Photo by Lon Lauber
Before Butterball, a fat wild turkey taken in fall was the centerpiece of many Thanksgiving tables. This year, honor the holiday's heritage by playing Pilgrim and hunting a fall bird of your own. The basics of a fall turkey hunt aren't all that complicated, but I've learned a few moves over the years that'll help give you an edge. Here's how to bring home a turkey dinner for your whole family to enjoy.
Before you can kill your bird, you need to find a bunch—and scare the heck out of them.
Illustration by Jason Schneider
Walk in the Woods
By now, flocks will have moved into the forest where they spend the days feasting on nuts. In the Northeast and South, concentrate on stands of oak and beech trees; out West, pines are the place to find fall turkeys. Make your way through the woods at a snail's pace while keeping an eye out for fresh sign in the form of scratchings and scat. But don't watch the ground all the time or you'll surely get busted. Use compact binocs to glass for birds feeding in the distance.
Bust a Move
You'll rarely be able to stalk close enough to get off a killing shot, so when you see a flock, use whatever cover is available to creep in as close as possible without getting spotted. Try to get within 50 yards before you make your move. Once you feel like you can't get any closer, sprint for the middle of the flock. To bust it up, make as much noise as possible. Yell, whoop, clap your hands—whatever it takes to get the flock flying in all directions.
Sit a Spell
After all that excitement, take a well-deserved rest. Once the birds have scattered and are out of sight, find a comfortable place to sit at the break site and face the direction most of the birds flew. Pull up your camo mask and let the woods settle down for a few minutes.
Listen and Learn
Often the turkeys will tell you when to start calling. Within 10 to 15 minutes, you should start to hear the locator yelps of lost hens and the high-pitched whistling, or kee kees, of young-of-the-year birds. Mimic the calls you hear note for note, or respond with a long series of as many as 10 or 12 loud yelps. If the woods are still silent after 15 minutes, stay put and keep calling. Sometimes it can take up to 30 minutes or more before a fall turkey finds its way back into shooting range.