A wild turkey crosses a field in Freeport in 2020. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

All things considered, I don’t understand why more folks don’t hunt turkeys in the fall.

Perhaps it’s because there are so many other options in October, between bowhunting and birds, ducks and geese. Still, it’s great fun, and without the pressure and grind of spring hunting.

A typical spring hunt begins well before dawn, at a time of year when daylight comes way too early. It’s often preceded with plenty of scouting and some anxiousness over whether the birds have been bothered or someone has beaten you to your intended destination. Fall hunting is much more casual. An early start is still advisable, but not necessary. Rather than setting up silently in the dark, many a fall hunt begins by riding the roads or hiking the hills looking and listening for birds.

Once you find them, the fun begins. Fall flocks often consist of several hens and their nearly full grown poults, and hunting is for either sex so you have far more targets of opportunity. If you spot a flock and can predict where they’re going you need only circle ahead and set up, hoping they’ll head your way. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t.

A more popular and sometimes effective tactic is what’s called “busting a flock.” The hunter charges the birds, flushing them hither and yon, then sets up and tries to call them back. Turkeys are gregarious birds and much prefer the company of others, especially the youngsters. When separated they’ll go to great lengths to rejoin the group.

The hunter finds a likely spot, perhaps sets out a decoy or two, then waits. Sometimes it takes a while. Other times it happens more quickly. Eventually you’ll hear the plaintive “kee-kees” of young birds and the assembly yelps of hens looking to gather their flocks. It’s a great lesson on turkey calling because all you need to do is mimic what you hear.

Sometimes they’ll re-assemble out of sight or out of range but other times a bird or two will mistake you for the real thing and come close enough for a shot. When things go really well, you may even get multiple shots from a single break. When they don’t, you simply pack up and go find another flock.

Another nice thing about fall hunting is that afternoon hunting can be just as productive. The afternoon action tends to be very slow in the spring so most folks don’t bother. In the fall, you can chase ducks, deer or upland birds in the morning, or put in a day’s work, then strike out for turkeys later in the day. Tactics are much the same: looking, listening, busting flocks and calling. If you know where the birds roost, you can set up nearby, but not too close. Just like with ducks, if you disturb the roost too much they won’t return, then you’re back to square one with your scouting efforts.

Perhaps the best part about fall turkey hunting is the bounty you bring home. Bird hunters know how good a grouse tastes. A fat fall turkey is just as good, maybe even better if properly processed, and there’s a lot more meat. Just remember these aren’t they same turkeys you buy in the grocery store. They work for a living and so have very little fat. Add a little bacon or olive oil and you’ll have a meal fit for a king, from the king of game birds.

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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