Different seasons, different styles of hunting

Fall turkey season opened on Saturday to a miserable weather day that kept many hunters, including me, at home.

Spring and fall turkey hunting methods differ so drastically one could think he was hunting two separate species. Even those methods used within fall season can vary a lot, depending on whether you are hunting for a hen and her young of the year, a flock of “jakes” (1¢ year old gobblers) or on the mature longbearded gobblers.

Turkey hunting is never easy, spring or fall, but going after a fall gobbler is, at least in my opinion, the toughest challenge you can ask for in the autumn woods.

The first step is to locate turkeys. The simplest way is to still hunt through the woods looking for places that gobblers have scratched in the leaves in their search for nuts, seeds, insects, bulbs etc. Gobblers scratch in large patches, usually in a straight line, right down to the bare earth, Hens and young scratch willy-nilly along on a ridge, leaving it looking as if someone had worked it over with a yard rake.

Once you have found an area where turkeys have been feeding, you have a couple choices: sit down right there and wait for turkeys to come feeding along again. Of course, that could take hours or days so unless waiting patiently for endless hours is your strong suit you won’t enjoy this.

More than just staying put is involved. You must sit absolutely still. Turkeys have the keenest eyes in the woods and will spot the slightest movement long before they are within shotgun range. So if you fidget or scratch or shift positions, waiting in ambush for turkeys is likely to be a fruitless adventure.

Perhaps a better method is to still hunt along slowly watching ahead for a flock as well as listening for the sounds of their scratching. Just a few turkeys scratching in the leaves can sound like the infantry on maneuvers.

Once a flock is located, the fun begins. You can’t hope to sneak close enough to get a shot so the next move is to so startle and unnerve the flock that they will run or fly in several directions. Most hunters scatter a flock by running toward them, sometimes shooting into the air.

For safety’s sake, don’t fire into the flock. That may cripple or wound a bird which you don’t want to do at this point. Fire into the air, where there is no chance of hitting another hunter that you haven’t yet seen. If you are using a rifle, forget the scare shot altogether.

Once a good scatter is effected, your calling ability counts. Pick a spot right there is the same area, sit down against a big tree and get comfortable, pull on your camouflage face mask and gloves and pull out the mouth calls and wait about 20 minutes. Then begin to call.

You can use yelps but if you know this is a flock of hens and young ones, use the whistle or call of the young turkeys . These are the frantic calls they use as soon as they realize they are alone and wish desperately to locate the other members of the flock.

This call is called the kee-kee of lost young birds and is often called the hardest call to make. In fact, it is nearly impossible to make it on anything but a single or double (no more than that) reed mouth call.

Theoretically, the turkeys will be frantic at being separated from Mama and so upon hearing your kee-kees will come looking for you. It works more often than not, and I have bagged a bunch of birds by using this method but It is not foolproof. Any number of things can happen to bollix the plan. For instance, if the old hen starts calling, the birds will recognize her and rest assured they will go to her.

Mature gobblers, however are loners. They aren’t traveling with the flocks of hens and young. They will ignore the kee-kees.

But if you do get close enough to a small band of gobblers they can be scattered. Their reassembling process is somewhat different from those of young birds. Wise old gobblers that have been scattered are not frantic to get together. They may reassemble within the hour or wait for days.

If you elect to try for one of the big boys you’ll have to play the waiting game. Wait for at least an hour before you begin your calling (unless you hear one of them calling) and then call sparingly with slow, deep-toned yelps and clucks. Stay constantly alert for these guys love to come sneaking in, often without answering your calls at all. They delight in just suddenly appearing right in front of you and you didn’t see them coming.

Calling in a turkey to your scattergun is exciting stuff. It takes some practice to be good enough to fool a smart bird into thinking you are his mama.