This is a response to Charlie Elk's Sunset on the Season thread in the Wisconsin forum, but figured I'd post it here so the folks who don't typically follow that forum can post their thoughts on the 2012 season as well.
2012 marked the first time I made a serious effort to pursue turkeys in the autumn. I don't know why I waited so long, it was just as enjoyable, if not more so than the spring season. I used to discount fall hunting as a secondary season, where the primary tactic was to bushwhack a bird on its way from predictable point A (maybe a roost) to predictable point B (a food source?). However, after reading all of the posts from forum members last fall (particularly Charlie Elk, Willowridge, and eggshell) I began to wonder what this fall thing was really all about. Maybe birds could be called in the fall. some subtle yelping and clucking just might work. But those stories of gobbling fall birds, multiple bird brawls, and entire flocks flying across valleys to a hunter's call? They could only be explained by the time honored tradition of "slight exaggeration" employed by outdoorsmen since Grogg recited the story of his first mammoth hunt around the fire.
Following my final day of hunting in the spring of 2012 I was feeling even more depressed than usual about the season ending. Oh I'm sure most of us are rather melancholy following the end of turkey season, but for some reason this year was especially rough on me. In the past I've always been ready for a break. It's usually several months before i get the urge to pick up a call as I walk past it in the basement, run out a string of yelps and think of happier mornings to come. This year I lasted two days (much to the dismay of Mrs. Gopherlongbeards...). I was in a funk, I had progressed to the point where all other pastimes take a back seat to life's primary purpose: placing a fine longbeard over ones shoulder. As I browsed through the T&TH forums a remedy presented itself: the fall season!
I had made two half hearted attempts at fall hunts in the past, neither even remotely successful. I knew next to nothing about fall hunting, barely enough to understand it was quite a bit different from the spring hunt I was used to. If I was going to make a serious effort at becoming a fall turkey hunter, I would need to start with learning all I could about fall turkeys, fall turkey habits, and fall hunting tactics. I broke my mental preparation down into three primary activities. First, I went back through the T&TH forum archives and read every post I could find regarding fall turkey hunting. Obviously the Fall Hunting forum was my first stop, but there was also a wealth of information in the Calling and state forums (in particular the Wisconsin and Ohio forums) as well. The forum members here are an unbelievable resource to any new turkey hunter, or really anyone looking to improve their turkey hunting skills (aren't we all?), and I thank you all for sharing your tricks, techniques, and experiences.
Second, on the recommendation of several forum members I purchased Steve Hickoff's "Fall and Winter Turkey Hunter's Handbook" off of Amazon and read it cover to cover at least a half dozen times. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in fall turkey hunting, spring turkey hunting, or just turkeys in general. It's an easy, enjoyable read, and helped me as a spring turkey hunter understand how turkeys act the rest of the year. More importantly, it gave me some direction in how to go about purposefully pursing turkeys (as opposed to "accidentally" killing one. I believe this is a Charlie Elk term) in the fall.
Third, I ordered Ray Eye's "Boys of Autumn" dvd from his website and watched it more times than I can remember. This past spring I had read Eye's "Turkey Hunter's Bible" (Another book I highly recommend) and had enjoyed it thoroughly. "Boys of Autumn" was an excellent complement to Hickoff's work. What Hickoff described, Ray shows in this DvD. The sheer number of fall hunts, calling sequences, and turkey vocalizations contained on this DvD were invaluable to me. Having only hunted in the spring time, I really only paid attention to gobbles, and had never really "heard" any of these other vocalizations. I'm sure I have heard gobbler or jake vocalizations in the spring and assumed they were hen talk. It is all well and good to have a kee kee run explained to you in a book, or on the back of a mouthcall package, but to actually hear a real bird do it (either live or in a recording) is a lightbulb moment. Subtle things like rhythm and inflection are difficult if not impossible to convey through written description.
After a short time reading everything I could about fall turkey hunting it became apparent that I would have to significantly expand and improve my calling skills and repertoire. I would not be dealing with "testosterone drunk two year olds that would come running to a squeaky tailgate worked in something resembling turkey rhythm" to paraphrase Ray Eye. No, I would have to sound like a turkey. It also appeared I would have to become more precise with my calling. Hen talk to hens, gobbler talk to gobblers ? This was much more complicated than some subtle yelping and a few quiet clucks. I made a serious commitment to improve my calling skills. I practiced an hour or more almost every day (in the car or walking to work with mouth calls. I would practice with friction calls when Mrs. Gopherlongbeards was out of the house: it's difficult to hunt with calls that have been "misplaced") all summer long. It took months of work, but eventually I learned to make kee kee's, kee kee runs, purrs, and gobbles that sounded passable to my ears. The turkeys would have the final say.
