Remember last spring when you woke up at dawn, drove to your favorite spring turkey hunting spot, carefully walked in the darkness to a spot that you have roosted a mature gobbler and set up for a morning of hunting? As the sun begins to peek over the horizon, the trees start to come alive with spring turkey talk. A mature longbeard sounds off and you feel all your homework and getting up early is about to pay off. It's the perfect setup and all things are going together.
Well, like many things in the wild, things don't go as we plan. On that particular morning the longbeard gobbles several times on the limb and drops down just yards from your ambush. Then it happens. An old boss hen begins to pull ''your'' gobbler off.
As that old loudmouth hen talks and ''your'' longbeard gobbles his way off to her, you start wondering what you did wrong. Well, folks, news flash! You didn't do anything wrong. That gobbler was doing what gobblers do in the spring - go with mature hens.
The only way to stop that from happening again is to take that hen and, ultimately, put her on your table during fall turkey hunting.
For most of us, fall hunting means chasing whitetail deer, and the thought of hunting other species is only a passing thought or one that creeps into our mind during a long sit on a stand.
Why do fall turkey hunters make the trip to the western part of the New York State? I'll give you three reasons - Chautauqua, Allegany and Cattaraugus counties.
Successful fall turkey hunters need two things: lots of ground to hunt and several different flocks on each track. Wild turkeys are basically flock oriented in the fall. Flocks of 20-plus birds are not uncommon in heavily-populated areas. Family units start "flocking-up" in early fall. Turkeys will flock up each fall in preparation for the upcoming winter months. Over the centuries, the wild turkey has discovered that several sets of eyes are better than one.
While birds flocking up makes them easier to find, it doesn't make them easier to hunt. Flocks will work together to protect, feed, travel and roost together.
The larger flocks are primarily made up of hennies and jakes. Smaller flocks of mature gobblers will stay away from the larger flock until winter sets in.
For that reason and conservation purposes, Empire State hunters are able to harvest either one male or female of the species during the fall. The fall of 2013 season runs from Oct.19 and continues until Nov.15, with either a hen or gobbler allowed.
There are several things fall hunters need to have for turkey hunting, but the most important is good habitat. Acorns, beech nuts and berries, such as wild grapes, are important fall and winter food sources for wild turkeys. When those foods are scarce, turkeys tend to concentrate near remaining food supplies and can be more vulnerable to hunters. When mast is plentiful, turkeys spread out more, and are less visible and can be harder to locate.
A good mast crop this year has kept turkeys deep in the woods and made them harder for hunters to find. While an easier way to find birds is cruising county roads and checking out freshly plowed and cut fields, this year it seems birds are finding food in the woods and haven't been in the field as much as past years.
Fall turkey harvests in New York have fluctuated widely in recent years. During the same time period, the spring harvest, generally considered a better indicator of population size, has been stable.
The size of the fall turkey population is greatly affected by the production of poults in the spring. Weather can have a tremendous effect on both nesting success and poult survival. Damp weather in May can increase predators' ability to locate and prey on turkey nests because scent trails are easier to follow. Cold, rainy weather during spring and early summer can severely reduce survival of young poults when they are most susceptible to chilling.
There are a couple of different schools of thought in harvesting fall birds - roosting and busting. For ease, roosting birds is best, but I prefer busting for excitement.
Finding roosting birds the evening before you plan on hunting is much like spring gobbler hunting. I generally don't go out looking for roosting birds, but I take careful notice to watch any birds while archery hunting. Pay careful attention to which direction birds are traveling just before dusk. That will help in putting together a plan for the next morning.
Setting up as close to roosting birds as possible is the key to this style of fall hunting. This can be accomplished by going where the birds are at and using the cover of darkness to help with the approach. Keying your setup between where the birds are roosting and their travel route will help in your success.
As birds begin to talk, be careful not to call. In fact, often times it's better to leave the calls in your vest. Wait for the birds to hit the ground and pay careful attention to the lead bird. This will help formulate a busting plan. Soft yelps and a few kee-kee runs after the flydown will give the birds the idea that all is well and will bring them toward your ambush.
The most popular technique is what I call "break-up and call." The key to this style is again the locating of birds. Finding where birds are feeding and traveling will help in the break-up. The best part of this technique is sleeping in. There is no reason to get up early because hunters must wait to get the birds on the ground and flocked up.
Once birds are locateda, getting a good break is crucial. Making sure birds go in different directions after the break is key. There are two ways to do this. One is just running into the flock or using a dog. Yes, using a dog during the fall for turkeys is legal in the Empire State.
Whichever method one chooses to use to break the flock, wait 15 minutes and begin calling. The call I use 90 percent of the time is the Kee-Kee Run. The Kee-Kee-Run is a lost yennie call used by young and old birds alike. The main reason for using the Kee-Kee Run is to bring the flock back together.
So maybe this fall you should switch things up a little and put some fresh turkey in the freezer just in time for Thanksgiving, which just may help you tag that mature longbeard next spring.