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Spring or Fall? You Make the Call

Sz_photo92208_post_hickoff_photo “Calling a sexed-up gobbler in spring is about as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.”
–Overheard in a Pennsylvania roadside diner in the early 1970s

“Hunting fall turkeys is just too easy. I’d rather hunt spring gobblers.”
–A comment from a turkey seminar attendee in Massachusetts this year

You hear a lot of ideas about turkey hunting getting tossed around these days. Myth or fact, you decide . . .

The turkey hunting tradition actually has its roots in autumn and winter hunting. Before the notion of “spring is for beards, fall is for antlers” came into the minds of modern turkey hunters, flock-seeking sportsmen sought out their game during the woodstove months. Back then some hunters held a prevalent notion that taking a breed-minded gobbler in the spring was easy. Even unfair.

A Pennsylvania native, I first hunted wild turkeys in 1971 at age 12. I can still remember old-timers (guys my age now!) talking about how turkey hunting in the spring was just flat-out wrong. You see Pennsylvania had just legalized spring turkey hunting in 1968 after being closed since 1873. By 1984, a month-long Keystone State spring turkey season was in place for bearded birds, and has been since.

Traditions shift.

What do you Strut Zoners think? Is calling in a sexed-up spring gobbler not as hard as we say or think? Is hunting fall turkeys too easy?–Steve Hickoff

Comments

Levi

All I know is that in my three years of hunting I've managed to get a gobbler each spring without a ton of scouting, but I have worn my boots out trying to get a turkey in the fall. I got one gobbler my first fall, and I should have had one last fall, but he was in my lap and I missed. I haven't been able to bust a flock or blind call to get any in yet.

Steve Hickoff

I've had some luck setting up on roosted fall gobblers and calling them in after fly down, almost always as they're on their way to a food source. That always helps! Whether they strolled into range to the turkey talk or not is anyone's guess.

My fall hunting in states where it's legal like New York (like my pal Gerry Bethge's) has been enhanced since the early 1990s with the use of a well-trained dog to find and flush flocks. Calling autumn gobblers that have been broken up that way is sometimes easier--sometimes not. If you're in the big woods, each single might sail down a hollow, and not return to the flush site for some time.

I've had some early season luck finding small fall gobbler gangs during the mid to late Sept. NH fall archery hunt for turkeys (it runs until Dec. 15). They've gobbled on the return to locate each other.

If only this turkey hunter could hit them with an arrow!

Steve Hickoff

Steve Hickoff

Hey Levi,

I think you touch on the one important difference between spring and fall turkey hunting, especially when it concerns male birds: more gobblers tell more hunters their whereabouts in the spring during seasonal high gobbling periods than fall birds do.

That alone makes spring turkey hunting easier, right?

What do you other Strut Zoners think?

Steve Hickoff

Levi

That's kind of what I was implying/thinking (by no means implying that the spring is easy though, just less difficult). To find gobblers in the fall I have to be out there and slowly hone in on their area based on sign and/or sightings and then set up and wait for them. I spent most of the firearms season last fall going to one particular area and there were always fresh tracks in the same spot so I knew they were there, but I didn't figure out their pattern until near the end of October, and then it was partly luck.

Steve Hickoff

You're right of course: spring can be plenty tough at times too, depending on the turkey.

That's what I love about turkey hunting, fall & spring--the scouting, the piecing together of sign, and the potential payoff.

Like you, I love them both! Sure helps in the spring when that gobbler booms his presence to the world on the roost. Pretty cool in the fall too, though less likely then, though not uncommon if you're out there enough, and it definitely sounds like you are.

Steve Hickoff

Steve Hickoff

BTW, guys, that's my buddy Dodd Clifton of Realtree pictured with those two west Texas Rios.

On that hunt, if I remember right, Mr. D. had the magic touch, and killed a turkey early, while the rest of us struggled to get a bird to work to us.

Clifton sought mercy on me in particular, and dropped me off at his honey hole.

Later that afternoon, I worked a slate and a mouth call at the same time. Two longbeards ripped back, and worked toward me, FAST.

One ran away after my shot . . .

Dodd killed him the next day for his second gobbler of the trip. Both are pictured here.

Steve Hickoff

Steve Hickoff

Yo Dirty!

You must be huntin'?

Steve

Dirty

Maaaaan, I tell ya, I guess I gained some weight cause this walkin is about to kill me! I've got a freezer full of tree rat's and a few rabbit's, I've been walking out new land line's we leased (about 240 NEW acres), putting up posted signs and purple paint. We got land here, there, and everywhere. Saw 3 hen's and about 20 poults (quail size) on a new 180 acre plot we just aquired. I'm back in my native state of Arkansas now and I love it. Yall huntin yet?
Dirty

Steve Hickoff

Yo Dirty!

Bow turkey. New Hampshire. Still carryin' the tag. Season ends Dec. 15! Plenty of time. Shotgun seasons open up in October across the northeast, and I'll be road trippin' then.

Looking forward to it!

Steve

Dirty

Archery opener for turks here, Oct 1-Feb. 28. Limit one turkey of either sex. You fella's got me yelped into this fall turkey huntin, but I'm gonna have to fill these whitey tag's first, UNLESS one happen's by the stand during my bow hunt's. Good Luck to all, and God bless!!!!!!!!

Dirty

Steve Hickoff

Thanks Dirty. Nice long season there eh.

You know some guys over the border in New Hampshire take their bow turkeys from treestands while waiting on Mr. Whitetail. (Season for both is Sept. 15-Dec. 15).

Or they miss their birds that way!

Good luck,
Steve