The season itself came and went. I spent a lot of time in the woods, learned (and re-learned) the sort of things you can only really learn by doing (or failing to do) them. Things like how to move along a ridge like you belong there, without putting every creature within earshot on high alert. I learned to love the soft scratch and crunch of my slow, uneven footsteps in dry leaves; and dread the piercing (to my ears) scrape of buckthorn across my raingear. Both Hickoff and Eye preach this creed. "Slow down", they say, "look, listen". I learned to hear things. I mean really HEAR them. Is that a squirrel rustling, or a turkey scratching? You can tell from the rhythm. Was that a cluck coming down the wind? Last spring I wouldn't have noticed. I had a wonderful fall. Some turkeys died. More did not.
One of my last hunts of the season found me set up on a large winter roost (about 100 birds) the week after Christmas. Hunting turkeys in single digit temps and calf deep snow. Throughout the fall, and on this particular morning I heard every vocalization a turkey can make between first light and flydown. It was an especially spiritual show on this day as the birds didn't fly down until mid morning. For almost three hours I participated in one of the most fantastic displays of turkeydom I have ever seen. I say participated because I was not merely an observer, I spoke to those turkeys, and they to me. Some wanted to fight, some wanted to gather me in, and some seemed content merely declaring their presence. I did not take a bird that day. An appropriate shot on a turkey I wanted never did present itself. But, as I traded kee kee run gobbles with a rowdy bunch of jakes double dog daring me to just try and cross to their side of the ridge it dawned on me: this was the greatest day I had ever spent in the outdoors.
This fall has changed me as a turkey hunter. I am without a doubt a more complete and capable turkey hunter than I was in May. I used to spend weeks before the spring season worrying about the weather. How was the breeding cycle going? Would we hit it just right? Would gobblers all be "henned up"? Would we be doomed to failure by poor weather and uncooperative birds? I can laugh at that now. Fall has taught me those gobblers are still out there, still callable, still killable.
A few final observations from the fall of 2012:
1) Call. Call A LOT! I couldn't have been more wrong about subtle yelping and clucking being the modus operandi in the fall. In many cases, turkeys simply ignored contented and subdued calling especially when initially trying to strike a bird (one exception to this is if I had managed to get extremely close (< 50 yards) to a group of turkeys without spooking them). Turkeys are not afraid to call in the fall. On many occasions I would get within calling distance of a known group of turkeys and garner no responses with subtle turkey talk. Only after several minutes of almost comically raucous and excited calling would these turkeys finally respond. I was almost screaming at those turkeys "Hey! I'm here! and I'm not gonna shut up until you come do something about it!". I liken it to fishing. You're throwing out your "audio bait" (to borrow another Charlie Elk phrase), if you can get one bird in that group to "bite" you come right back at them immediately only faster, longer, and with more urgency. Call back at every turkey. turkeys talking get's other turkeys talking, and the more birds you get talking the better your chances get.
2) Turkeys can't read. Especially not the backs of turkey call packages. You know what I'm talking about, the standard set of directions for making 6-8 calls "say chalk 4-5 times while slightly dropping your jaw...." and all that. Turns out, most times turkeys don't follow those directions. Whats more, apparently there are more than 6-8 words (maybe sentences would be a better analogy?) in the wild turkey's vocabulary because they make a helluva lot more sounds than are described on the back of that box. Go ahead and put together pretty much any mixture of yelpy-whiney-squealy type sounds and I'd bet somewhere tomorrow morning it will come out of a turkey's mouth at fly down. Kee kee runs are a good example. the back of the package says "kee kee kee yelp yelp yelp". Now I have heard birds do that. But, I've also heard "kee kee kee yelp", and "kee yelp yelp yelp yelp", and even "yelp kee kee yelp yelp yelp kee yelp yelp yelp". I guess my point is don't get hung up on doing the exact same sequence of calls every time because that's what the package says. Imitate what you hear turkeys do and combine those sounds with your calls.
3) Those stories around here from last fall are likely true. This autumn I had a dozen longbeards come charging my tree as I tried to simultaneously keep up the fighting purrs on a slate and get my gun up. I had a group of turkeys fly off the roost, soar several hundred yards calling at me all the way, and land like a flock of geese 20 yards from where I sat yelping. I heard so many gobbles this fall that I lost count somewhere back in October.
4) If you enjoy spring turkey hunting, and you live in or near a state that offers a fall hunt but haven't tried it yet, do yourself a favor. Try and spend a few days chasing turkeys in the fall of 2013. If nothing else it will make you a better spring hunter, and a day chasing turkeys is never wasted. I was one who thought it wouldn't be nearly as exciting without the (relative) abundance of gobbling in the spring. I was wrong. Turkeys can be extremely vocal in the fall, and If anything, gobbles in the fall are made even more exhilarating by the selectivity of said gobbler.
If you've made it this far I thank you for reading all this. This was a special season for me and I tend to ramble on stuff like that. I plan on many more to come. I don't mean to imply that the strategies and ideas presented in the books and DvDs I mentioned are the only way to success, I simply found them helpful, and would recommend them to others. As with anything else, absorb it, see if it meshes with your personal style, and modify as you see fit.
Last edited by Gopherlongbeards
on January 3rd, 2013, 10:22 am, edited 2 times in total.