It’s easy to overlook fall turkey hunting opportunities. I’m guilty of it myself. When the whitetail rut kicks up, there’s no place I’d rather be than in my favorite treestand with bow in hand, waiting on a big buck to slip up. While I do stuff a diaphragm call into my hunting pack, just in case I hear some yelps in the distance during the overlap in seasons, turkeys typically take a backseat to my bowhunting pursuits this time of year.
That seems to be the case for many hunters across the commonwealth as the Pennsylvania Game Commission recently reported drastically fewer hunters targeting fall turkeys over the past several years. With archery hunting’s explosion in popularity – especially since the addition of crossbows to the toolkit, more and more hunters are choosing to spend their time chasing whitetails than tail feathers.
But that doesn’t mean exciting turkey hunting can’t still be had by those who score on a buck early, or anyone willing to forego deer hunting forays to put their time into finding the flock.
It can be extremely thrilling to play a cat and mouse chess match with a vocal group of fall birds, especially when food sources are abundant, causing birds to congregate in a specific area.
Oak flats and cornfields can be an enticing draw to turkeys late in the fall when vegetation and insect life is in short supply, so if you can locate a feeding zone with fresh sign (scratching and droppings), it is likely birds will stick around while the getting is good.
This is the perfect opportunity to stake out an early morning ambush. Quietly enter the area prior to first light and hunker down in some cover with quality camouflage.
Listen for the birds to start chattering from their nearby roosting location as the sun peeks above the horizon and give them a few sleepy yelps to keep them talking until fly down. I like to emulate whatever the birds are doing on a slate call, knowing that purrs, kee-kee runs, cuts and slow yelps are usually what sparks their interest.
Be patient and keep the communication lines open until the flock is on the ground and heading your way, then switch over to a mouth call and stay ready. I like to use a .17 HMR for fall turkeys because it allows me to be selective and take shots from a distance. As the flock approaches, try to pick out a gobbler if at all possible and make your shot count.
It is possible to locate and break up a flock, and then call the birds back in for a shot – something I typically reserve for mid-day outings – but to me, an early morning hunt is more exciting and successful because of how vocal birds generally are right off the roost.
Besides, it provides more time to tag the bird, field dress it, and shower up in order to get back into the deer stand for an afternoon sit when anything can happen at any moment. Even at a time when most hunters are fixated on whitetails, fall turkeys deserve hunters’ attention too. They can be a lot of fun to hunt, and they’re out there for the taking.
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