Fall Turkey Hunting Tips for a Thanksgiving Bird
When most people think about turkey hunting, they imagine scenes of springtime: bright green grasses popping up out of the ground with lime green new leaves budding out on the trees. But if turkey is primarily a bird destined for Thanksgiving table fare, doesn’t it make sense to hunt them in the autumn months when the leaves are red, yellow, and orange? If you’re looking to put some wild turkey back on the Thanksgiving menu, here are some fall turkey hunting tips for you. We’ll talk about the main differences between spring and fall turkeys, the different techniques you should use, and the best gun options. Whether you’re looking for turkey hunting tips for beginners or seasoned hunters alike, you’ll find something useful here.
Comparison of Spring and Fall Turkey Hunting
There are several big differences between spring and fall turkeys. Springtime is breeding season for turkeys (and many other animals), so most of their activities are focused on this behavior. Strutting and gobbling are common actions for tom turkeys as they chase hens, which can be very exciting to watch at close range. You typically use hen calls or gobbler purrs to bring a tom in for a closer investigation in the spring, since they’re competing for hens and are ready to fight about it. Decoys are typically used to simulate a breeding scenario, with a combination of a jake and a hen decoy. Once a tom sees this display, they should get mad and run in to bust up the party. During most spring hunting seasons, you can only legally harvest a tom, which leaves the hens to produce more eggs and young poults.
As far as turkey habits in the fall, toms pretty much stick to themselves or in groups of adult males (like whitetail bachelor groups). Hens hang out together with young jakes and jennies in large groups. Because of this behavior, male turkey calls are used to call other males, and hen or poult calls are used to attract other hen and poult groups. Typically, toms produce a deeper, raspier, and more drawn-out yelp than hens, as well as purrs. Decoys should correspond to the type of bird you want to attract too (male decoys for male birds, and vice versa). For many fall turkey hunting seasons, you can take a turkey of either sex, which drastically increases your chances at putting a turkey on the table.
Best Shotgun for Turkey Hunting
Everybody’s got their own personal preferences when it comes to the best guns for them. Their body size or hunting experience will dictate what gauge they are most comfortable shooting, as well as the overall size of the shotgun. If they’re mostly interested in a turkey gun, it will be a different scenario than if they want to also hunt ducks, geese, grouse, or pheasant with it. For waterfowl and fall turkey hunting, you can use a long-barreled shotgun, which will produce a more consistent and smoother aiming process. They can also be heavier guns overall since you’ll mostly be sitting with them during your hunt. On the other hand, if you’d like a general purpose shotgun that you could use for walking around all day for grouse or pheasant, you’ll want something a bit lighter and with a shorter barrel that you can maneuver through thick brush or corn stalks. Take these into consideration before you choose a new turkey gun.
Turkeys are big and tough birds. While you could ethically use a 12, 16, or 20 gauges on turkeys, the best shotgun for turkeys is probably a 12 gauge since it can put them down fast and is so versatile. A shotgun with a receiver that can shoot at least 3-inch shells is preferable to increase the load you can fire at them. Whittaker Guns has many of the best turkey shotguns you could want. But a Remington 870 Express is always a solid choice for a variety of hunting types. The type of action you choose is really just a matter of preference, with the pump action being one of the more common choices.
Then you need to consider gun accessories, which there are plenty of. Depending on what distance you anticipate turkeys approaching from, the best choke tubes for turkey hunting will vary. If you’re naturally limited to shots within 20 yards (such as in very dense woods), a modified choke is probably fine in almost any case. But if you anticipate some 40-yard shots in open fields (and feel confident about making the shot at that distance), you’ll probably want to screw a full or turkey choke tube into the muzzle. Regardless of what you think, you should test your shotgun pattern density before you hunt. Set up a piece of cardboard with a rough turkey head outline on it. Shoot from the distance you plan to hunt at and see what the shot pattern looks like. If there are even 20 BBs in the turkey’s head or neck outline, you shouldn’t have any problem killing a bird.
