Yamaha Outdoors Tips — Hunting Fall Turkeys

Steve Hickoff tagged this Maine fall gobbler last year by calling up the entire vocal flock and choosing the bird he wanted. (Steve Hickoff self-timer photo)

By Steve Hickoff

As hunting strategies go, there are some traditional fall turkey approaches: you can passively wait for patterned wild turkeys to show up in range (calling optional). Do so either on the ground, in a blind, even from a treestand, or simply find a flock and attempt to scatter them on foot — then call them back. You can also locate once-silent turkeys and call them to your position.

Why these tactics? Patterning turkeys to see where they roost and feed can put you in range. Also relying on the fact flocked turkeys stay together by definition, you can separate birds then set up to call them to your setup position. They’ll return. Trust me. 

In the latter scenario, separated birds want to regroup — especially autumn family flocks. Yes, it seems contradictory to find then scare individual flocked turkeys into flight (ideally in different directions; moving groups of birds together won’t work as well; aim to separate individuals). This relies on the chance you won’t be in good shooting range, but close enough to rush them on foot, or use a trained dog where legal. 

Plus there’s nothing quite like a bunch of autumn turkeys hunting down your calling position. Wait on them. Scatter them and call them back. Call them to you after locating birds. It’s all good.

CALLING TURKEYS

Fall or spring, wild turkeys call to contact flock members, to vocalize a sense of well-being, and to express alarm at a predator’s presence. Fact is they talk on a daily basis. 

Roughly thirty call distinctions exist, while less than half of these are applicable as hunting calls. Some hunters tag birds regularly with only clucking and yelping. Others use as many calling vocalizations as possible.

Calling turkeys is an interactive game where the hunter speaks the language of wild birds to coax that quarry into range. As calling fall turkeys goes, imitate their vocalizations by age and sex to evoke a response from the kind of individual bird or flock you want to hunt.  

In family groups, young birds-of-the year respond to kee-kees and kee-kee-runs. Brood hens use assembly calls — a long series of yelps — to gather separated flock members. Adult gobblers and broodless hens (the other two types of fall flocks) communicate with raspy yelps (gobblers), and higher-pitched yelps (hens), as well as clucking. Yes, male fall turkeys gobble, too. 

You can imitate these vocalizations with the mouth and friction turkey calls on the market. Instructions for use are often provided, and time with the turkeys will help you master these tools.

Call softly, or aggressively, situation depending. Wild turkeys call to communicate in the wild, and at times, almost any turkey sound the human hunter makes chances at luring a curious bird in for a look. (Or not.) That’s the calling game. You need to interpret what you’re hearing from live birds to successfully imitate them.

Even if you don’t use the range of available calls, hearing live birds afield can clue you in to what might happen next. It helps you think like a turkey.

CLOSING THE DEAL

Your shotgun should be camouflaged or have a dull finish to avoid detection. It should also deliver a tight pellet pattern at optimum shooting range (20-40 yards). With wild turkeys, body shots are out. Aim for the head and neck to drop that bird cleanly. Know your gun and the loads it shoots.

If you hunt with a bow, get the turkey even closer: 10 to 20 yard shots are ideal. Use a blind to conceal your movements. Time your shot on a calm standing turkey in range. Your arrow’s broadhead should be turkey specific for solid flight and serious cutting diameter. 

The effort here is to know what your gun or bow will do, and take that fall turkey cleanly.