Wild turkeys are most gregarious in fall and winter, when mature hens and their offspring join other similar family groups. Males also form loose assemblages, often of either mature toms or jakes. TNS

The flock drew closer, gray heads and brown bodies appearing and vanishing amidst the ferns and low shrubs that obscured much of the forest understory as they scratched the ground for nuts, seeds and suddenly exposed invertebrates. My pulse quickened as the critical moment approached.

When the first birds were nearly in gun range I tensed, and as they hesitated then turned away I sprang to my feet and charged the flock as quickly as I could, scattering them hither and yon. My hunting partner was stunned but I gave him a knowing look and simply said, “Now watch and wait.”

Another fall turkey season is upon us and by all indications, it should be a good one. While not as popular as some other species, fall turkeys are gaining a small but dedicated following among hunters seeking new and different challenges. If you’re considering joining the fraternity, there’s a few things you should know.

Nesting and brooding conditions were quite favorable for the fowl. The post-hatching period is critical as young poults subjected to cold, wet conditions often experience high mortality rates. While temperatures were below average, rain was scarce so productivity was high and there should be plenty of nearly grown youngsters around.

Wild turkeys are most gregarious in fall and winter, when mature hens and their offspring join other similar family groups to form larger aggregations. Males, meanwhile, also form loose assemblages, often of either mature toms or jakes entering their second autumn, but occasionally with some mixing of age groups.

The fall season allows hunters to take up to five birds of either sex, depending on which wildlife management district they’re hunting in. As they represent the reproductive potential of the population, taking hens might seem risky; but populations are at or near their highest point in the fall and removing some surplus actually increases survival rates for those that remain. Furthermore, Maine’s turkey population is strong and healthy, and biologists have determined it can withstand this level of hunting.


Part of the reason is that fall hunting hasn’t caught on as much as spring hunting. In spring, turkeys are the only game in town while there are far more options in the fall, most of which hunters are far more familiar with and accustomed to. Waterfowl, upland game and bowhunting for deer get most of the attention, leaving a bounty of birds for those who opt to seek them out.

As in the spring, scouting is important. Fall turkeys are somewhat less predictable, traversing the landscape in search of food, but will key in on a reliable food source. You need to stick with it, too, as the birds may be in one location today, and gone tomorrow. Fortunately a little road scouting will usually uncover their latest location.

Once located, there are several options for how to hunt them. Simply sitting and calling, the most common method in spring, does work, but not as well in the fall. Without the lure of love, birds are less inclined to leave the group. This tactic will be more effective if you know, or think you know where they’re going and can get there ahead of them.

A more popular, effective and fun method, as described above, involves what turkey hunters call “busting up a flock.” More often than not the birds don’t come within gun or bow range but you can get close enough to charge and scatter them. The more birds and the more different directions they scatter in the better.

As noted, turkeys are gregarious in the fall. The young ones especially don’t like being alone and will soon seek out their recently departed companions. Sometimes it takes a while. Other times the assembly calls of mother hens and kee-kees of lost poults start soon after the break. All a hunter has to do is mimic what they hear, sit tight and wait.

Unlike spring hunting, a blown opportunity doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the hunt. If they don’t come close enough you can try another break, or go in search of another flock; there should be plenty around. Another nice thing is that the action doesn’t end by mid-morning. You can hunt all day with a reasonable chance for success. With fewer hunters, there’s also less competition and chance for interference. Fall turkey hunting also seems more casual and relaxed. Give it a shot.

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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