Hit the woods early and listen for a melody of tree yelping and clucking on a hardwood ridge or hillside. Young hens may cackle at fly-down time. On a warm October morning a tom might even boom a gobble. After pitching out of his tree at first light, he might cut loose an aggravated purr to challenge other toms in the pecking order. You can hear flock talk and the thumping of descending wings for 200 to 400 yards on a clam morning.
Try to maneuver between roosted birds and a major food source nearby-fresh acorns, a grain field, a pasture with grasshoppers, etc. Set up in a “cut-off zone” and cluck, yelp and purr. A whole flock heading for breakfast might not come to your calls, but a curious bird or two might peel off and stray into shooting range.
During the midmorning and early-afternoon hours, hike logging roads, horse trails, power lines…you get the idea. Walk below the crests of ridges-don’t skyline-where you can see flats, hollows, creek bottoms and fields below. Pause frequently to look and listen for turkeys (use a binocular). If you spot or hear a flock scratching leaves or yelping and purring, sneak close and call.
You can also have a blast by busting birds. Try to circle above a flock, handle your shotgun safely and sprint into the turkeys, yelling like a madman and barking and yipping like a dog (don’t laugh, it works!). Get wild and try to scatter the birds in all directions.
Then study em’ as they fly away. Hens and poults? Longbeards? Jakes? It helps to know so that you can tailor your assembly calling to the task at hand. For example, you don’t want to kee-kee like a jenny hen to a busted 3-year-old tom. He won’t come back to that. He’s listening for gobbler clucks and yelps.
Set up at the break site. If you flushed young birds, give ’em 20 minutes or so before yelping and kee-keeing. But if they were mature gobblers, wait another 30 minutes. Whenever turkeys begin assembly talking on their own, call back and mimic the calls they’re making.
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Keep slipping around the woods and looking and listening for turkeys. If you scatter a flock late, say after 3:30 p.m. or so, the birds might wait until the next morning to reassemble. Return to the flush site at dawn and you’re almost guaranteed to hear clucking and yelping, and it will probably be louder and more animated than normal. Lost birds that roost alone for the night are eager to find their flock mates the next morning. They might fly down and run to your first calls.
Many hunters use turkey decoys in the spring but not in the fall. Why? Fakes can work great when the leaves are changing colors and falling. For one thing most decoys are the size of 8- to 10-pound hens, so they are perfect for “matching the hatch” each year. Most decoys have muted blue-gray heads like turkeys do in autumn.
Stake fakes where they’re highly visible-in fields, food plots, logging roads and open woods when the leaves are down-when calling to flocks or scattered birds. One or 2 decoys might pull in lost birds, but a set of 3 to 5 is probably better for catching the eyes of flocked turkeys. Make sure decoys are legal where you’re hunting.