Late one afternoon last October, I sat in full camouflage with my back against a large black oak and a shotgun across my lap. My hope? To tag a turkey. Behind me and to the left, I heard the faint drone of a two-cycle engine. The sound grew louder. In seconds a four-wheeler bounced into view. I recognized the driver.
“Hey!” I yelled as he drove by on a logging road, 20 yards away.
The driver turned my way, came to a quick halt, and cut the engine.
“I didn’t know you were in here,” he said. “You turkey hunting?”Tur
“Yes,” I replied.
“I love spring turkey hunting,” the fellow answered. “But I don’t fall turkey hunt—too much like target practice.”
“Target practice?” I thought to myself. “We must not be hunting the same turkeys.”
In fall, any turkey is legal game. Typically, hens and their young make up the bulk of the fall population, so you are more likely to tag one of them. That might seem easier, but many of those hens have outwitted predators for several years, and the young turkeys have incredible vision and reflexes.
Hunting turkeys, spring or fall, involves the same keys to success: locating turkeys; knowing where to set up to call; being patient; knowing when and when not to call; knowing when and when not to move; and shooting straight. To consistently tag turkeys, anytime, you have to do many things right.
This time of year, hens usually are running in flocks with their young, often up to 30 birds in all. Gobblers are flocked together in groups of up to 12 or so. One proven way to hunt turkeys in the fall is to locate one of these flocks, rush in and scatter the birds in different directions, then set up close to where you scattered the birds and call them back—taking advantage of the turkeys’ strong flocking instinct.
You’ve got to get close to the birds for an effective scatter. If you see the birds from 100 yards away or more and run at them, they will likely run or fly off together and have no reason to come back to your calls. You’ve got to get within 50 yards of a flock for a good scatter. That takes experience and woodsmanship.
It’s almost necessary for you to spot the turkeys before they spot you. A good pair of binoculars and knowing how to use terrain to hide your approach helps. Even so, getting close enough for a good scatter without being seen by any of those sharp turkey eyes is not only tough and challenging, it can be impossible.
Sometimes hope is your best tactic. For example, if you spot a flock of turkeys in the middle of a large harvested grain field and there are no terrain features that will hide your approach, you just have to wait and hope the flock moves toward the edge of the field, where you can scatter them.
The action that follows successfully scattering a fall flock of turkeys can be as thrilling as having a spring tom gobbling, strutting and drumming as it works into your calls. Let’s say you scatter a large flock, and the hens and their young fly off in all directions—which is already pretty exciting.
You immediately sit down, and within 30 minutes the forest comes alive with the “kee-kees” of young birds. You call, get an immediate answer and face the bird with your gun on your knee. Then another turkey calls directly behind you. Which bird will work in first? Who knows?
You remain facing the first bird, and the one behind you comes in. You can’t see it, but its calls and the crunch of leaves lets you know it’s within shotgun range. You’re not facing the right way, however. You feel your heart beating in your neck as the bird gets closer and closer.
Finally, craning your eyes to the left as far as possible, you see the turkey standing five yards away, neck stretched and wary. Even though you haven’t moved, and are in camo head to toe, the turkey sees you as something out of place and walks off.
Then an old hen in the bunch starts yelping as does another one. The young birds that were responding to your calls now respond to the hens. The hens gather up their brood and the woods falls silent. You peel off your face mask and just shake your head. That doesn’t sound like target practice to me.
Reading articles can make you a better turkey hunter, but you have to be able to successfully apply what you read. In others words, get out and hunt. There’s no substitute for experience.
Fall is the perfect time to gain experience. This is one of the special joys of fall turkey season. October offers crisp mornings and pleasant midday temperatures. Hardwoods flush with brilliant oranges; reds and yellows please the eye. Even if you don’t hear or see a turkey, sitting in the woods on a beautiful fall day is a reward in itself.
The season is long, and you can hunt all day or even after work if you have a nearby hunting spot. Don’t forget to use your time in the woods to scout for game. While listening for turkeys calling from the roost at dawn, for example, you might hear quail whistling and get a bead on covey locations. While walking through the woods, you might notice a pond that wood ducks are visiting or run across some buck rubs and scrapes.
October is a busy month for many hunters. Spreading fall turkey season over the entire month of October, and allowing hunters to kill their season limit of two birds in one day, enables hunters to enjoy fall turkey hunting without having to sacrifice their other favorite fall pursuits. The all-of-October season provides more opportunity for hunters and makes the best hunting month of the year even better.
All turkeys are legal game in October. A hunter walking through the timber making realistic turkey calls sounds just like what the hunter around the next draw is hoping to shoot—a turkey. If the caller on the move is in full camouflage, the hunt could end tragically.
Hunter-orange prevents accidents in which a hunter is mistaken for game. When up and moving in the turkey woods, always wear a hunter-orange cap to let other hunters know you are not a turkey. When you set up to call, stow the orange hat and put on your camo hat, face net and gloves. If you bag a turkey, wear your hunter-orange cap—and an orange vest if you have one—as you carry the bird out of the woods.
Scout before hunting to learn where turkeys are feeding in the evening and where they tend to roost. Pick a quiet late afternoon and enter the timber making as little ruckus as possible. Call sparingly to turkeys as they travel to roost. If you fail to call in turkeys, listen carefully. You should be able to hear wing beats as turkeys fly to roost. When the turkeys are in the trees, walk into the area and scatter them. Often they fly in all directions.
In the fading light, find a good place to call from at the roost site and then return in the morning. The turkeys, even gobblers, often call and reassemble quickly first thing in the morning.
One of the greatest rewards of fall turkey hunting is the food you harvest. There is not a wild creature in Missouri that makes a better main course. You may at first be disappointed at the amount of meat in a juvenile hen turkey compared to what you get from a mature gobbler, but the meat is tender and succulent. Young hens weigh 6 to 8 pounds, and jakes weigh up to 12 pounds. Either provides enough breast meat to feed a family of four or five for a meal.
One way to get more meat out of a young bird is to make use of the bird’s thighs and legs. This simple recipe converts any tough turkey meat into good eating.
Spoon the meat-rich gravy over mashed potatoes and serve with corn, green beans, biscuits and pumpkin pie for a delicious meal.
Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair
Art Director - Cliff White
Writer/Editor - Tom Cwynar
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Ruby
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler