Fall turkey harvest

October 17, 2008

Faith Outdoors

I enjoyed a beautiful fall day near Red Wing yesterday afternoon. I spent the morning getting my fishing boat ready for storage, then headed southeast with my two oldest boys, Joe and Andy.

I dropped them off at a farm that Joe will be hunting for deer on the Nov. 8 firearms opener. They would spend the afternoon scouting, while I went to another farm nearby to try for a wild turkey. I got there about 4 p.m. and prepared to enjoy a crisp, colorful autumn afternoon.

Fall turkey hunting is significantly different than spring hunting and, in my view, much harder. Rather than being spread out like they are in the spring, fall birds often gather and move in big flocks, which means they can be harder to locate.

But, I was optimistic I would encounter birds, even though I would only be out in the woods for the last two hours of the day. The place where I was headed was a spot I hunt for deer every November.

I always see turkeys while in my stand during the last hour of daylight. They walk by and then fly up into trees to roost for the night. There are a lot of big oak trees in this spot, which offer both food (acorns) and large branches for roosting.

I climbed into the stand and decided to sit there until dusk, when legal shooting hours end. I did some occasional calling and heard lots of squirrels dashing about in the newly-fallen leaves.

Then, around 5:30, I looked east of the stand and spotted a red head glowing in the late-afternoon sunlight. Another bird was right behind it — two big toms at about 60 yards or so. They were out of range and wouldn’t come any closer. They disappeared behind some trees and continued their journey away from the stand.

In the spring, I could have tried calling these birds in with some seductive hen calls, but that doesn’t work nearly as well in the fall. You can appeal to their flocking instincts and try to get them to join the group, but that works far better with hens and their young than it does with toms.

Oh well. It was fun just to see them and it got me to thinking about coming back in the spring to try for these gobblers.

I continued calling every 10-15 minutes, in the hope that these two gobblers might change their minds, or that some other birds might want to come in. But, the woods fell silent.

As the sun neared the horizon, I checked my watch, which read 5:55. There wasn’t much time left, but I figured birds might come in to roost. Sure enough, a few minutes later, I heard some rustling to the east of my stand and caught some movement. A hen was walking westward and would eventually get even with my stand.

Problem was, its route of travel would not bring it within 40 yards, which is generally considered to be the maximum effective range of most shotguns. But, I decided I would try taking the shot. If this was the route the birds were taking to the roost — and I was pretty sure it was — this was as close a shot as I would get.

The bird disappeared behind some branches and leaves and I got my gun ready and looked to the next opening. In a few moments, the bird appeared, then stopped next to a tree and ran her head up, as turkeys often do.

Initially, I was going to wait for her to get past the tree, but, because she was standing so still and her entire neck and head were visible, I decided now was the time to shoot.

I pulled the trigger, half expecting the bird to run off unscathed. To my surprise, the bird went down and started flapping, as turkeys often do after they’re shot. It didn’t get up and I walked over to claim my prize.

It was a beautiful hen, which is legal in the fall but not in the spring. I prefer to take the hens in the fall and leave the toms for the spring. However, had the other two toms been closer, I definitely would have taken one of them. As it was, I was happy to take home this bird. It’s my first fall turkey. I have come close on other occasions, but couldn’t connect.

Here’s the amazing part of this hunt — I paced off my shot distance at 55 yards. Had I known it was this far, I might not have taken the shot. Yet, I had made a clean kill shot at 40 yards in the spring and had patterned the gun at 40 yards at the shooting range and found the pattern to be tight.

I was confident the gun could probably kill a bird beyond 40 yards, but was amazed it did such a great job at 55 yards. This does wonders for my confidence with this gun. It also helps me realize that I can push the limits of shooting distance if I need to.

It also makes me very glad I did some more experimenting with chokes and different types of shotgun ammo back in April. I settled on a choke made by a company called Comp-N-Choke. Not only does this company make excellent chokes, the staff has done extensive testing on different guns to determine which of its chokes works best with the various brands and models.

I called the company to help find the right choke for my Remington 1187 shotgun and got transfered directly to the company president, who made his recommendation. I was very impressed with the fact that I got connected all the way to the top. I ordered the choke and tried it out with the shell the president recommended — Winchester Supreme High Velocity 3-inch magnums. They shoot beautifully in my gun.

This is, by far, the best choke and ammo combination I have ever used. I’m convinced I could not have killed this bird with any previous choke or ammo that I have tried. I’m glad I took the time to do some more experimenting.

I’ve got one more fall turkey tag to fill this fall — in Wisconsin. The season there runs until Nov. 20. I’d like to get out after the corn is harvested. The birds are much easier to find then, as they love to feed in picked corn fields. I hope to be sitting along the edge of one when they do.

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About Dave Hrbacek

Staff photographer and writer for The Catholic Spirit. Also, avid outdoors enthusiast with a passion for hunting, fishing and photography. Married to Julie and have four children, three boys and a girl.

View all posts by Dave Hrbacek