Fall turkey season is one to which many hunters look forward each year. In the fall, as with a good portion of the year, turkeys have two goals. Those are survival and finding food. All wildlife at this time of the year understand that winter is coming and food sources may get scarce. Almost every species is looking to add bulk and take in as much nutrition as possible before the long, cold winter — at least that is the case for species who overwinter here. Others that migrate need just enough food to get to their next stopping point. Turkeys are not in the group of birds, however. In some ways, that makes finding them a bit easier for hunters who are willing to put in the time to find out where they are feeding, and on what. Figuring out roosting sites, too, is a good idea leading up to the season.
Changing food sources
One of the nice thing about fall turkey hunting, compared to deer hunting for instance, is the amount of days a hunter truly needs to put in where scouting is concerned. While deer hunters may spend months scouting, fall turkey hunters know that what they find weeks in advance of the season will likely not be what is happening as the season starts. Where they find turkey, and what those turkeys are doing, will likely also not be the same at the beginning of the season as it will later in the season. As the available food source changes, turkey movements will change as well. When acorns start to fall, turkeys may seek them out. In areas where crops have been harvested, this may draw the birds out into the fields, especially if the acorn crop is slim. Knowing what is around the area for forage, and when that forage is likely most available, will be key in finding birds.
Heavy hunting pressure directly on a food source can move birds to another food source, however. For that reason it can be advisable, if a hunter still wishes to hunt those birds, to wait until the others have moved on before moving out of the area or letting the birds know the hunter is there.
Knowing where roosting areas are is a good idea for hunters looking to hunt the corridors where turkeys normally travel. Getting in tight to the roost is apt to scatter turkeys, so many hunters wait until late in their season to employ that tactic. However, learning how turkeys get from their roost to their food will prove helpful as the season gets closer.
Finding roosting areas is easiest in the mornings and the evenings. Fall turkeys will make a good deal of noise as they come back to their roosts and before they leave in the morning for the day. Scouting at these times can make for less of a search for hunters. Midday roost scouting means a hunter is forced to look for feathers and scat below roosting sites. Of course, this can be done, and done effectively, especially by a hunter familiar with the woods in which they are hunting, but keying in on the sounds can help a hunter find roosting areas much more quickly. Hunters should also keep in mind that while some turkeys will utilize the same roosting sites each night, others rotate between several sites, only returning to one every few days.
Once forage is discovered and a hunter knows where the roosting areas are, hunting the corridors between those two can bring good results. Turkeys will have daytime spots where they root around, scratching the ground and showing signs that this is an area to which they will likely return. These are good places for hunters to set up, leaving both the roosting sites and the food sites undisturbed.
Calling and calls
There are a variety of calls available for turkey hunters. Box calls are the easiest to use, but using one of these types of calls means a hunters hands are busy. A box call is comprised, as the name would suggest, a box, with a paddle attached to the top. Sounds are produced by rubbing the paddle across the top of the box.
Slate calls are comprised of a round slate and a striker. These calls can also be very effective, but do take a bit more practice to get the calls right. Again, the hunters hands will be busy, meaning they need to put the call down and pick up their weapon before taking aim at a bird. Both of these calls though, are used by many hunters in many situations.
The mouth call allows hunters to keep their hands free, but are arguably more difficult to learn to use. They are comprised of the tape, which helps the call conform to the roof of the mouth, and the reeds, which are held together by the frame. Tapes can be cut down to fit into the hunter’s mouth, making it easier to use. The reeds, as with a musical instrument, are what produce the sound.
No matter the type of call a hunter uses, there are several calls they should master in order to call in birds. Those are the yelp, the cluck, the purr and the gobble. Yelps are a common fall call. It is one of the most common ways turkeys communicate with each other. They happen in strings, and hunters can take their key from the birds as to how many yelps to issue in a row. Clucks are more relaxed than the alarm putt turkeys sometimes use. The cluck is often used to gain the attention of another bird. The purr, as one would expect, is a soft call turkeys use when communicating with one another. Gobbles can be used to locate Toms and are the call most associate with turkeys.
Turkeys have incredible eye sight. For that reason, hunters should pay special attention to camouflage. Covering all parts of the hunter is important, including the hands and face. Hunters go to a great deal of effort to properly conceal themselves when hunting these birds. However, when walking in and out of the woods, it can be a good idea to wear a blaze orange hat or gloves. This will allow hunters to see each other and properly identify hunters are humans. Hunters should also take care when moving decoys. A decoy should be covered before moving it, keeping other hunters from mistaking the decoy for a turkey they would look to harvest.
Learn to Hunt opportunities
Each year the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hold Learn to Hunt Turkey classes across the state. Those classes are also held here in the Northwoods, usually taking place directly before the season starts. Those interested in learning more about Learn to Hunt classes can sign up to be notified of future classes by going to the DNR website dnr.wi.gov and inputting keywords “Learn to Hunt Turkey.” Information about turkeys, turkey hunting and laws around turkey hunting can also be found on the DNR website.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at [email protected].