Best Ammunition for Fall Turkey Hunting
Speaking of BBs, there are a few general guidelines about the best ammunition for turkeys as well. Ammunition is probably one of the most important turkey hunting supplies we have because it makes such a difference in how lethal each shot is. Like we mentioned, a 3-inch shell is preferable to a 2 ¾-inch shell; a 3 ½-inch shell is also a good bet. The shell should contain shot in the 4 to 6 range, which are big enough to be lethal at a variety of distances. As far as the load, 1 7/8 ounce shells are more than capable of getting the job done quickly. For a good shell that matches these criteria, check out the Winchester Longbeard XR for 12 gauges.
Fall Turkey Hunting Tactics
There are a few good fall turkey tactics you can use yet this year to put a Thanksgiving bird in the oven. The first thing that really helps, though it needs some planning ahead, is to plant food plots. Deer aren’t the only animals that like to snack in these lush areas. Cut cornfields, clover, other cereal grains, and even brassica greens are all attractive to wild turkeys. During the spring and summer, they will key in on insects using these plants, but they will transition to eating the greens or grain in the fall. These areas are also usually open enough for a flock to all gather easily. Even if you just have some old hayfields, you might be surprised how many turkeys will come out of the thick forest around it to graze and gather. But they will also heavily feed on acorns in oak woodlots or small crabapples/hawthorn apples. So if you’re wondering how to hunt turkey next fall, consider planting a small 1/10 to 1/4 acre food plot near an oak forest with some crabapple trees on the fringe for the ultimate turkey spot.
Before you begin hunting, it’s time to go back to turkey hunting basics; get to know the property and your local flock of turkeys (where do they roost, where do they spend their daylight hours, how many gobblers are actually in the flock, etc.). Walking the land and finding potential roost trees or open hayfields is one way to do this. Another way to get these answers is to use trail cameras in strategic locations to monitor their movements. Keep a camera on any open areas and between them and potential roost trees. This will allow you to pattern where the birds are and decide if a certain area is worth fall turkey hunting or not.
Once you start consistently seeing a tom turkey you’d like to hunt, it’s time to get in the field after him. You can either use a ground blind or a typical deer tree stand for fall turkey hunting. Ground blinds will allow you a little more movement since you’re fully concealed, which makes it a good option for bringing kids with. But tree stands are nice since they’re typically already up this time of year for deer hunting, and the turkeys will be used to them. Of course, they need to be located in the right spots to make this approach work. But as long as you have some good camouflage turkey hunting clothing and keep your movement to a minimum, you shouldn’t stand out much in a tree stand. While some people go fall turkey hunting without decoys, you should really use one. It helps focus the turkey’s attention on the decoy, which can give you the ability to get your gun in position for a shot. Turkeys have amazingly keen eyesight, so regardless of anything else, you need to move slowly. Again, use a male turkey decoy to attract toms, and hen decoys to attract hens. A single decoy should be plenty enough but look at your trail camera pictures to see what’s normal for your area.
After the decoy is set up and you’re concealed in a tree or on the ground, it’s time for us to discuss fall turkey calling tips. As far as how to call fall turkeys, there’s one thing you should keep in mind: keep it balanced. If you’ve rarely heard your turkey flock call to each other, don’t start squawking for 15 minutes. Make a few yelps and cuts, and then quiet down again. If you’re looking for toms, try doing some low and raspy tom yelps, three to five at a time, and then wait for 15-20 minutes before doing it again (for hens, try doing kee-kee runs). But once you get a bird to respond, start calling back immediately, trying to mimic their call exactly. You want to be aggressive with this part of the calling. Turkeys may not always see your decoy through the tall weeds or brush when they’re within cover, so call until they actually come out into the field. You’ll know when they find your decoy, as they will usually come running over to it to size up the intruder.
If you choose to go fall turkey hunting this year, keep these turkey hunting tips in mind. Whether it’s your first time hunting turkeys at all or you’re just used to spring turkey hunting, you’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of it.