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Fall turkey season offers hunters attractive features

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In contrast with the spring wild turkey season, the fall season gets little attention from area hunters. That lack of attention is likely due to the various hunting opportunities available at this time of the year as hunters also have the option to pursue waterfowl, deer, black bear, pheasants, grouse, squirrels, rabbits, or hares.

Still, the autumn season, which opens on Tuesday in the Northern Zone, has a number of attractive features. For one thing, populations are higher than they will be next spring. Also, birds see minimal hunting pressure now, and hunting hours extend from sunrise to sunset rather than closing at noon as they do in spring. Too, hunters are allowed to shoot birds of either sex across the Northern Zone.

Patterning the Birds

More so than spring birds, fall turkeys hang out in flocks. Locating flocks of birds is the key to successful hunts in autumn, and like the deer hunter, a turkey hunter who does some scouting to pattern his quarry increases his odds for success. An overlooked key for locating a turkey flocks is listening. Since birds are quite talkative in the morning, a hunter can locate turkeys by listening for their calling. Too, evening is an excellent time to listen for the turkeys’ noisy fly-ups to their roosts.

Once a flock has been located, learning the feeding, travel and roosting habits of birds in a given area, as well as having a familiarity with the area’s terrain, serve to tip the odds in the hunter’s favor. Familiarization with a flock’s habits aid a hunter in zeroing in on when and where to hunt.

Find the Food

One maxim for fall turkey hunting states, “Find the foods, and you’ll find the birds.” Since wild turkeys eat a variety of nearly 400 plants, grasses, seeds, nuts, berries, and insects, determining their prime food sources does require some scouting. Autumn hunters, however, can’t go wrong if they zero in on cut cornfields, clover or alfalfa fields, patches of wild berries or grapes, and stands of beech, oak, hickory, or black cherries. If weather conditions are warm, bug-laden grass fields are a good bet, too.

Hunting Strategies

The traditional autumn strategy calls for hunters to bust up a flock of birds and then wait for the birds to regroup. When attempting to scatter a group of turkeys, hunters should get as close to the birds as possible. A flock buster (with gun unloaded) should run toward the birds and cause as much commotion as possible by shouting and waving arms. A good bust occurs when the birds fly off in various directions. If the birds simply run off in one direction, the bust is a bust. Three excellent set up points after the busting are a position near the breakup point itself, a position between the breakup point and the directions the birds flew, and a position above where the breakup occurred. Once the hunter has set up, he should wait 20 minutes or so before he begins calling, and traditional calls are the kee-kee run and the yelp.

The springtime strategy of setting up on roosting birds in the early morning also works in the fall as does setting up in known roosting areas, such as hardwood ridges and stands of pine, in the evening. Pine roosts are especially attractive in nasty weather.

In addition to setting up in identified feeding areas, an effective daytime strategy calls for hunters to set up in travel areas that have been verified by scouting or still-hunting. The prime travel route is that area between where the flock roosts and where it feeds, and the set up can include decoys and calling.

Unlike spring birds that come in to decoys and calling for breeding purposes, though, autumn turkeys have a social nature and they come in to the set up because they want to check out other birds. Like the spring, setting up along fields is a good bet when conditions are rainy or windy.

Safety

Unlike their spring counterparts, fall turkey hunters share the woods with small game hunters, archery hunters, and muzzleloaders. Because other hunters are afield, turkey enthusiasts are reminded to observe the three basic rules of safety: Be sure of your target and beyond. Wear hunter orange while walking to and from set up sites. If you encounter another hunter, do not move; simply speak in a raised voice and identify yourself as a fellow hunter.

Regulations

The Northern Zone fall turkey season runs from Oct. 1-18. Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) 6A, 6C, 6G, and 6H have a two-bird limit for the season while all of the other Northern Zone WMUs have a single-bird, season limit. Hunters may take birds of either sex, and hunting hours extend from sunrise to sunset. Immediately after taking a wild turkey, a hunter must fill out the appropriate carcass tag and attach it to the carcass. Remember that accurate reporting aids DEC officials in managing turkey populations. Successful hunters are also required to save one leg from each turkey taken. DEC uses the legs for age and sex information, and DEC will provide hunters with instructions about what to do with the leg.

Outdoors Calendar

Monday: Frog Season closes.

Tuesday: New license year begins.

Tuesday: Seasons open for cottontail rabbit, snowshoe hare, pheasant, and turkey in Northern Zone.

Tuesday: Deadline to apply for Deer Management Permits.

Tuesday: Early Bow Season opens in Southern Zone.

Saturday: First portion of Waterfowl Season opens in Northeast Zone.

Oct. 12-14:Youth Firearms Season during Columbus Day weekend.

Oct. 19: Muzzleloader Season opens in Northern Zone.

Oct. 26: Regular Deer Season opens in Northern Zone.

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