Fall turkey hunting techniques
Roosting a bird: Look for turkeys in agricultural fields, powerlines, and other open near the end of the day. Stay far enough away so you’re not spotted and watch where the turkeys enter the woods or fly into a tree just before dark. The next morning, set up at that location well before sunrise and use soft yelps or an adult hen assembly call once you hear or see the turkeys fly out of the trees for the day. (See calling section below for more about calls.)
“Busting” a fall flock: A method for fall turkey hunting is to “bust” a flock and scatter the birds. Anything that surprises the flock, including running towards them, will work to split up the group. Once the turkeys scatter, choose a location near where the flock split up, wait a few minutes and then begin to call. The turkeys will naturally start to regroup once they feel that danger has passed. Most hunters use a mouth call to make a “kee-kee” call. You can also try the assembly yelp of an adult hen. Once you get a response from a turkey, try to imitate the sound the bird is making.
Bowhunting for deer and turkey: Since archery turkey and deer hunting seasons overlap in the fall, deer hunters with a turkey permit and an archery stamp can pursue both species. Pursuing turkeys from a tree stand is quite different from traditional hunting methods, keep the following tips in mind while hunting from a stand in the fall.
Be still in the stand, don’t get busted! Turkeys have some of the best vision of any animal in the woods. They see the full color spectrum, have a nearly 300-degree field of vision, and are always alert for threats. During the fall they are almost always in a flock, which means that dozens of sharp eyes will be watching for danger. Use extreme caution with your movements when turkeys are near—even reaching for your bow can alert turkeys of your presence and cause them to move off. If you are still enough (and lucky enough) for a flock to come within your effective archery range, it is then extremely difficult to draw your bow without being detected. Pick a time to draw when the flock is not alarmed and when your movements will be obstructed by vegetation or other landscape features. Hold your draw until a lethal shot opportunity presents itself. You can increase your chances for success by practicing at home and modifying your draw weight. Draw and hold your bow for increasingly longer intervals while maintaining accuracy.
Never shoot a walking turkey! Turkeys have extremely small vital areas, so shot placement and accuracy are everything. Unfortunately, turkeys rarely stay still for more than a few seconds when they are feeding and traveling. Make your shot when the bird pauses for a moment. Again, practice holding your draw at home before the season—the longer you can hold your bow back the better.
Practice with the gear you hunt with! Practice with the arrow/broadhead combination that you’ll hunt with before heading into the field. Sometimes broadheads will fly differently than field points so it’s critical to know where your arrows will hit when hunting. A broadhead used for deer will also be lethal on turkeys; the difference is that the vital area on a turkey is much smaller. Consider practicing from an elevated position (for both deer and turkey) to simulate the angles that you will encounter when hunting from a treestand.
During the fall, male turkeys form groups and separate groups of hens and their poults form as well. By this time of year, the poults may be just as large as the adult hens, so identification in the field can be difficult. However, all licensed hunters with a turkey permit may harvest one bird of either sex during the fall season.
Adult male turkeys are black or blackish-bronze with white wing bars, blackish-brown tail feathers, and a blueish-gray to red head. These “gobblers” weigh about 15–25 pounds. They typically sport a 6–10 inch hair-like “beard” which protrudes from the upper chest.
Females, or hens, are about 9–12 pounds, and are generally less conspicuous. Their heads are typically dull brown or blueish-gray. Although rare, female turkeys can have beard.
Identifying young turkeys born early in the spring can be tricky, as they will be about the same size as the adult hens, and mostly appear similar. Once harvested, sex can easily be identified by pulling a few feathers from the around the area of the breast. Hens will have a brown/buff colored tip while males will have a black lined tip. The wing tips of these juveniles will be very pointed and will not have complete barring on the end of the feather, compared to adult hens and gobblers that are worn down more and squared off, with barring that extends all the way to the end of the feather.
Where to hunt
Wild turkeys are habitat generalists and thrive in a variety of environments in Massachusetts. They can be found in agricultural lands, in forests, but also in suburban and urban areas. Places with a mix of habitat types are the most productive for turkeys because they provide abundant food and cover throughout the year.
When looking for a place to hunt, focus your attention on areas with a combination of forested and open habitats like:
- agricultural fields of all sorts
- hayfields or meadows
- forestry operations that create openings in the woods
Tip: Ask your friends and family where they see turkeys while driving or walking. This can save countless hours of scouting! If you are tipped off to an area with turkeys, a quick look at an aerial map (using tools like the MassWildlife Lands Viewer, OnX, OLIVER, or Massachusetts Interactive Property Map) can reveal an adjacent woodlot, farm, or forest where you can hunt.
When you find an area to hunt, make sure to:
- Secure permission from the landowner for private property
- Identify parking and access locations
- Check local town bylaws relative to hunting on private or municipal property
Once you have identified potential hunting locations, the next step is to scout those areas for turkey sign. Some locations attract turkeys year after year, but others are less predictable. Fall turkey hunting is a lot different than the spring season since the turkeys are not mating and therefor do not respond as well to the classic turkey calls. Successful fall hunting often requires more scouting to locate turkeys and pattern their movements. Read below for more tips for pre-season scouting.
