Get out there and ride to find fall turkeys now (NWTF media photo).
By Steve Hickoff
The autumn turkey season may be weeks away where you live and hunt, but you can start scouting in late summer. Family flocks with birds of the year, gobbler gangs and broodless hen groups are established in areas now. They stay there or move, conditions depending.
So hop on your Yamaha ATV or Side by Side, and get out there and look for them. Some fairly predictable seasonal changes follow here.
Late Aug.-Oct. 1: Around the country right now turkey flocks are feeding on insects and loafing in the shade. Ranges might be as large as 1,000 acres—or more. You’ll see them one day and not the next. Watch them frequently though as seasons approach and you may establish a pattern. Listen for late-summer and early-fall flocks on the roost, just before daybreak and the phase of time right after. It’s then you’ll hear the most flock talk. After fly-down, they may grow silent. Check for the usual telltale evidence in tracks, molted feathers and dusting areas as well. Plot your hunt to come.
Oct. 1-Nov. 15: This is the heart of fall turkey hunting around the country. Many flocks will still hold in their established patterns of movement and feeding. Now’s the time to make good on all that planning. It’s time to take a bird for your Thanksgiving table. As hunting fall turkeys goes, you can scatter gregarious birds before trying to call them back to the gun or bow. You can simply wait on patterned turkeys. Before leaf drop, flock members you scatter may simply sit in trees until visual evidence in the form of another turkey walks up beneath their limb. They may not call much. After leaf drop, they will call and move through the woods and fields, visually keying on the area they last saw their group. Chances are it’s near a favored food site.
Nov. 15-Dec. 15: This phase signals a shift in food sources. Up north, birds may transition from fields where they’ve bugged to the woods for hard and soft mast (acorns, berries, etc.). You may think they’ve disappeared. Nope, they’ve just shifted preferred feeding zones. If you still have a tag and the seasons are open, get on them. Winter’s coming. Birds of the year are much bigger.
Dec. 15-New Year’s Day: If a turkey season is still open where you hunt now, look for fall jake (juvenile gobbler) groups that have moved away from family flocks. They’re fun to hunt, call a lot and even gobble a bit. Food sources might be concentrated, and you’ll find a lot of turkeys there if so. If nuts are widely dispersed, birds might be harder to find right now. As they say, that’s why they call it hunting.