Updated: Oct 2, 2020
For most hunters across the country, fall is all about deer hunting. We spend our summers prepping food plots, putting up tree stands and ground blinds, checking game cameras, and sighting in our guns and bows. But for some of us, fall turkey hunting is just as important.
While spring turkey hunting brings the excitement of those early morning gobbles and the challenge of getting that tom to come into your calls, the fall season offers its own excitement and challenges. Gobblers are looking for food instead of looking for hens, birds are grouped differently, and they typically aren’t calling much. The key to fall turkey hunting, much like other bird hunting, is figuring out where they are.
Locate and Pattern Turkeys
Locating fall turkeys means putting in the time to scout. Turkeys leave a variety of signs around the areas where they stay. Look for definitive signs such as tracks, feathers, scratching, dusting areas, and droppings. This is good to know for mid-day hunting when birds are out and about.
Watering holes are an easy place to identify tracks, and you will typically find feathers and droppings there too.
You might find dusting areas in dry roads or wheat and grain fields that have already been harvested.
Scratching areas are where turkeys have raked leaves to expose insects and look for acorns and other nuts.
Use game cameras over watering holes and scratching areas to identify the number of turkeys in the flock, and determine the time of day and what direction they are coming and going.
Finding the roosting area provides a huge advantage for both early-morning and evening hunts. Find roosting spots by listening for flocks as they fly up at night. Roosting areas will also have piles of droppings below it, so keep an eye on the ground as you hike.
Lastly, find food and find turkeys! Turkeys forage frequently and eat a variety of foods. They will feed on grasshoppers, worms, slugs and other insects, as well as acorns and beechnuts, seed and grain, berries, and small grit such as pebbles or sand to aid in digestion. During the fall season, fruits, nuts, and grains make up the bulk of a turkey’s diet.
Scatter turkeys and call them back in
Scattering a flock is the traditional fall turkey hunting method. Keep in mind though, that scattered birds and scared birds are different. If you scare a flock and they all leave together, you’re probably not going to call them back. But if you can get them to scatter in different directions, you can set up in the last place you saw them and likely call them back in. Once scattered, listen for a call and call back to it. Mimic that call and have a conversation with that turkey…don’t just start calling. Depending on how active the birds are calling to one another, you may not even need to call—just be ready to shoot when the birds start coming back in. You can also use a decoy with this hunting method to give the turkeys a visual reference.
Tree stand and ground-blind hunting
If you’ve done your preseason scouting, you should have a good idea of when and where turkeys are entering feeding areas, crossing creeks, and traveling to and from their roosts. Set up a blind or tree stand where you can get a good shot, then sit and wait. With this method of hunting, you don’t need to call or use decoys because the turkeys are likely going to keep their pattern. Many deer hunters harvest fall turkeys like this.
Use the Right Gear
For fall turkey hunting, you’ll need to use the same concealment strategies that you use for spring and should add scent control if you’ll be hunting for deer at the same time or in the same area.
Your gun and ammo choice won’t need to change unless your specific area has weapon restrictions. For example, in Kentucky, you’re allowed 4 total turkeys in a year (2 spring/2 fall), but only 2 of the 4 can be taken with a shotgun.
Many fall turkey hunters choose to bow hunt since fall turkey season coincides with archery deer season. You may opt to use turkey-specific broadheads, but it’s not a requirement. If you are bowhunting turkeys, make sure you study up on where to aim, as the kill-zone is very small, and a miss could mean an injury and no recovery of the bird.
Currently, only 42 states have a fall turkey season, and the rules and regulations vary by state. Be sure to check your state's hunting regulations guide for the specifics in your area.
Sarah Honadel is an avid outdoorswoman from Kentucky, now living in Idaho, who enjoys hunting elk, deer, turkey, pronghorn, and waterfowl. She is a team member at Huntress View, Pro Staff for Browning Trail Cameras, and Brand Ambassador for the GoWild app and BaseMap app. Follow her on Instagram @waddysarah and @arrowridgecreations.