Fall Turkey Hunting Tips

Take These Fall Turkey Hunting Tips to Heart on Your Next Expedition

Outdoor Life's experts share their secrets for killing fall turkeys on your own. Use these fall turkey hunting tips to get your gobbler now.

Turkey tips
Who needs a turkey dog?
By: David Hart
When Peter Costenbader's turkey dog passed away 10 years ago, the retired real estate broker decided to try fall turkey hunting on his own. He didn't kill many birds the first couple of years, he admits, but the more he tried, the better he got.
Turkey tips
Turkey tips
Look and Listen
"The first thing I learned is that you have to do a lot of walking," he says. Costenbader doesn't hustle through the woods. Instead, he spends as much time listening and looking as he does moving. Turkeys are vocal in the fall, especially in the morning, so it pays to be in the woods at first light straining to hear a faint cluck or yelp. If he doesn't hear anything, Costenbader will ease through the woods, calling occasionally and scanning the ground for scratchings, droppings and high-quality food such as acorns and beechnuts. When he locates an area with lots of fresh sign, he'll slow down even more, calling and listening for a response.
Turkey tips
Turkey tips
Slow and Steady
Ease your way through the fall woods at first light and listen carefully for faint yelps and clucks. Call occasionally and scan the ground for turkey scratchings and droppings and food sources like acorns and beechnuts [A].
Once you get a response, set up a hen and a jake decoy in front of you and position another jake decoy behind [B].
Turkey tips
Turkey tips
Just Like Spring
If he gets a reply, Costenbader will sit down and start calling just as he would in the spring, even if he's calling to an entire flock. To up his chances, he'll put out a hen and jake decoy within shotgun range and another jake decoy behind him.
"Usually a single or maybe a pair will come in, but I've called in whole flocks," he says. "Decoys can mean the difference between getting a shot and not."
Turkey tips
Turkey tips
If he's working a flock and nothing comes in after 45 minutes, Costenbader will try to circle around the birds and set up on them again. If that doesn't work, he'll sneak out of the woods and return the next morning and get in the exact spot where he last heard the turkeys, taking care not to spook them as he walks through the woods.Turkey tips
Turkey tips
Subtlety Be Damned
Early in the morning or after the birds have gone to roost is the best time to employ the flock-bust technique. It's important that the flock scatter in different directions rather than as a group [A].
Try to set up in between a single and a bigger group and wait for the lone bird to seek out the others [B].
Turkey tips
Turkey tips
Bust 'Em
Spooking them is exactly what Olathe, Kansas, excavating contractor Rod Pettit wants to do. He follows the basic tenet of fall turkey hunting: Bust up the flock and then call them back in. His favorite time to scatter birds is after they've gone to roost in the evening or early in the morning. He'll walk under the roosted birds, shouting and waving his arms so they scatter. If they are already on the ground, Pettit will rush the flock shouting in order to get the birds to fly in different directions. The closer he can get before he makes his jump, the better the chances of scattering the birds. Photo: Teddy Llovet
Turkey tips
Turkey tips
Scatter or Scare?
There's a notable difference between scattering a group of turkeys and merely scaring them. A flock that flies in the same direction is a lost cause; they'll stay together as they flee. A scattered flock, however, is ideal. "The more directions they go in, the better my chances of calling one in," he says. "If a single peels off in a different direction, I'm going to get between the main flock and that single. Otherwise, I'm just going to get in the middle of the last place I saw them." Photo: Gordon E. Peterson
Turkey tips
Turkey tips
Turkey Talk
Once he scatters a flock, Pettit will wait 15 minutes before he starts calling, unless he hears a bird calling first. Both Pettit and Costenbader use simple calling techniques, often imitating the real birds they hear. Instead of randomly yelping and clucking to a vocal flock, Pettit will "have a conversation" with a single turkey. "I pick out one bird and do the same thing it's doing," he explains, "but I never interrupt it. I let it finish calling, and then I'll call back."
