Kentucky's Fall Turkey Forecast

For turkey hunters, the Commonwealth's fall season offers different challenges. Finding birds can be a little more difficult than it was in spring. Here's how -- and where -- to do just that! (October 2008)

Author Travis Faulkner shows off a nice longbeard from an October hunt. Utilizing the correct strategies and tactics in the fall can lead to action-packed outings
Photo courtesy of Travis Faulkner.

Just before dark, I glimpsed movement at the foot of a long wooded ridge that drops into the open creek bottoms below. Soft muffled yelps and purrs, along with loud scratching in the new blanket of fall leaves, kicked my adrenalin into overdrive.

An entire flock of turkeys were working their way back to the top to roost for the night. I stood motionless behind a wide-bodied oak just off to the side of the ridge, waiting patiently for the flock to pass by.

The first few birds eased slowly past my position, giving me the perfect opportunity to break up the flock.

With a quick sudden burst, I ran into the midst of the turkeys, clapping my hands and waving my arms in the air like a madman.

They sounded like a giant covey of quail with their frenzy of beating and flapping wings echoing across the deep mountain basin. The bust was perfect, with turkeys scattering in all directions. I knew that at daylight, these birds were going to be in bad trouble.

The next day, well before sunrise, the woods were already alive with a fall symphony of yelps and clucks, ranging from high and clear to throaty and raspy. Quickly, I set up on the point of the ridge and waited for daylight to begin calling and trying to regroup the flock.

There had to be at least 20 different turkeys calling from the treetops all around me. I joined in the conversation with a loud fly-down cackle. Next, I hit the birds with an assertive series of assembly yelps.

Within seconds, a lone hen touched down just to my left and began yelping frantically as she quickly closed the distance toward my position.

I placed the small red bead of my shotgun at the base of the hen's neck and gently squeezed the trigger, ending a phenomenal fall morning.

Without question, hunting turkeys during autumn can be a blast, and at this time of year, the birds can be extremely vocal. Simply getting into the woods during the fall and listening to the birds talk can help make you a better turkey caller the next spring. True, fall turkey hunting is a lot different from the spring, but it can be just as addictive.

On that note, let's take a quick peek at how hunters across the Bluegrass State fared last year and get a sneak preview of what to expect during the upcoming fall season.

Pay attention and you'll also learn some high-impact fall strategies along with what counties are expected to be hotspots again this year.

LAST FALL'S RESULTS
The 2007 fall season produced another impressive harvest across the Commonwealth. In fact, hunters were able to tag and bag a total of 4,578 turkeys, which was up from the 3,656 birds harvested during the 2006 season. Since 2005, numbers have been climbing steadily, and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) believes this trend will only continue.

Fall turkey hunting is really starting to catch on across the state, and the overall participation should increase, along with harvest numbers.

In the past, during fall turkey seasons, a lot of hunters have been stuck in "deer mode." They haven't really tried to tag a bird. Others have hit the woods using spring tactics and have experienced very low success rates.

Regardless of the reasons, interest and participation during the spring turkey season seems to be far greater than during the late-fall seasons.

However, recent exposure from outdoor television shows and magazine articles have triggered a new interest in fall turkey hunting. This season, more hunters are expected to give it a try.

With that said, let's look at what counties produced the highest harvest numbers last fall -- and where this season's hotspots should be.

TOP 5 HARVEST COUNTIES
Last fall, Breathitt County from the Southeast Region led the Commonwealth in total harvest.

Hart County of the Green River Region took second-place honors, while Pulaski County (in the Southeast Region) and Hardin County (Green River Region) sealed third- and fourth-place honors.

Rounding out the top five in total fall harvest was Muhlenberg County of the Green River Region, which actually tied with Hardin County.

According to Steven Dobey, a turkey biologist from the KDFWR, there's no reason why these same counties shouldn't continue to be hotspots and produce high harvest numbers again this fall.

Consequently, nor should hunters shouldn't overlook counties located in the Purchase, Bluegrass, and Northeast regions. In fact, Crittenden County of the Purchase Region, Owen County of the Bluegrass Region, and Pike County of the Northeast Region missed claiming a top-five spot by only a few birds -- proving that top-notch fall turkey hunting is available across the state, and hunters shouldn't have to look too far to find huntable populations of birds.

Most hunters in Kentucky are only a short drive away from some of the best turkey hunting to be found anywhere.

The 2007 fall season produced another impressive harvest year across the Commonwealth.

In fact, hunters were able to tag and bag a total of 4,578 turkeys.

TOP PUBLIC-LAND PICKS
As mentioned earlier, Kentucky has been blessed with some phenomenal turkey hunting, which seems to be only getting better with each passing season. Hunters also have quick and easy access to prime public-land areas absolutely loaded with large numbers of turkeys.

Just because you don't have access to privately owned land, expensive hunting leases or intensely managed ranches and lodges doesn't mean you can't get on birds in the Bluegrass State. When it comes to attracting and holding turkeys, some of these public-land areas are unbelievable.

Hunters targeting fall turkeys on several hot public-land destinations expe

rienced a great deal of success.

The Daniel Boone National Forest -- tucked inside the Southeast Region and encompassing nearly 670,000 acres of prime turkey habitat -- led the state in total public-land harvest. Next, the Peabody Wildlife Management Area in the Green River Region came in second in total fall harvest. This WMA has 60,000 acres of land that's full of turkeys and deer.

Next on the public-land hit list is Taylorsville Lake WMA, which contains nearly 11,000 acres of land in the Bluegrass Region. Taylorsville WMA is a prime spring honeyhole for turkeys hunting, but the fall hunting is equally good here.

FALL/WINTER TURKEY TACTICS
There are some major differences between hunting turkeys in the spring and during the fall/winter months. For example, you're not going to connect with a spring longbeard with calling tactics consisting of yelping and cutting. During the fall and winter months, gobblers are traveling together in bachelor groups -- for good reason. It's not uncommon to find several longbeards in a group, sort of like bucks during the summer.

They are not going to respond well to hen calling because at this point in the year, they really don't want anything to do with the hens.

Basically, if you want to fill your tags when hunting turkeys in fall and winter, you have two choices: either go after the bachelor groups of longbeards, or target large groups of hens.

Of the two targets, the tougher would have to be fall gobblers. Your tactics must be completely different than in spring.

One deadly fall strategy is to bust up a flock and use deep, raspy longbeard yelps or gobbling to regroup the birds. However, it can be difficult to get close enough to the gobblers to get a good break.

Another good strategy is to pattern and ambush longbeards the same way you would deer. This tactic may not be as exciting, but if you do your homework, it will get the job done.

In fall and winter, targeting large flocks of hens is much easier and can be very exciting.

To fill a tag, all it takes is to either bust the birds off the roost or, after they are on the ground, utilize "assembly" yelps, kee kees, and "lost" yelps to coax a hen into range.

The key is to get a good bust that makes the birds scatter in all directions and then to wait about 30 minutes before calling.

I guarantee these strategies and tactics will enable you to drop the hammer on a turkey this fall season.

Now you have the hottest locations across the state and the right fall strategies for tagging a turkey just in time for the holidays. Get out during the season this year and make something happen.

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