Tuesday, October 6, 2009

HUNTING FALL BIRDS

Spring turkey hunting in Indiana can scarcely be called a tradition. Our first modern turkey season took place in 1970, so the sport is less than 40 years old today. And it wasn't until the late 1980's that turkey reintroduction work really caught hold in northern Indiana, so exposure to these fabulous birds is even less lengthy for us flatlanders. Consider then that the fall turkey season didn't come about until the past decade and it's easy to see why most Indiana turkey chasers are still feeling their way around a bit where pursuing autumn turkeys is concerned. Most birds in these parts are shot as they amble under a deer hunter with a turkey tag in his/her pocket.

The past few years I've put a fair amount of time into fall turkey hunting, and can say that, although it's different, fall turkey hunts can be every bit as exciting as spring ones. On October 3 I killed a would-be 2-year old tom on a Marshall County farm, and he displayed all the aggressiveness of a spring longbeard. While there was no strutting or gobbling, the video will show that this bird came to the decoy without reservation, pecked the head, and then "flogged" him.

Dominance hierarchies in turkey flocks are constantly changing, so it makes sense that, given the opportunity, a male bird, even in the fall, will pick on a decoy. Slight tactical changes are needed, though, so here's what I've learned in the past few years:

* Turkeys are vocal creatures, even in the fall. You won't hear nearly as much gobbling, but 16 - 18 month old jakes (commonly called super jakes) yelp a ton, as do many true toms, and will often respond to "jake" yelping (a longer, more course and drawn-out version of the hen yelp). Don't expect to call fall toms in with hen calling.

* Young-of-the-year poults are learning to talk, and mimicking their "kee kee" calling is a great way to get their attention. If you can break up a hen/poult flock with a good scatter, don't hesitate to give the woods a few minutes to settle down, then start mimicking lost hen calling and poult kee kee's in an effort to reassemble the flock - hopefully right in your lap. A friend of mine missed a hen with his bow this weekend. When she and her poults scattered he didn't throw in the towel. He just waited a few minutes and started calling. He was rewarded with a fine hen poult that will make great eating at Thanksgiving (if he can wait that long).

* Male birds are grouped up in their own flocks, while hens/poults are in theirs. You'll have more success if you treat them individually, scouting for the type of flock you want to hunt and using male decoys on males and hen decoys on hen/poult groups, even if they're showing up in the same fields to feed. One of the farms I hunt routinely has a male flock exceeding 15 birds. Try to find that many toms in one spot in the spring.

* Food is critical. When scouting flocks, key in on the areas they are feeding. Pattern their comings and goings, then get in their way.

* Tread lightly. Fall turkeys, while still pecking order-oriented, won't typically be as aggressive as they'll be in the spring. Use a single jake decoy when hunting male birds, and a hen or two when hunting hen/poult groups. Realize that you'll normally encounter more birds in the fall than in the spring, which translates into more eyes and ears to catch you with! The smaller the group the more likely it is they'll pay attention to you and your decoys. Get a single bird in your vicinity, as I did in the accompanying video, and the odds really go up.

Still a little confused about fall turkey hunting? Don't sweat it. Most important of all is just getting out in the fall and enjoying being around turkeys. You'll learn so much more about their behavior and biology than you can by spring hunting alone.

NOTE - I self-videoed this hunt, so the quality leaves a bit to be desired. Also, I record my hunts in full HD, but my editing software will only work with standard definition, so I have to convert back before editing. This actually makes for WORSE footage quality than if I just recorded directly in SD. But I routinely watch the raw footage on HD televisions, so am reluctant to change. The raw footage, on a widescreen with stereo surround, is about as close to being there as you can get without getting mud on your boots! Eventually I'll buy software that edits HD footage easily, but for now, this is the best I can come up with. Hope you like it just the same.


video

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