As I write this, the weather forecast for the next few days is "iffy." I have every hope and intention of being in the woods Monday at dawn to chase the big birds. But if the wind is blowing 40 miles an hour, and rain is pouring, I will forego the pleasure and stay home.
A couple inches of snow in the fall turkey season are a boon to the turkey hunter. Their tracks and scratchings show up vividly. Finding the tracks and scratchings will apparently be the big issue this year since in every place in the woods, on the area Gamelands where I have been so far this year, I have yet to see my first acorn or beechnut.
When the mast crop fails in a year, turkeys have to keep on the move to find a food source, some little pocket in a hollow where a few oaks have been able to spill acorns.
So more than ever, turkeys will be raiding cornfields so hunting them in proximity to corn and other grain fields will be most productive. Small game hunters who have been pursuing grouse, rabbits or squirrels this early fall will have a leg up - so to speak - on where to begin looking for the big birds. No doubt archers have run into more than one flock as well.
As a rule, in the fall, the mature longbearded gobblers - the ones that drove you crazy in the spring with their gobbling and evasive tactics - keep themselves separated from the flocks of hens and young.
They take no part in rearing the young birds through the summer and they don't much want to be annoyed by the screeching and scratching of young turkeys in the fall. If they keep any company at all it is with other longbeards.
However, if food is scarce, they may be found traveling with flocks, or at least nearby, in any location, such as a cornfield, where they can find something to eat. Nevertheless, there are some things to know about hunting the big, old extra-suspicious mature gobblers.
First of all, they seldom respond to the same calls that hens and young do. Old gobblers are not very talkative in the fall; they are not interested just now in attracting hens to themselves. So the high-pitched yelping and kee-kees (the lost calls of the young birds) are largely ignored by the big boys.
The most common fall hunting tactic for fall turkeys that has been proven down through generations is to "Find em' then scatter em.' " Turkeys are gregarious birds and spend their lives together as a flock, feeding, walking and generally softly yelping back and forth to keep in touch. If anything - a fox, a coyote, or a hunter comes upon a flock and sprints toward them to attack, the birds panic and fly/run in whatever direction they were pointed when they were startled.
Once a hunter has successfully scattered a flock of turkeys he next selects a good sport - right at the scatter site - pulls on his camouflage mask and gloves, gets his diaphragm call ready and waits a few minutes until things settle down.
Young birds, separated from their hen get panicky when they can't find "Mama." They begin to screech out what that hunter recognizes as the lost call of a young turkey - the kee-kee run. If the hunter can duplicate the sound of that call and he wafts it out in the air convincingly, the young turkeys will usually respond by making their way to the source of the call they hear which is the site from which they were scattered.
When a hunter finds an area that shows recent use by turkeys, he can set up shop right there and wait, counting on the fact that if turkeys have found food there, they will return to it. I often use this method and as I have said previously, I have a one-man chair blind with me.
I unfold it in less than a minute and sit comfortably while I wait. The blind masks any slight movements I might make and that is a big asset to me.
If you are lucky enough to bump into several gold gobblers together and you can get them scattered from one another, the game is much different. They may decide to reassemble with each other or they may not. It may not call to the other birds for another day. It's a tough business now. And they do not, as a rule, respond to the kee-kees and shrill yelps of hens and young that are trying to find each other.
The longbeards are suspicious of every leaf that falls. Thinking every shape or shadow they see is an enemy, if they call to one another at all it is usually with deep clucks or a few, slow-paced yelps. They usually will approach a site slowly, cautiously, perusing everything before they take the next step. It is a stressful time to the hunter to await the approach to within gun range of a big, old gobbler.
The choice every turkey hunter just make in the fall is whether or not to take the first turkey he has a chance at (which is most likely going to be a hen or young bird) or to hold out for a big longbeard. Much depends on how patient he knows he can be and how much time he has to devote to the quest. Many hunters start the season determined to hold out for the gobbler. Our resolve to hold out usually crumbles like a stale cookie when we run into the big, noisy flock in the woods. I am a crumbler; I don't have near the time to hunt fall turkeys that I would like to have so if I want wild turkey for Thanksgiving I take the first one I have a shot at. Sometimes I'm also out hunting for my Thanksgiving turkey on Thanksgiving Day.
I'm thinking that just might be the case if we get the predicted hurricane weather that is threatening us just now.