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Fall Turkeys: Why the Best is Yet to Come

In states like Massachusetts and Maine, you're done—fall turkey season over. Fortunately, for many hunters around the country, fall turkey hunting—and the very best time to hunt fall turkeys—is about to arrive. Why? Here are 5 reasons to forgo a time or two on your favorite deer stand and get a bird in time for Thanksgiving:

1. Predictable Patterns
On my hunting club property in the Catskills of New York, myself and several hunting partners have worked a single flock of turkeys for several weeks now. Initially, they would be roosted on a ridgetop every other or every third day. Now, you can almost bank on them being in the same roost trees each morning. To date, we've taken 3 birds from the flock--1 gobbler, 2 poults and 2 misses. There's no doubt that we won't be able to fool them into coming to the same spot each day we hunt them, but at least we've got some birds to work.

2. Food, Food, Food, Food
favorite food source available in the least supply is likely where you will find both turkeys and deer. Here is a case in point:
Several seasons ago, Kris McGrath and I were headed into the fall turkey woods a couple hours after first light when we spotted a flock of birds (jakes) out in the middle of a field of goldenrod. The birds were picking so hard that they never even noticed our woods' road driveby. We parked my truck, snuck into the woods more than 200 yards away and set up. Amazingly, the birds responded instantly to the first series of jake yelps. Within seconds, they were on their way and Kris dumped the lead bird. When I cleaned the jake, I pulled an honest-to-God, softball-sized wad of grasshoppers from his crop. In retrospect, it was obvious why those birds were where they were. We happened upon the first hard frost of the season. The slow-moving hoppers were easy pickings for those turkeys which filled up on the high-protein bugs before instinct told them that hoppers would be gone until next summer.

3. Survival Mode
Northeast turkeys were hit with a nasty surprise last week in the form of snow. It was a bit early for a measurable snowfall, but there's no doubt that the turkeys have taken the hint. Frosty mornings slam the points home harder—it's time to pack on the pounds and there is safety in numbers. I've found that as soon as the weather begins to take a turn for the worse, you can bet that a busted flock of birds will be far more responsive to recalling. This is, of course, true of family flocks, but even gobblers will respond more readily. Break up a flock when the temperatures drop to freezing or below, and you can bet that birds will begin recalling within 1/2 hour of breakup.

4. Secret Weapon No. 1: The Evening Roost Bust
There have been innumerable times when, after striking out on birds for most of the day, I decided to swap out my shotgun for my bow and go deer hunting for an evening post. Of course, that's when I'd spy a flock of turkeys heading to roost. And that's the absolute perfect time to go into full turkey hunting mode. Sit, wait and listen. As darkness descends, you will begin hearing birds flying into nearby trees. Try to think like a turkey who wants to get off the ground and out of possible predator danger while it can still see. Disregard those early roosters and listen for several birds to fly up. Once you've heard several birds fly up, get out of that deer stand and get in amongst the birds. The goal here is to disperse the roosted turkeys in as many different directions as possible. Then, either take a GPS reading or find your exact setup tree and get there at least 1/2 hour before first light. The colder the night, the louder the turkey calling will be the next morning and the faster those birds will want to re-group. It's a killer tactic.

5. Secret Weapon No. 2: The Morning Roost Bust
Okay guys, remember that this is not spring hunting. Bust a bird off the roost in the spring of the year and you're most likely done with that bird for that morning—if not for several days. Do the same thing in the fall and you're in Fat City. If you hear a bird fly off and sense or see (birds silhouetted on the limb) that you're amid the flock, keep walking and spook them all. Once you've busted the majority of the group, take a seat against a tree, wait 1/2 hour or until the first bird begins recalling. Mimic every sound that bird makes and wait.

Bonus Tactic:
If you've shot one bird from a fall scatter/recall, and you can legally take another or are hunting with a partner, avoid the urge to claim your kill. If you're confident that you've killed your bird, sit tight and call like you've never called before. It may take several minutes or 1/2 hour, but you can take multiple birds from the very same setup if you're patient.

—Gerry Bethge



Steve, After filling my two MO tags in one day in early Oct, I went back to my home state and farm in Illinois. I hunted 4 days before I busted a small group in the predawn morning off the roost. I called in an adult hen about an hour after shooting time. I love seeing them run to you! And yes, my heart started to race. I still had one tag and decided to target toms only. Walking to another section of the farm, I hear gobbling. I drop down in the creek and work my way to the gobbling. I climb the bank, sit next to the first tree, and as soon as I cluck on the slate, I get a "jake gobble" from immediate behind me on the other side of the creek. Next I hear cluck-purring from the gravel bar in the creek. I turn my head to spot a half grown poult and hen! I clucked purred back and forth with her for the next 5 min. Never saw or heard the gobble or any other birds. She worked away from me and went up the bluff. As she did, I get a gobble from that direction. I gobble back and get a gobble answer. Later that same morning, I hear the same gobble (4 times) sound on the west side of the property. After setting up,I called in the same poult and hen. Needless to say, I was equally as stunned as the first time. So was the half grown poult gobbling or was the hen? I love the turkey woods, always something new!

Steve Hickoff

Hey Joe,

That fall jake was gobbling, no doubt about it.

Sounds like you've had some great fall turkey hunting. Is this fun or what?!

Thanks for checking in,