Look: Bring binoculars when scouting and look carefully. This can often be done from your vehicle—taking a few Sunday drives can pay dividends when looking for turkeys. If possible, drive through some prospective areas on your way into work prior to the season, especially on rainy days when turkeys are likely be out in the open.
Find the roosting area: Once you locate a group of turkeys, try and find their roosting areas. On autumn mornings, once they fly down from their roost, turkeys gather and spend their day in large flocks. Many hunters will try to roost birds the evening before their hunt and then try to call them in when they come off roost. Turkeys are quite active in the early morning so it’s important to get close to a roost, but not too close when setting up to hunt. In the fall, toms and jakes don’t gobble much in the evening and hens call very softly, if at all, so hunters must rely on sight rather than sound to locate the birds.
Turkey sign to look for when scouting
Look for different turkey sign including scat, feathers, scratching in the leaf litter, dust bowls or turkey tracks in the mud or sand.
- Tracks: Turkey tracks can be easy to identify due to their size. Look in muddy and sandy areas for tracks. Males have a distinctly longer middle toe compared to females.
- Dust bowls: Turkeys make small depressions in the sand to “dust” themselves which helps keep their feathers clean and free of mites. These depressions can often be found on field edges, logging roads, or any patch of dry dirt. Turkeys will often use the same dust baths day after day, so a well-used dust bowl is a good sign that there are resident birds around.
- Scratching/feeding sign: When turkeys feed in the woods they often scratch leaves leaving an area roughly the size of a paper plate. Scratchings can be anywhere but they will often be at the base of trees and fallen debris.
- Scat: Turkey scat is small and can be difficult to find, especially for someone just starting out. Scat is often found beneath roost locations where the turkeys spend the night and in areas where they feed heavily. If you find scat, you can determine the sex of the bird by whether the scat is straight or curled.
- Feathers: Turkey feathers can often be found under or near a roost location. Finding a lot of feathers is a great way to confirm a roost location.
Sighting in your firearm and shot placement
Patterning your shotgun before the season is critical to determine which brand of ammunition and which shot size will work best for your firearm at various ranges. Different combinations of ammunition, firearms, and chokes will produce different patterns. Identify the maximum distance/range from which you can shoot that produces a clean pattern to ethically harvest a turkey. Click here for a complete guide on patterning your shotgun.
Note: To ethically harvest a turkey, aim for the head and neck. This ensures a quick clean kill and helps keep any pellets out of the meat.
Sighting in your bow and shot placement
You must be proficient with your bow to ethically harvest an animal—this is especially true for turkeys whose vital area is small. Make sure you know your effective shooting range with the broadhead you plan to use. Some broadheads are designed for aiming/shooting at the turkey’s neck and head. These broadheads have a very limited range in which they fly accurately and are not meant for aiming at the body. Other fixed blade and mechanical broadheads can be used to aim at the neck/head or the vitals located in the body. These pictures depict the ideal shot placement locations. Get tips for bowhunting turkeys.
Turkey sounds and types of calls
In the fall, turkey hunters commonly break up a flock and then create turkey noises to reassemble the group. Below are the most common types of calls and sounds.
- Kee-Kee: This call is the call of a lost young turkey and is the most common call used in the fall turkey season to reassemble a scattered flock. The kee-kee is usually a three-note call that lasts about two seconds. A variation of the call, the kee-kee run, is merely a kee-kee followed by a yelp.
- Yelp: The yelp is the most common call used by turkeys to communicate with and find each other.
- Cluck: Clucks are a common call and very easy to make using all types of turkey calls.
- Purr: Purrs are a sound often made by hens when they are content and feeding. These can be used to relax a bird and get them to come the last few yards needed for a shot. A fighting purr is much louder and aggressive than a regular purr. Hunters sometimes use the fighting purr to imitate two territorial hens facing off.
Types of calls
- Mouth calls can be tough to get the hang of but often produce some of the best sounding turkey calls. These calls are made with different numbers of latex reeds which create sound when the user blows air over them. Small cuts in the latex can also produce different sounds.
- Box calls are very user friendly and can be used to make several different calls. When using a box call be sure to use chalk on the paddle of the call to create quality sounds.
- Pot calls are commonly made from a flat piece of slate or glass and then scratched with a “striker” to create different sounds. Using different materials (slate or glass) and different “strikers” will produce different pitches and sounds. Many turkey hunters carry a pot call with 3 or more strikers to imitate different birds.
Learn more about turkey calls and hear their different calls at the National Wild Turkey Federation The Sounds of the Wild Turkey page.
Tips for Calling:
- Call the turkey to you, don't stalk it. Stalking can lead to hunting accidents.
- Select a calling position with your back against a tree or other natural obstacle large enough to cover your human outline.