Local hunters have the opportunity to get fresh turkey from October 15-28 for Chautauqua County Hunters.
This version of the fall turkey hunt is very different from the spring season.
The first major difference is that there is no reproduction during the fall. Autumn birds have long since ended their need to promote their species.
Then the turkeys in our part of turkey country flocked in with long beards, hens, hennies and jakes in October. Herding has begun and will continue until the winter months when several family herds join together into huge herds. The ease of working in a large flock to find food sources has worked for turkeys for centuries.
The main difference is that in our part of the country of Turkey, we are allowed to take a bird of either sex. Also, hunters can hunt all day, instead of stopping at noon as we do in the spring. This allows hunters a wide range of possibilities and hunting styles. The extended hours allow hunters to catch birds roosting in the evening or emerging from the roost in the morning.
With both of these methods, the key is knowing where these large herds are roosting and getting close enough without being detected.
Once the roost is discovered, a nighttime hunt allows this strategy to work well as long as you stay away from the herd before it moves towards the roost. Scouting will discover well traveled paths and ambush points.
Getting up early and sneaking into the roost area unheard or seen with dozens of eyes and ears can be tough, but very successful in the fall.
The most popular way to hunt fall birds is with a dog. Yes, here in New York State, the land of crazy rules and laws, hunters are allowed to use dogs for fall turkey hunting. If you’ve never done it or heard of it, let me explain the system to the best of my ability.
This hunting tactic is really simple; use a trained dog. The dog follows fall turkey scents to find and then disperse fall flocks. The hunter then gathers his dog and does a mise en place as he would in the spring, while hiding the dog.
When people think of turkey hunting, most think of calling a strutting tomcat in the spring. Few people think of labeling a turkey during the last months of the year. What few turkey hunters know is that fall turkey hunting has a longer history than spring hunting.
In particular, fall turkey hunting with the help of hunting dogs dates back over 100 years. In those days, turkey hunting with dogs was a gentlemen’s sport and often only the wealthy had good turkey dogs. Spring hunting, on the other hand, has only been legal for decades in many states.
Currently, if one needs to find a good turkey dog, one has to go to Virginia, where most of the turkey dog breeders live. I have spent many fall hunts with dogs from a handful of breeders, but in my opinion there are none better than those from the Byrne family.
The late John Byrne developed a line of turkey dogs which is a cross between a coon hound, an English setter and an English pointer. The Byrne line of dogs is considered by many to be the best of the best, but the truth is that almost any bird dog pup can make a great turkey dog if trained properly.
A turkey dog is trained like a coon dog to cover a lot of ground and to find a fresh turkey scent, which eventually leads the dog to a flock of turkeys. On a typical day of fall turkey hunting, a dog will travel miles of terrain looking for a flock of turkeys.
When the dog finds a herd, it runs into the middle of the herd, barking loudly. Barking gives the hunter the location of the herd and helps disperse the herd. When a dog bumps into the middle of a flock, the turkeys fly and run in all directions.
When a flock of turkeys separates from each other, the turkeys begin calling each other within hours or less and head to the dispersal location to reunite. The hunter’s goal is to sit at the scatter spot and call the stray turkeys within range.
With the use of the lost hen call, the birds will head to the scattered location. Sitting right where the break occurs is key here. While there are many amazing things about the Byrne kennel line, the most amazing is that once they break up the herd and start barking, it won’t stop until you find the turkey and put it in its bag.
The bag is a key for many reasons. Byrne dogs sit or stand still while in the bag, which is basically an oversized pillow or camo duffel bag. Once bagged, they move on, even when the birds begin to return to the dispersal point. It is an incredible site to see.
A fall gobbler is often called shy, quiet, and sly. After being separated from the herd, they do not run to the rifle like a drum. In fact, many serious fall hunters say you can expect to wait hours or even a full day after a flock disperses before a bird returns. Patience is needed when hunting fall gobblers.
This is where we have to discuss the indifferent label allowed to us. I know and understand both sides of the story. Some won’t shoot a chicken while others will only want to shoot gobblers. People, again, I get the logic. For me and mine, we were bothered enough by a hen in the spring, to shoot only adult hens. This is the only time of year when we hunters can do our part to increase the chances of having a long, mature beard in future spring hunts.
Fall turkey hunting with dogs requires a good hunting dog, decent calling ability and good lumbering skills. In the fall, a turkey doesn’t let you know where it is. We have to find them. Knowing where birds roost, what their food sources are, and typical daily habits of turkeys helps put a bird on the ground.
When a well-trained turkey comes into the woods, it goes crazy. Nothing beats the sound of a dog barking in the autumn woods followed by the sound of turkey wings.
As with all types of hunting with a dog, it is important to track them with a GPS collar and keep them hydrated. Years of experience have proven that when you walk in a straight line, your dog walks or runs three to five times more than you do.
Although using a dog is a great way to hunt fall turkeys, we have successfully used the “human dog”. Once a herd is spotted, send a hunter into the herd and disperse it. The key here is to get a good break. You need the birds to fly in all possible directions. When a good herd bust occurs, it can be a sign of a good hunt. The key is a good herd bust.
If you haven’t tried the fall turkey hunt this season, take some time off the tree stand and work on getting some fresh turkey for Thanksgiving. Believe me, your family will enjoy this tasty and wild dish.