By Steve Hickoff
Celebrate Thanksgiving with a wild turkey this season.
HUNTING AUTUMN BIRDS
As strategies go, there are two primary fall turkey hunting approaches: you can passively wait for patterned wild turkeys to show up in range. Do so either on the ground, in a blind, or from a treestand, or find a flock and attempt to scatter them on foot.
Patterning turkeys to see where they roost and feed can put you in range. Also relying on the fact flocked turkeys want to be together, you can scatter birds then set up to call them in to your position.
In the latter scenario, separated birds want to regroup -- especially autumn family flocks. Yes, it seems contradictory to find then scare groups of turkeys into flight. This relies on the chance you won’t be in shooting range, but close enough to rush them on foot, or use a trained dog where legal.
Once turkeys are separated, you can set up at the scatter location and try to call them back in to you.
Wild turkeys call to contact flock members, to vocalize a sense of well-being, and to express alarm at a predator’s presence. Roughly thirty call distinctions exist, while less than half of these are applicable as hunting calls. Some hunters tag birds regularly with only clucking and yelping. Others use as many calling vocalizations as possible.
Calling turkeys is an interactive game where the hunter speaks the language of wild birds to coax that quarry into range. As calling fall turkeys goes, imitate their vocalizations by age and sex to evoke a response from the kind of individual bird or flock you want to hunt.
In family groups, young birds-of-the year respond to kee-kees and kee-kee-runs. Brood hens use assembly calls -- a long series of yelps -- to gather separated flock members. Adult gobblers and broodless hens (the other two types of fall flocks) communicate with raspy yelps (gobblers), and higher pitched yelps (hens), as well as clucking.
You can imitate these vocalizations with the mouth and friction turkey calls on the market. Instructions for use are often provided, and time with the turkeys will help you master these tools.
Call softly, or aggressively, situation depending. Wild turkeys call to communicate in the wild, and at times, almost any turkey sound the human hunter makes chances at luring a curious bird in for a look -- or not. That’s the calling game. You need to interpret what you’re hearing from live birds to successfully imitate them.
Even if you don’t use the range of available calls, hearing live birds afield can clue you in to what might happen next. It helps you think like a turkey.
CLOSING THE DEAL
Your shotgun should be camouflaged or have a dull finish to avoid detection. It should also deliver a tight pellet pattern at optimum shooting range (20-40 yards). With wild turkeys, body shots are out. Aim for the head and neck to drop that bird cleanly. Know your gun and the loads it shoots.
If you hunt with a bow, get the turkey even closer: 10 to 20 yard shots are ideal. Use a blind to conceal your movements. Time your shot on a calm standing turkey in range. Your arrow’s broadhead should be turkey specific for solid flight and serious cutting diameter.
The effort here is to know what your gun or bow will do, and take that turkey cleanly. Now put the tagged bird on the back of your Yamaha ATV or Side-by-Side and enjoy the ride back to camp.