Tactics for hunting big gobblers this fall

Ken Kieser
Want a challenge? Try fall gobbler hunting.

Big fall gobblers are independent. Some older birds prefer to be alone and are most content when feeding. They love a big, open field where visibility is unlimited. After all, a big daddy bird reaches 3 or 4 years old by being cautious in a world where almost every other creature in the woods wants to dine on his succulent flesh.

Kenneth Kieser

Setting up

Start by determining the roosting areas and then set up trail cameras between their roost and food. Using a camera allows me to find long beards without spooking birds. They are cautious enough at best.

Roost areas are found by listening in the evening for heavy wings flying up in trees. Generally, these birds were discovered by glassing fields with a good pair of binoculars and then observed walking into a certain section of woods.

Some hunters walk through the woods while the birds are feeding and find roost trees that are easily visible by the white splatters of turkey droppings on the ground. Then determine where they are feeding and set up between both areas. 

I have pushed gobblers that were feeding on acorns while blundering through the woods. Many have been taken by this method. Most sit and listen when the turkeys are gobbling. When you find a feeding gobbler, remain motionless and observe until the bird goes to roost. Then you can determine where to set up the following morning. Hunting fall gobblers is a chess game.

When you accidentally spook gobblers off their roost, set up there. When legal shooting time comes, use fighting purrs every three to five minutes with an occasional gobble. Include a few gobbler clucks. Continue for 20 minutes and then stay silent for 20 minutes. You will likely bring an old gobbler in to watch the fight.

You can sometimes hear a big bird crunching leaves when approaching. Of course, all deer and turkey hunters know that squirrels make crunching sounds in the leaves too. Big birds seem to materialize when you least expect anything but a pesky squirrel.

Hunters can easily find big gobblers with good binoculars or spotting scopes after a frost when grasshoppers are dying and cannot move. This important food source becomes easy prey for gobblers. They are busy stuffing themselves with insects and some hunters feel this is one of their most vulnerable times. They are easily ambushed coming out of the field.

Signs are important when choosing ambush spots. Look for locations that include signs from different times. Areas with signs from a week before mixed with fresh signs are good bets. Signs may include tracks or droppings.

Water is the first place to look in big woods. Limited water areas give you a good starting point for scouting. Check each water hole for tracks, brush them out and return a day or two later to see if gobblers are visiting that area.

The late Steve Custer, fishing and turkey hunting guide from Clinton, Missouri, watched the shorelines for big gobblers watering. He claimed that certain big gobblers returned to the same areas every day, unless they were pushed out of the area. He scouted out their food source and set up in the middle for many successful fall gobbler hunts.

Most experts agree that rainy days are the best times to hunt for fall gobblers. Turkeys don’t like sounds made by rain dropping in the timber. They move to open fields and feed on grasshoppers or seed. This is an excellent time to scope them out and set up.  

Turkey calls

Hunters with turkey calls are often their own worst enemy. You might be surprised how easy it is to overcall fall gobblers. I observed the big fall bird only making two light clucks in a 20-minute period. His calls were soft and very content. Most hunters call often and are too loud.

“I use the same method for coyote or fox when working a fall gobbler,” said David Hale, co-host of “Knight and Hale’s Ultimate Hunting” television show. “First you have to intercept the gobbler in his area en route from roost to food and continue with light gobbler clucks. Don’t try to get in a calling contest with a gobbler in the fall. They simply are not that vocal.”  

The big boy I watched only wanted sunlight and food. He was happy and likely content to be alone. I might have drawn him with a similar light, contented gobbler yelp, just one. I should have tried, but hesitated because my stalk was going well.    

Some of the best fall hunters make one gobbler cluck every 15 minutes and then watch and listen.

“Try scratching two and three-note yelps on a box call every 15 or 20 minutes,” said Brad Harris, veteran turkey hunter. “This may draw a gobbler in your area to see if another is moving in his territory. But you may sit for hours.”

Hunting fall gobblers may be one of hunting’s greatest challenges. Try it and you will get an education.