I once saw a wild turkey pacing back and forth along a hog-wire fence, looking for a way through the 4-foot-tall barrier. In the time it took for me to drive by, the bird never figured out that with two flaps of its great wings, it could have easily sailed over the fence. You would think that such a bird would be easy prey for a hunter. And you would be wrong. Kansas' fall turkey hunting season is long, and turkeys are abundant across the state. However, because we have so many other great hunting opportunities - deer, waterfow, pheasants, and quail - fall turkey hunting is often overlooked. We have a strong spring turkey hunting tradition, but our fall tradition is underutilized.
I remember one of my first attempts to hunt turkeys in the fall. I was learning to bowhunt deer and had become completely obsessed with it. However, there were probably more turkeys than deer in the area I was hunting, so I bought a fall permit. One morning, as I climbed into my stand in the dark, I heard some high-pitched "chirps" that I didn't initially recognize. Each time I moved, more "chirps" from above. As the sky began to get lighter, I scanned the tree branches above me for the source, and finally made out silhouettes of roosted turkeys. The "chirps" I was hearing were "putts" -- turkey alarm calls. I remembered the permit I had in my pocket, so I held still and waited for daylight.
When it was light enough to see, the birds began sailing to the ground around me. "This will be easy", I thought. But just then, I heard a hen turkey land on a branch parallel with my stand in an adjacent tree. She eyeballed me from every angle and putted constantly. The birds that had landed moved away quickly, never giving me a shot. Then she flew down a safe distance away. A bird that sometimes doesn't act intelligent can become extremely wary when it sense something is after it. Wild turkeys are anything but easy prey.
The really good thing about fall turkey hunting is that hunting pressure is low and turkeys are abundant. Populations are stable or growing in the central, northcentral and northwest portions of Kansas. And eastern Kansas populations that declined after a series of abnormally wet springs have begun to rebound. The season opens October 1 and runs through the end of January, only closing during the firearm deer seasons. In Unit 2 (the eastern half of the state) a hunter can purchase up to three turkey game tags, in addition to the initial permit, allowing a season limit of four birds. Shotguns and archery equipment are legal for the fall season.
Taking a turkey in the fall is a challenge because the birds don't respond to calling as well as they do during the spring season, but they can be called in the fall. Here are five tips that will help you bas a fall turkey in time for Thanksgiving dinner.
- Scout potential hunting areas from a distance and watch birds as they travel from roosting sites to feeding areas.
- Once you've found a travel pattern, build a blind that will put them in range as they move past.
- Turkeys have excellent vision, so it's best for a hunter to keep still and remain hidden. Too much moving around, especially in open country, will put birds on alert.
- However, if the birds don't pass by in range, another tactic is to intentionally scare the birds, breaking up the flock. Turkeys find safety in numbers, so they have a strong instinct to regroup. The hunter then hides in the area and calls them back. Separated birds will make a soft kee, kee, run call to find flock mates. Learn to imitate this call and you can get them in range.
- Turkeys gather in large flocks during the fall, so hunters must avoid many sets of eyes to get within shotgun or bow range. Select a camouflage pattern that blends in with the vegetation and use any available topography to keep out of sight as you move into an area.
Mike Miller grew up in Greensburg, hunting and fishing in the fields, grasslands and farm ponds of Kiowa County. He’s worked for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks in Pratt for 28 years, and currently heads the Information Production Section, editing and producing Kansas Wildlife & Parks magazine, as well as a variety of other publications. He spends his spare time hunting birds and fishing for whatever is biting.