Kenneth Kieser: What big gobbler tactics will work best this fall?
Big fall gobblers are independent. Some older birds prefer to be alone and are most content when feeding. They love a big, open field where visibility is unlimited.
After all, a big daddy bird reaches three or four years by being cautious in a world where almost every other creature in the woods wants to dine on his succulent flesh.
SETTING UP A FALL HUNT
Start by determining their roosting areas, and then set up trail cameras set up late at night between their roost and food. This not only shows what gobblers are in the area, but using a camera allows me to find long beards without spooking them. They are cautious enough at best.
Roost areas are found by listening in the evening for heavy wings flying up in trees. Generally, these birds were discovered by scouting fields with a good pair of binoculars and then observed walking into a certain section of woods.
Some hunters walk through the woods while the birds are feeding and find roost trees that are easily visible by the white splatters of turkey droppings on the ground. Keep in mind that gobbler droppings are J-shaped. Then determine where they are feeding and set up between both areas.
I have pushed gobblers that were feeding on acorns while blundering through the woods. Many have been taken by this method. Most sit and listen when the turkeys are gobbling. When you find a feeding gobbler, remain motionless and observe until the bird goes to roost. Then you can determine where to set up the following morning. Hunting fall gobblers is a chess game.
When you accidentally spook gobblers off their roost, set up there. When legal shooting time comes, use fighting purrs every three to five minutes with an occasional gobble. Include a few gobbler clucks. Continue for 20 minutes and then stay silent 20 minutes with the exception of a gobbler’s yelp every five minutes. You will likely bring an old gobbler in to watch the fight.
You can sometimes hear a big bird crunching leaves when approaching. Of course, all deer and turkey hunters know that squirrels make crunching sounds in the leaves too. Big birds seem to materialize when you least expect anything but a pesky squirrel.
Hunters can easily find big gobblers with good binoculars or spotting scopes after a frost when grasshoppers are dying and cannot move. This important food source becomes easy prey for gobblers. They are busy stuffing themselves with insects and some hunters feel this is one of their most vulnerable times. They are easily ambushed coming out of the field in areas with definite signs.
Signs are important when choosing ambush spots. Look for locations that include signs from different times. Areas with signs from a week before mixed with fresh signs are good bets. Signs may include tracks or droppings.
Water is the first place to look in big woods. Limited water areas give you a good starting point for scouting. Check each water hole for tracks, brush them out and return a day or two later to see if gobblers are visiting that area.
The late Steve Custer, a fishing and turkey hunting guide from Clinton, Missouri, watched the shorelines for big gobblers watering. He claimed that certain big gobblers returned to the same areas every day, unless they were pushed out of the area. He scouted out their food source and set up in the middle for many successful fall gobbler hunts.
Most experts agree that rainy days are the best times to hunt for fall gobblers. Turkeys don’t like sounds made by rain dropping in the timber. They move to open fields and feed on grasshoppers or seed. This is an excellent time to scope them out and set up.
Hunters with turkey calls are often their own worst enemy. You might be surprised how easy it is to over-call fall gobblers. I observed the big fall bird only making two light clucks in a 20-minute period. His calls were soft and very content. Most hunters call often and too loud. Dominant fall birds don’t.
“I use the same method for coyote or fox when working a fall gobbler,” said David Hale, co-host of Knight and Hale’s Ultimate Hunting’s television show and spokesman for Knight and Hale Game Calls. First, you have to intercept the gobbler in his area en route from roost to food and continue with light gobbler clucks. Don’t try to get in a calling contest with a gobbler in the fall. They simply are not that vocal. Just be where the gobbler is going.”
You can be slightly more aggressive with sub-dominant birds. The big boy I watched only wanted sunlight and food. He was happy and likely content to be alone. I might have drawn him with a similar light, contented gobbler yelp, just one. I should have tried but hesitated because my stalk was going well.
Some of the best fall hunters make one gobbler cluck every 15 minutes and then watch and listen.
Try scratching two- and three-note yelps on a box call every 15 or 20 minutes,” said Brad Harris, a veteran turkey hunter. “This may draw a gobbler in your area to see if another is moving in his territory. But you may sit for hours.”
Remember that younger gobblers make the same sounds as older birds. Younger gobblers will make yelps like a hen. Older gobblers yelp sparingly when lost, while younger birds yelp aggressively. Dominant birds will have broken two- to three-note yelps. Tone and volume are basic, but the older bird is generally deeper in sound.
Hunting fall gobblers may be one of hunting’s greatest challenges. Try it and you will get an education.
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.