters to concentrate on turkeys. However, once you’re out there with them, you may discover that you like fall turkey hunting at least as much as hunting in the spring. The general season this year opens on November 8 and runs through December 7. The limit is one turkey of either sex per day--two per season.

To my way of thinking, a wild turkey makes the perfect main course for a Thanksgiving dinner, or any other dinner for that matter. It won’t be butter ball fat but it will be just as good.

Author and writer John Higley is a resident of Palo Cedro, CA. His articles have appeared in Outdoor California and other fishing and hunting journals. He is the author of three books: “Hunting Wild Turkeys In the West,” “Hunting Blacktail Deer” and his newest, with JJ Reich, "Successful Turkey Hunting" (Everything you need to know about: Slate Calls, Diaphragm Calls, Friction Calls, Shock Gobble Calls, Turkey Behavior throughout the Season, Woodsman ship, Camouflage, Guns and Loads, Decoys and more.)

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