There’s more to fall turkey hunting than meets the eye

Ray Eye, a veteran hunter, knows there are many myths about hunting for turkeys in the fall.
Ray Eye, a veteran hunter, knows there are many myths about hunting for turkeys in the fall. Submitted photo

The fall season doesn’t raise the heartbeat of most turkey hunters.

They dream of warm spring days when lovesick toms gobble loudly, respond to hunters’ calls and put on a show as they strut in. The fall season, when most hunters are pursuing flocks of young turkeys or stubborn adult gobblers, isn’t nearly as much of a draw.

But Ray Eye, a veteran Ozarks turkey hunter, has a few words of advice for those hunters who sit on the sidelines in the fall: You don’t know what you’re missing.

“My favorite turkey hunting is in the fall,” said Eye, who has written books, done videos and has appeared on television shows on turkey hunting. “One of the biggest myths of turkey hunting is that male turkeys respond to calling only in the spring of the year.

“The fact is, toms respond to calling year-around and are sometimes more vocal in the autumn than in the spring.”

Indeed, there are many misconceptions about fall turkey hunting, which attracts only a fraction of the hunters that the spring seasons does, Eye said.

Many hunters envision putting in miles of boot leather to finding brood flocks, then breaking up the pack and calling in one of the young, insecure birds. That’s part of it, Eye said. But the adult gobblers also can be hunted, contrary to common belief.

“Mystical properties have been attributed to male gobblers in the fall,” Eye said. “Lore has them never regrouping after a scatter, that you can only call with one course cluck every few hours, that do not respond to calling.

“But that’s not true. There are ways to call them in.”

How? It starts with your calling, Eye said.

“During the fall season, it’s important to inject ‘life’ into your calling,” Eye said. “Turkeys have life and feeling to their calling.

“A turkey might start out sounding a bit subdued, then take on a very different sound as it gets excited and more involved in the exchange. When they get excited, there is squeaking, pitch changes and volume changes, emotion.”

It’s a hunter’s job to get a gobbler excited, because that’s when he will make mistakes, Eye said.

“You have to sound like a gobbler when you call, imitating a newcomer that’s challenging to old boy’s club,” Eye said. “It’s a pecking-order thing. They come to the call because they want to see who you are and to kick your behind.”

Unlike the spring, when turkeys are mating, bachelor groups or even individual toms often aren’t interested in responding to hen calls in the fall. That’s why it often pays to imitate the calls of other toms.

When you encounter turkeys, Eye said, it pays to listen to how they are calling and adjust your techniques accordingly. That often can result in taking a big bird, even in the fall.

Brent Frazee: 816-234-4319, @fishboybrent