Harvesting a fall gobbler takes planning, technique and possibly a touch of dumb luck.
September is the time to scout for your October hunt. Use stealth in finding feeding or roosting birds. Spooking the birds could change their habits, so sneak around the edges of fields of woodlots and listen or glass areas with your binoculars. Taking a fall gobbler is likely a combination of planning and some luck.
My last fall gobbler was the product of luck. I had spotted several wild turkeys around a northern Missouri field and decided that my chances were good to at least take a hen or pout.
I received permission from the landowner several days before and started feeling that excitement that makes me return to the woods year after year. I knew the turkeys constantly returned to feed in a certain field.
I planned my hunt according to my experiences and what other experienced turkey hunters had told me. First, I would spot the birds, lay down my shotgun, then run towards the flock while making lots of noise to scatter the birds. Then I would settle in and wait a bit before using a series of kee-kee run lost bird calls to bring in a lost bird for an easy kill – simple.
The morning of truth finally arrived. The October sunrise promised a crisp, beautiful day. I entered the woods totally dressed in camouflage colors of brown and green. I started glassing fields with my Bushnell binoculars. I glassed the most likely spots for three hours before settling against a huge oak tree to wait – or more importantly, take a nap.
My 15-minute nap stretched three hours. I awoke as the sun beat straight down on my facemask. My eyes soon focused on a large gobbler followed by two subdominant gobblers walking toward my position. I raised my shotgun when they moved behind a tree and waited. The dominant gobbler soon stretched his neck from behind the tree and gobbled. I squeezed my trigger and easily harvested the big bird at 20 yards. I would love to give you exact details on how to harvest such a bird, but I only claim dumb luck, except that I was in a place where the turkey wanted to go.
However, I did enjoy an excellent hunt with a buddy several years ago. We traveled to a farm in northern Missouri. The area was covered in row crops. Creeks were lined with white oak trees, a turkey’s favorite food. The gobblers were thick.
We were inexperienced turkey hunters and started walking through huge woodlots of hickory and oak like hunting quail. Our stumbling around did not help the hunt. But finally we returned to our pickup for lunch. We were halfway through a sandwich when my friend gasped. Three big gobblers crossed the road 100 yards from where we sat. Lunch was forgotten and we stepped back into the woods.
We had enough hunting savvy to sit against trees and make some yelps on mouth calls. One of the gobblers walked up behind us and clucked. We froze and waited. Then another cluck from in the brush said another was moving in. Suddenly a big head appeared from the brush and I heard a shot. My friend dropped the big gobbler in his tracks.
That hunt was another case of blind luck. We set up in the right spot and used spring hen calls. The gobblers just happened to respond, but don’t count on this technique every time. Gobblers become darned independent after the spring breeding season.
Many say that gobblers cannot be patterned in the fall because their habits are unpredictable. That is true to a point, but you can make a pretty good educated guess by writing down information gathered on scouting trips.
Start by finding their food source. This will include mast like white oak acorns, corn, soybeans and other row crops. I have watched gobblers peck at apples on the ground. Many claim that they are digging for worms, but I think they enjoy the sweet apple meat.
Grasshoppers are another important source of turkey food. They feed on this source of protein daily. A grasshopper to a turkey is like candy to a kid. Remember that gobblers always visit a field the morning following a good frost. The cold snap will make grasshoppers less mobile and easy pickings for gobblers.
Next you can determine roosting sites. You might find roosts on ridges with plenty of white oak trees. Some visit the woods each evening to listen for big wings flying up to their roosts.
Check for gobbler tracks after a rain. Gobbler tracks are longer, deeper and wider than hen or younger birds. Also look for the J-shaped droppings only deposited by gobblers.
Finally listen to farmers talk about spotting turkeys. Some experts visit restaurants and bring up the subject of turkey flocks. Then they sit back and listen to accounts of huge flocks invading their row crops. You can get permission to hunt during this type of conversation.
Experts claim that fall gobblers are only interested in eating and surviving. Some find small flocks of gobblers, scare them and then call them back with limited clucks and yelps. Others look for gobbler signs and then sit and listen. Some make slight gobbler yelps, some don’t.
Gobblers make very little noise in the fall and so should you. However, note that two-year-old birds tend to be more vocal. Older gobblers don’t seem to care if they travel alone or with buddies. Younger birds are more likely to respond. Make your brief sounds, then sit back and wait, just be where the gobblers want to go.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.