I had barely settled in against the base of a big pine when I heard the first plaintive whistle: kee-kee-kee-kee. Noting the direction of origin, I shifted slightly, orienting my forward shoulder in the general direction.

Soon came another whistle, from a different direction, prompting a compromising readjustment. Then there was another, from behind, and another to my left and closer. There would be no more movement now. I could only wait, and hope one of my intended prey would pass fortuitously in front of my gun barrel. That’s part of how the fall turkey hunting game is played, but much preceded that potential opportunity.

Fall turkey hunting is similar to spring in some ways, and different in others. For example, scouting and ambush are important, and the object of both, in most cases, is coaxing a bird within range of your weapon of choice. How you go about that is where things start to part.

Where the spring hunter sits tight and still, calling and hoping the birds will come their way, the fall hunter takes a more dynamic approach, charging at and scattering or “busting” the flock before setting up to call them back in. It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s a heck of a lot more fun.

Turkeys are social animals year round, but especially in the fall when larger flocks typically consist of several hens and their broods. The birds are accustomed to being around one another, and when separated are eager to recongregate. That is their Achilles’ heel to the fall hunter.

A successful bust involves scattering birds in multiple directions. Otherwise, they tend to gather at some distant location. Once the deed is done, the hunter settles in somewhere around the break point. You can either begin calling right away, or wait for the pleading kee-kee calls of lonely young birds, the assembly yelping of an anxious hen, or the kee-kee-run of older birds, their voices cracking from high-pitched whistles into more familiar yelps. Then, simply mimic what you hear.

Calling is often loud and aggressive on the part of both hunted and hunter. The younger poults are accustomed to the sound of their mother hen, which is what you’re competing with. But they’re also eager to join their flock mates, which are whistling their way through the woods in hopes of a reply.

Another major difference in quarry is sex. While the spring hunt is limited to male birds, fall hunters may take birds of either sex. Some hunters prefer to hold out for males, which can be more difficult to hunt in the fall as they’re far less social. Others are less selective, preferring a tender (and more naive) young bird to a rangy old one.

And thanks to a significant liberalization on limits, fall hunters should have far more opportunity to take home a turkey. The fall bag limit now allows five birds of either sex. Time will tell whether this has a deleterious effect on the population. Fewer hunters pursue turkeys in the fall, partly because so many other game species are available; and most of those that do are probably content to take a bird or two. A few more deer hunters may take targets of opportunity that stray too close to their treestands as well, and the liberal bag may attract a few more hunters.

In addition to novelty and an alternative to more traditional fall pursuits like deer and waterfowl, the fall turkey hunt also provides a more relaxed experience. A mistake, or an uncooperative bird in the spring, could mean an untimely end to your hunting day. With more birds around in the fall, it’s easier to find more should your first or second attempt go awry.

In fact, it’s not uncommon to take several birds from a single break. If you down one, sit tight and keep calling and you might lure more in. That makes fall hunting a great option for sharing the hunt with one or more other hunters, especially kids. And if you’re not into the run-and-gun action of breaking up and recalling flocks, you can always default to more traditional tactics like scouting and lying in wait to ambush them. It’s effective, though not nearly as much fun.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: 

[email protected]

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