Scouting for turkeys in the fall from the deer stand

There’s plenty to be learned about birds while you’re sitting in a tree

It’s been too long since I’ve sat in a bow stand, taking in the sights and sounds that the gun-hunters of November never get to experience. They miss some of the heat and mosquitoes, for sure, but if you’re a turkey hunter at heart, you might be surprised to hear that many successful fall turkey hunts actually start with someone chasing a creature with four legs rather than two.

If you’re like me, you might need as many reasons as possible to get in some more turkey scouting. Heading to a tree with a deer tag in hand could be the motivation you need.

While I can think of a number of reasons why deer hunting is a great turkey primer, it’s not because I’m hunting from a tree. While deer stands offer great vantage points, I’ve only once killed a turkey from a tree. That’s not necessarily for a lack of trying, although I do prefer hunting birds on the ground.

I’ve drawn on but not shot at a number of fall birds from a tree, but I blame that on more failed spring arrow-flinging sessions than I’d care to admit. I know from experience that the kill zone on even the largest of toms is quite small.

Especially with deer-hunting broadheads, you’ll likely be forced to aim for the spine, heart, and lungs, and a moving turkey (they rarely stop) is a challenge at 20 yards, let alone 40.

Instead, the benefit of deer hunting for turkeys comes in the valuable information gathered as you unwittingly generate leads you never intended. Often, while perched high in a tree, I’ve taken cues from toms and hens alike. Their patterns are tough to establish when you simply walk through an area and find tracks, see them once from afar, or catch them on a trail camera. Those are single points in time, and they require you to piece together many parts of the puzzle to even get a fuzzy idea of the birds’ plans for the day.

It’s far easier to spend a few afternoons or mornings watching, listening, and learning as their fall habits unfold, rather than guessing after a singular encounter.

After you know a bit about their behavior comes the tricky part. It’s difficult to take a break from deer hunting, especially if that’s your keenest interest, but you’re much more likely to kill a fall turkey while on the ground. Here’s why.

Once I crawl out of a bow stand, I put the bow away and grab a scattergun. More importantly, if you’re not selective about the turkey you take, you can re-position several times on flocks of hens, jakes, and toms alike.

When there are a few together, turkeys have the tendency to be even more nervous creatures, I’ve found, as evidenced by the many times I’ve watched them lose their cool for no reason whatsoever. Several times I’ve even seen an entire flock fly up into the trees for seemingly no reason. That unsettled nature within them is what keeps them alive, but it also makes hunting tougher as we get near Halloween.

Call that motivation for taking your bird sooner than later, and also a reason for abandoning the fall deer sits a bit early, too. Whether you believe in an October deer lull or not, there typically are some warm-weather days or full-moon nights – thing that make daytime deer activity limited at best. Make those earlier deer sits work for you, and don’t be afraid to traipse upon your deer ground for some fall birds. Especially if you quit hunting turkeys an hour or more before dark, you’ll avoid most deer that may be up and moving around from their beds.

Fall birds are most vocal in the early morning, so think about deer hunting a few mornings if for nothing else than to hear where turkeys are roosted, when they gather, and where they head to for the day.

Pick a quiet morning with no wind, and chances are that you’ll hear birds all around you. It might not be the forlorn gobbles of spring, but often they can sound off more than you might think. Typically, you’ll hear more young of the year and hen yelps, coupled with all kinds of scolding and cross-chatter.

The more preoccupied turkeys are with their own activities, the more opportunity you have to use the remaining cover you have left in the woods to get closer.

Call, just to be part of the crew. Yelp with them, cluck and purr as best you can. Don’t be afraid to challenge a lead or vocal hen with some mimicry. Their frustration becomes your excitement, as you start stepping on their calls, and the whole group draws closer to see the show.

That back and forth is a great reason to take a hen in the fall, and pass on the toms in anticipation of the great spring show. Hens are more abundant than toms in the fall, and all that chatter will make you a better turkey caller – that, and I’ve come to enjoy the thought of a wild Thanksgiving turkey to share with guests and in-laws who assume I must’ve gotten a free-range bird from the store.

For more tips from Joel Nelson check out the pages of Outdoor News or go to: www.joelnelsonoutdoors.com

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