Fall turkey hunting a challenge for hunters

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By Art Lander
Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources

Hunting strategies are different, calling is not as critical to success, and birds are often in big flocks, concentrating on local food sources – everything about fall wild turkey hunting makes it more challenging than the spring season.
The key to success in the spring is getting close to gobbling toms and seducing them into gun range with subtle hen calls such as clucks, purrs and yelps. Communication between the sexes is a major part of the mating ritual.
Bagging a turkey in the fall is as much about finding concentrations of birds as figuring out their daily patterns. Birds are segregated by sex and key on food sources.
“In the fall, turkeys spend a lot of time in forests feeding on acorns,” said Steven Dobey, wild turkey biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “This fall’s mast crop looks good, so they won’t have to move around much to find food.”
Setting up a portable blind near areas where turkeys feed and waiting for their early morning arrival is one of the most effective fall hunting strategies. Hunters who don’t know a flock’s whereabouts or the daily route a flock takes between roosting and feeding areas must first locate some birds. Typically, that takes quite a bit of walking.
Find a flock of hens and young birds and intentionally scatter them, then call them back together using an old hen assembly call. This call is basically a long series of impassioned yelps.
Kentucky’s first fall turkey season was held during the 1997-98 license year. Hunters may take birds of either sex in the fall. Typically more hens are killed than gobblers. For example, during the 2008 fall season, hen turkeys made up 70.3 percent of the harvest.
The gradual increase in the percentage of adults in the fall harvest during the past decade is the most significant finding in the harvest data.
“There’s a higher proportion of adults in the population today, and hunters have become more selective (in what they harvest),” said Dobey.
For example, during the 2009 fall season hunters killed 5,751 turkeys, and 37.3 percent were adult birds.
The fall archery turkey season runs from Sept. 4, 2010 through Jan. 17, 2011, the same as archery deer season.
“In the fall a lot of turkeys are taken opportunistically by archers hunting deer,” said Dobey. “It’s hard to pin down the number of archers just going after turkeys.”
Two shotgun seasons for turkeys are slated for this fall. The first early fall shotgun turkey season runs from Oct. 23-29, while the second runs from Dec. 4-10.
The season bag limit is four birds, but no more than two may be taken during archery season. Hunters may take two turkeys during shotgun season and only one turkey may have a beard length of three inches or longer. Only one turkey may be taken per day during fall turkey season.
Hunters bagged 6,589 birds during the 2004-05 fall turkey season, setting the fall harvest record.
“That year, we had a statewide mast failure,” said Dobey. “Turkeys were moving around a lot, looking for food and came in contact with hunters. That same year we had a record deer harvest.”
Kentucky possesses an estimated 250,000 turkeys. Flocks are well established in all 120 Kentucky counties.
Hunting opportunities abound for fall turkeys in Kentucky. Yet, Kentucky hunters take only about two percent of the available flock on average.
Looking for a hunting challenge this fall? Try wild turkeys.