Hunting in the Woods
Submitted by Christine Connors
Opening day, December 1, 1999, was a good day for turkeys, a great day for hunters. I had prepared for my first fall turkey hunt by learning from those who had gone before me, scouting for roosting sites, and practicing calls. Thankfully, I spent the day with someone who had been turkey hunting for ten years. Even though he had never been fall hunting either, Mike taught me a lot about turkeys that day.
Fall turkey is different from the spring in many ways, but the two remain similar in that you must remain dead still once you are set up and are calling the birds in. The most suggested strategy for fall hunting is to find a flock of young birds, then try your luck at scattering them in many directions. Do this by running straight into the flock, yell, scream, flap your arms—make all of the other hunters out there think you’ve lost it. With luck, most of the flock will head one direction and a few birds will go the other way. Your goal at this point is to lead the stragglers back home to the biggest part of the flock. After the initial shock has worn off, both from you and the turkeys, head in the general direction the majority of the flock flew. Then, set yourself in a hidden spot with clear shooting lanes. Begin yelping at intervals and the lost few should come right to you. A less suggested, but viable, fall hunting strategy is to determine the flock’s roosting site ahead of time, then set up between the roost and a potential feeding area. When the birds wake from their slumber and do what they do best—eat--hopefully, you have picked their breakfast nook. If you decide to do this, be sure to go in WAY before sunup because the birds will be less likely to leave the roost site when it is dark. I was lucky to have chances to test out both of these tactics this fall.
The weekend before opening day, I went to Jack and Estelle Martin’s farm an hour before sunup. My friend, Dave, had seen turkey in the morning while deer hunting from a stand near the mid-section of the farm. I headed toward that patch of woods, sat down, then began to listen. Shortly before sunup, I began to hear cackle down calls. Then, sounds reminiscent of a bulldozer knocking down the woods began. Limbs cracked, leaves rustled, wings flapped, and turkeys cackled for the next fifteen minutes as they headed into the cow pasture for breakfast. On opening day, Mike and I headed to the roost fifteen minutes or so prior to sunrise. Unfortunately, the birds were beginning to wake up when we got there and we startled them from their roosts. They headed for a set of hardwoods on the hill opposite us next to the property line, so we decided to set up where we were and bird watch. A few minutes after we sat down, we heard a rustle in the leaves behind us, then a short cluck. Mamma had gotten separated from her babies during the wake up and she walked ten yards from us,spotted her babies on the opposite hill, then ran. Mike and I looked at each other in disbelief—his gun was laying on the ground, mine was on my lap, but I hadn’t even loaded a shell yet. Unfortunately, we learned the hard way to be prepared even if it appears that the flock is not split.
As Mamma greeted her babies, the youngsters ran around her in circles and let out clucks and yelps. It was neat to watch, but boy, we really wanted to be in the middle of that. The birds began heading over the hill towards the front of the farm, so we decided to pack up and head them off from the other side to bust up the flock. Just as we put our packs on—BOOM!!! Across the ridge, another hunter began shooting at the flock. They were scared deep into the middle of a neighboring farm, so Mike and I headed in for lunch. After lunch, we headed back out to tour the farm. While going around the ridge tops slowly, we jumped several does that were bedded down for the afternoon. Mike spent some time pointing out potential hotspots from spring turkey breeding. We also found several dusting spots and lots of poop. After coming down from the ridge, we decided to head back to the spot where we spent the morning.
We figured that the turkeys would probably come back over the ridge from the other farm to roost for the night. We set up a "flock" of decoys and Mike began making soft yelps and clucks at intervals of fifteen minutes. About a half hour before sundown, we heard yelps and kiki runs from the opposite hill side and within minutes, forty to fifty turkeys were ambling down the ridge into the holler where they roosted the night before. Mike continued to call and several jakes came up out of the holler right to us. I couldn’t get a clear shot because they stayed just over the ridge from me. They eventually came out right in front of Mike, but he didn’t shoot. I want to thank him for not scaring the birds from the roost that night. Without his consideration for me, I probably wouldn’t have had a chance of getting my first bird the next day. Next time, I’ll pass if he can’t get a shot!!! After sundown, we gathered the decoys and headed back to the farmhouse to eat again—Estelle is no holds barred when it comes to feeding us while we hunt and we really appreciate that!!!
The next morning, Mike had to work so I headed into the woods by myself. This time, I was in the woods forty-five minutes prior to sunup. I only have one decoy at this point, so I just hunkered down near a tree in the hardwoods the birds were so fond of the day before. As they had on Sunday, the birds began their cackling chorus and flydowns fifteen minutes prior to sunrise. They came in a large group to the middle of the field below me and decided to eat corn from the cow patties instead of the beautiful acorns that surrounded me. Although it was neat to be within sixty yards of the birds while they ate and fought with each other, it was hard to sit dead still for forty-five minutes. Eventually, they began heading down the hill away from me so I decided to try the bust-up tactic. I ran down the hill screaming and yelling, then tripped over a stump. At this time, I realized I had done something VERY foolish. I was running with a loaded firearm. Even after taking hunter safety, listening to many people talk of the dangers of improper handling of arms, and working very hard to promote gun safety, I broke every rule in the book. I lost it, and I’ll never do it again. Anyway, after setting the gun down, I continued running, flapping, and yelling. The majority of the flock went to the mid-section of Jack’s farm, while three or four birds flew the opposite direction. Textbook perfect.
I headed toward the mid-section of the farm, nestled into the base of a tree, and began yelping at intervals. Within minutes, I heard several yelps from the hill opposite me toward the middle of the farm. This was the main flock and they were looking for the stragglers too. I picked up my bag and gun and crept around the ridgetop toward the main flock. I was hoping to get between them and the lost birds and I did. Unfortunately, the flock came over the hill before I got covered, and they scattered again. After my heart stopped pounding, I moved toward the back of the farm following the majority of the flock for the second time that morning. I sat and leaned back into a soft crook in a tree and began to yelp. Shortly, I heard fighting purrs and wings flapping a few hundred yards ahead and below me. I yelped like crazy, heard the fighting stop, then leaves flutter as turkey feet ran through them right to me. As soon as I saw the first bird, I took a clean shot at him. My very first turkey. He was one of the spring jakes and weighed 16 pounds with a small beard tucked into his chest feathers. My family is looking forward to Christmas dinner and so am I. Although I don’t look back often, I will always remember the sounds and excitement of my first fall gun season for turkey hunting. Thanks again to Mike who spent his day teaching me.