Costenbader agrees with that approach, but if he doesn't get a response, or if he's blind-calling, he'll try a set of fighting purr calls or even a gobble. Dominant jakes will often come in to investigate. Photo: Bradley Gordon
Turkey tips
Turkey tips
Targeting Toms
So will mature gobblers, which are considerably tougher to kill in the fall because they don't have the urge to regroup after they've been scattered. Instead of relying on the standard kee-kee run of a young bird, Costenbader and Pettit use a deeper, coarser and slower series of yelps and clucks, calling far less frequently than if they were calling young birds. Pettit will sometimes bust up a group of gobblers, but it's not as effective as scattering a group of hens and poults, he admits. Photo: Teddy Llovet
Turkey tips
Turkey tips
"It can be three hours or three days before toms get back together," says Pettit. "You never know with mature gobblers."
That constant uncertainty is exactly why Costenbader loves chasing turkeys in the fall, but he also loves it for another reason.
"I'm usually the only one out there," he says. "I have the turkeys all to myself." Photo: Tim Lenz
Turkey tips
Turkey tips
Flocks of a Feather
By Tom Carpenter
Wild turkeys group up in fall, but the flocks aren't random compilations. Rather, similar birds end up together for a variety of behavioral and biological reasons.
Turkey tips
Turkey tips
Family Flock
After a summer together, hens with young-of-the-year birds remain in family groups. Juvenile turkeys, especially young hens (jennies), aren't ready to strike out on their own. And there is safety--more eyes and ears--in numbers. In fact, family groups often join ranks to grow the flock's size, sometimes to more than 30 birds as fall progresses. Much of this flocking occurs as hens and their broods come together around a prime food source, such as a harvested grain field or productive oak ridge. An old "master" hen usually leads a combined family flock.
Turkey tips
Turkey tips
Jake Flock
As autumn progresses, family flocks are less and less likely to contain young gobblers that hatched in spring. These three- to six-month-old jakes have grown big over the summer, and by now are larger than their mothers. They set out on their own, joining jakes that have left other family groups. These raucous boy gangs squabble and carry on as they compete to see who's the boss. This is an attention-getting, predator-attracting activity that a family hen flock doesn't need. Jake flocks may number up to a dozen or more birds, and they stay together through fall and winter, into the following spring. Photo: Teddy Llovet
Turkey tips
Turkey tips
Broodless Hen Flock
Adult hens that weren't bred in spring, or that lost their nests or broods, end up together. Since these hens weren't associated with a family group throughout the summer, autumn finds them all in the same predicament. A lone turkey is a turkey in danger, so unattached hens join ranks for company and safety. Broodless hen flocks stay small, numbering around four to eight birds. Photo: Kevin Cole
Turkey tips
Turkey tips
Yearling Gobbler Flock
Year-and-a-half-old gobblers form their own young bachelor groups of up to a half-dozen birds. Many of these birds were together as jakes the previous spring, so some hunters call these turkeys "super jakes" in fall, in reference to their 6- to 7-inch beards and 1⁄2- to 3⁄4-inch spurs. Photo: Don DeBold
Turkey tips
Turkey tips
Yearling gobblers form an exclusive group because young jakes won't get near them for fear of getting beaten up, and the yearlings themselves won't approach adult gobblers for the same reason. Like jakes, these gobblers do a lot of sparring in autumn, and they are often the source of fall gobbling as the birds compete to figure out their pecking order. Photo: AudreyTurkey tips
Turkey tips
Adult Gobbler Flock
Big adult gobblers--birds 2 1⁄2 years and older--come together in loose bands of three to five birds in fall. The group's size generally stays small, but may grow a bit as winter approaches. Photo: Teddy Llovet
Turkey tips
Turkey tips
As with other flocks, these turkeys spend much of their time just feeding and surviving, but they also spar freely to determine which bird is dominant. Biologically, it's best to establish the pecking order now, during autumn's abundance, then drop into rank for a calm and quiet winter of leaner times. Photo: Duane BryceTurkey tips