Turkeys are tasty creatures of habit
Bagging a turkey in the fall hunting season can take your best investigative powers and can test your patience.
Getting a bird for your table usually means looking for telltale clues and finding the areas where mast and other food favorites are in some abundance.
The toms aren’t out to attract the hens like they do in the spring, but then you have the year’s poults and jakes around to add to your pleasure.
Flocks are still present. The males group together and the hens keep company with their equals. The younger birds may mix in with more seasoned adults, but they seem to know their place and don’t try to provide any leadership roles.
Finding the signs that birds are around can be the first step in having any hunting success. Scratchings where the turkeys move leaves and other ground cover is evidence birds are around. Ground areas that show signs of birds dusting themselves and scattered feathers from foraging birds are other general signs. Locating a roost where droppings litter the ground under heavy-branched trees such as large pines, oaks or beechnuts give further indication that activity is recent.
Foraging turkeys will eat most anything, but their favorites include crickets, small frogs, grasshoppers, salamanders, stinkbugs, worms and insects. When the weather – especially the nights – get colder the birds tend toward acorns, beechnuts, pine nuts, alfalfa leaves and even the berries off wild weeds and plants.
If it has been dry for a time, turkeys in wooded areas and along fence rows will sweep aside dead plant matter and go after the seeds of most any plant and any crawling or hopping insect or beetle.
After finding a much-used roosting area, the hunter can use a stealth and rush tactic to his advantage. The veteran hunter might crawl within about 90 to 110 yards of his quarry and then quickly stand and rush them, making any loud racket he can to scatter the birds in all directions. Watching carefully to see which direction a lone turkey or two went is the most helpful when calling to them to “regroup” with the rest of the flock.
It might take only 20 minutes to see a response to your gobbles, purrs and yelps but it might be an hour before a lone turkey starts calling to his friends. The experts can use plates or box calls to bring the bird back within shooting range.
With his gun camouflaged and a lone hen decoy stationed in his view, a hunter with patience can outwait even a wily bird.
After taking the time to scout an area for the signs of turkeys, and then locating a roost, a hunter still might come away empty in a given area. But turkeys like the company of others even in the fall and winter, so another scouting try in a place with mast, a stand of hardwood trees and nearby water will probably yield the right results. The kill may not be a bearded adult, but jakes, hens and poults make for tasty meat meals, and give the hunter added experience for the spring season to come when the adults are a little daffy in mating season.