Kentucky'™s Rising Fall Turkey Season

Will our state's upward trend during the fall season continue? Read on for the latest on the Commonwealth's action-packed turkey hunting. (October 2009)

Just below the point of long wooded ridge, a chorus of raspy yelps, sharp cutts and cooing purrs filled the chilly fall morning air. Large clumps of freshly scratched leaves were erratically scattered across the forest floor. It practically looked like a wide-bladed bulldozer had cut multiple zigzagged shaped paths along the ground beneath the tall canopy of white oaks. Undoubtedly, this deep mountain basin area was covered with hot sign and loaded with blabber-mouthed turkeys. Without question, mornings like these in the Bluegrass State can really get into the blood of a die-hard turkey-hunting fanatic!

All of a sudden, a deafening flurry of flapping wings and emotional fly-down cackles echoed across the hollow. It sounded like there were at least 30 noisy turkeys dropping out of timber just after daylight. Immediately, I hit the birds with a coarse assembly yelp that triggered several soft responses from the bench above my setup.

These hens were obviously hungry after a long night sitting on the roost and very anxious to get started on the all-you-can-eat buffet of fall acorns. Finally, the last hen cleared a thick entanglement of underbrush and gave me the perfect shot. A thunderous boom from my Benelli 12-gauge shotgun literally kicked off my October season with a bang! On that positive note, let's take an inside look at how things are shaping up this fall for Bluegrass turkeys.

SEASON EXPECTATIONS

There is no question that hunters can take advantage of some phenomenal turkey hunting across the Commonwealth. Overall hunter participation, along with harvest numbers, seems to climb with each passing season. For good reason, most Kentucky residents are only a short drive from huntable populations of turkeys. At one time, there were only isolated pockets of birds, but now you would be hard-pressed to find an area that is not covered up with these long-legged game animals. The last few spring turkey seasons have produced some impressive statewide harvest numbers. In addition, the fall seasons have also been generating high harvest statistics; this trend is only expected to continue with each passing year.

In fact, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) believes fall turkey harvest numbers could keep getting better. The 2007 fall turkey season ended with hunters tagging 4,578 birds. However, the overall harvest numbers statewide jumped to 5,058 during the 2008 fall season. The experts are predicting yet another productive year this fall as well.

The 2009 spring season was up and down because of the strange weather. Cold fronts, windy days and periods of rain kept a lot of gobblers safe last season. Furthermore, many hunters reported seeing record numbers of jakes in the field along with numerous hens. This simply translates to more birds in the woods and the possibility of an unbelievable fall season this year.

Unfortunately, the fall numbers are not even close to the staggering harvest figures of the spring season. Consequently, participation during this period also does not compare with the number of hunters who hit the springtime woods. Many hunters are busy chasing deer and other game animals during the fall season. Also, hunting fall turkeys has been less publicized on television and it has not really reached the mainstream public yet. Hunting strategies and techniques also vary between the two seasons, which can cause some problems for new fall hunters. However, there are a lot of good reasons and key advantages for hunting turkeys during the fall of the year.

For example, the birds can be extremely vocal during the fall of the year and it's a perfect time to work on your individual calling skills. There may not be as much gobbling, but the hens and young turkeys are hard to keep quiet. Plus, you have a chance to tag either-sex bird, which allows hunters the ability to eliminate a few hens before the spring season. In my neck of the woods, it seems the longbeards are staying henned-up for most of the spring season. Too many hens are not good when you're trying to coax a lovesick gobbler into gun range. The fall season allows a hunter to get even with those pesky hens and can help balance the gobbler-to-hen ratio in a particular hunting area. Lastly, hunters can punch a few tags and provide a traditional turkey dinner for their family when Thanksgiving rolls around.

TOP 5 HARVEST COUNTIES

During the 2008 fall season, there were numerous hot counties that produced high harvest numbers. Without a doubt, several counties of the Green River Region boasted really productive seasons last year. For example, Hardin County led the entire state with hunters tagging 158 turkeys consisting of 40 gobblers and 118 hens. Second-place honors went to Hart County, another Green River Region honeyhole that recorded a head-turning 141 birds.

Shelby County of the Bluegrass Region claimed the No. 3 spot with 108 filled tags. Owen County sealed a fourth-place ranking with hunters bagging 106 birds and only missed a higher ranking by two turkeys. Rounding out the top five listing is Anderson County of the Bluegrass Region with 100 fall turkeys biting the dust last season.

The good news is these same areas are expected to yield high harvest numbers again this fall. In addition, hunters shouldn't overlook Lincoln County in the Southeast Region next year either. This county only missed the illustrious top five ranking by a single bird and many think the area has a lot of potential for opening day. However, hunters really don't need to freak out if one of these counties is not located near them. Our state's leading turkey biologists feel that excellent fall turkey hunting can be found this season in all counties across the Bluegrass State. Your best bet is to start looking for fall turkeys in areas that typically hold large numbers of birds during the spring.

PRIME PUBLIC-LAND LOCATIONS

In my opinion, Kentucky has some of the best public-land turkey hunting in the entire nation. Our state is loaded with wildlife management areas (WMAs), national forest and many other regions that are completely open to the public for hunting. Last season, the Daniel Boone National Forest, Peabody and Taylorsville Lake WMAs and Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center were the best public-land fall turkey-hunting destinations.

Once again, these same public-land areas should produce again this fall as well. The fall turkey hunting should be phenomenal this season, regardless if you're hunting the thousands of acres of public or private land in our beautiful state. The most important thing is to grab your calls, throw on some gear and hit the woods hard this fall with the same passion you have during the spring season.

FAILSAFE FALL STRATEGIES

Without question, setting up and imitat

ing a hen during April can be all it takes to pull a nice longbeard into gun range. However, calling like a hen during the fall doesn't do much for gobblers during the fall season. Basically, you need to decide whether you want to take hens or longbeards when hunting this October. This choice will ultimately determine what strategies will be needed to punch your tags. Pay close attention to these deadly strategies and you'll making things tough for fall turkeys in your neck of the woods.

A great technique for busting fall longbeards is to break up a bachelor group of gobblers off the roost or on the ground. Once the gobblers are apart, it's time to get down to business. Wait about 30 minutes before lost yelping like a gobbler, or you can even gobble to reassemble the flock. A second strategy is to simply scout a bachelor group of longbeards and hunt the flock like you would a buck during the pre-rut period. This calls for pinpointing fresh sign and ambushing the birds when the group least expects it. Key areas will be fall food sources like acorn groves, dusting bowls and roost sites. Hunters should also not overlook travel routes gobblers utilize daily to reach these destinations.

On the other hand, you can exploit fall hens by busting up the flock and hitting the girls with some lost yelps or assertive assembly calls. Fall flocks of hens need to be grouped up and are susceptible to calling that attempts to reunite the group. It's amazing how quickly hens will respond to calling with this lethal strategy.

Another high-impact technique is to utilize a pair of optics to spot and stalk a large group of hens. After locating the flock, try to utilize the terrain to move ahead of the hens and cut the group off. Both of these strategies can generate some close encounters with fall hens this season. Implement these tactics this October and you'll be carving wild turkey for your November Thanksgiving feast.

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