Turkeys tend to stick together in fall for survival.
Fall turkey hunting a challenge
There is one recipe for fall turkey hunting success that flies in the face of almost everything a hunter has ever learned.
While hunters normally try to remain hidden, fall turkey hunters sometimes try to break up a flock of turkeys on purpose before the hunt can begin.
“That’s one of the traditional ways to fall turkey hunt,” says Bill Privette, a retired Episcopal minister and author of two books about the humorous side of turkey hunting. Click here to see his Web site. “It can be counterproductive, but it can work.”
Privette lives in Jacksonville, N.C. He served at Christ Episcopal Church in Springfield for 10 years, starting in 1992.
Hunters try to take advantage of the turkeys’ strong urge to flock together in the fall.
“There is a strong urge to stay in the flock,” he says. “Biologically, it is for survival. Statistically, the odds for survival go up because you’ve got all these eyes looking out for danger.”
A hunter may try to break up a flock and then try to call the turkeys back to his position.
“You try to sound like a lost turkey, too,” Privette says.
But first, a hunter has to know where the turkeys are located.
“If you do your homework and do your scouting, you will know where the turkeys are, where they roost and what fields they are feeding in,” Privette says. “Then you just up and charge in like Custer, yelling and screaming.”
“Some of the guys shoot their guns in the air, but I never did that. I didn’t think it was necessary,” he says. “And you’re telling the other hunters where the turkeys are.”
There is a method to the madness.
“You have to get a good scatter,” he says. “Turkeys have to fly in all different directions. If they fly in the same direction, you are stuck trying to find them again.”
Turkeys tend to come back to the same spot where the flock broke up after about 30 minutes.
“You just join right in calling,” he says.
Fall once was prime time to hunt turkeys, he says. But, competition from deer hunting and other fall activities has made spring the most popular time to hunt turkeys.
Privette says many old-time turkey hunters still consider spring turkey hunting to be unsporting since hunters could use the bird’s reproductive instinct against him.
Mature gobblers stay together after the breeding season in groups from two or three up to 15 to 20, Privette says.
“That’s what I prefer to hunt,” he says. “For the fall turkey hunter, what’s really important are those woodsman skills, reading the sign and locating the turkeys.
“There aren’t that many fall turkey hunters because it’s a little more challenging. But in Illinois, the fall turkey hunting is awesome.”
The following is an excerpt from Privette’s second book, “Bend Over Here it Comes.”
“In fall turkey hunting, the hunter who masters the complete package of hunting skills – woodcraft, turkey behavior/biology, calling and good marksmanship - will dispatch his share of wild turkeys for the Thanksgiving dinner table.
For example, take the time I was hunting fall birds in Cass County. I had not done my homework, pre-season scouting, so I did not know exactly where the turkeys were roosting. I did have a pretty good idea based on the previous year, the terrain and the weather – woodcraft. So I arrived early and sneaked along the edge of the woods at first light, lightly calling and listening. I call that “trolling” and nothing happened.
What to do next? Well, I knew where a pretty creek bottom was located, with wide-open woods and great visibility. I figured it would be a great place to stake out a decoy, sit and call like a small flock of turkeys getting together, (yelps and kee-kee runs, using different types of calls). I proceeded to do just that.
It was still early morning and the birds were in what I call the “gathering together” mode after fly down – turkey behavior. With appropriate fall calling, they might be interested in checking me out, if they were close enough to hear me.
I started calling, first copying a small flock, then like a lost young turkey, and pretty soon, a young gobbler arrived behind me and answered my calling. Next, it saw my decoy, proceeded down the hill and began to get acquainted with it. The bird was so close that I could not move or get a good shot. No problem. I realized I had a live decoy to help me out and I took advantage of the situation. I continued to call and before long two large flocks of turkeys arrived. Lovett Williams calls this behavior, “social curiosity.”
Now, I had turkeys on the hill beside me. More turkeys behind me. One naïve jake in front of me. All the turkeys were talking and we were having ourselves a convention. In less than 30 minutes, I had gone from not knowing where one turkey was or hearing any turkeys, to being completely surrounded by at least 50 birds. It was quite an event. I felt like one of the family, too. (By the way, I have used this “fake fall flock” technique several times and it works.)
When I finally decided to shoot the young jake, he who hesitates is lost. It spun around before I could pull the trigger, ran back up the hill and joined the flock behind me. The flock on top of the hill beside me decided not to come down in the bottom and they proceeded to disappear slowly over the crest. The flock behind me departed, too. For a second, I figured I was out of luck. The penthouse to the outhouse in less than five minutes.
But, my experience in hunting kicked in and I realized that I could get up, climb the hill beside me without being seen, and arrive at the top and surprise the flock up there. I proceeded to do just that. I quickly got up and quietly climbed the hill, which was about 40 feet high and not too steep. When I nearly reached the top, I slowed down, hunkered over on my belly and peeked over the crest.
Spread out before me were at least 50 turkeys, maybe more, scratching leaves and pecking acorns. I sized up the birds, aimed at the biggest one, pulled the trigger and tumbled a dandy longbeard. The turkeys did not know what had hit them. Of course, the rest of the flock exploded into the trees and canopy overhead. Some flew away. Others landed in nearby trees. It was quite a sight.
I retrieved my Thanksgiving bird and headed home. In retrospect, woodcraft, calling appropriate to time of year and day, knowledge of turkey behavior, marksmanship and luck all contributed equally to my success. I rest my case.
Furthermore, I do not ever remember reading about this situation in a book or magazine or seeing it on TV. I was able to bring home a Thanksgiving turkey because I had hunted turkeys long enough and had learned enough to size up the situation and make appropriate decisions when I needed to.
I knew where to locate turkeys, even though I not scouted them or roosted them the night before. I knew to keep looking for them even after I had heard nothing and they did not return my calls. I somehow knew to locate myself in the creek bottom, sit, wait and call.
I knew not to panic when the jake arrived and I did not have a shot. I knew to continue to call with the jake right in front of me and messing with the decoy. Heck, I knew to stake out a lone hen decoy. I have never read in a book where you do that in the fall!
I knew to use the terrain and slip up the hill undetected once the turkeys had disappeared over the crest. I knew that once I reached the top, I could get on my belly, peek over and shoot a bird. I reckon I knew how to do all of this because I had hunted turkeys long enough – at least 15 years by that time and hunted hard—to attain the amount of knowledge I needed to be successful. I think they call that a learning curve.
I have been privileged to hunt and take fall turkeys in Illinois for many years, with both shotgun and bow. I can attest from my experience that the quality of fall turkey hunting rivals the deer hunting that many hunters nationwide have come to appreciate in the state. Even though the state permits turkeys of either sex to be taken in the fall, there is nothing that can compare with dispatching a big Illini gobbler for the holiday dinner table. And, the hunter who has honed his hunting skills should have no difficulty in finding that fall gobbler, tagging it and bringing it home for dinner.”