Illinois Fall Gobbler Guide

Illinois Fall Gobbler Guide

In spring, hunters try to mimic hens and lure a passionate gobbler into gun range. Those tactics won't work in the fall, but that doesn't mean the hunting's not still exciting! (October 2008)

Most fall hunters prefer to wait in a blind and ambush turkeys as they walk past.
Photo by Windigo Images.

It's that time of year again. Fall turkey hunting is on the doorstep! We have autumn colors, cooler temperatures and plenty of Ben Franklin's favorite birds. What more could a turkey hunter want?

When turkey hunting is mentioned, the first thing that usually comes to most people's minds is a bright green and sun-filled springtime morning with echoes of hen calls and booming gobbles from a lovesick tom. Although not quite as intense as calling and hunting during the spring mating season, the fall season has an excitement all its own and a contingent of hunters who can't wait to get in the woods. That core group of fall turkey hunters grows each year as more and more people decide to try it.

The fall hunt is much different than spring. In spring, hunters try to mimic hens and lure a passionate gobbler into gun range. During the fall, those tactics won't work, but that doesn't mean there can't be some exciting moments just the same.

For those who might be fairly new to fall hunting or are thinking about trying it for the first time, learning the methods is not all that complicated. Although a few birds are taken adjacent to other fall hunting pursuits, most deliberate fall turkey hunting is done by utilizing one of two different methods. They are either the scatter method or ambush method. Both can be very effective.

The first is the most exciting, but also the most demanding physically. Hunters need to be in good shape and capable of covering a lot of ground if necessary.

The scatter method takes advantage of the turkeys' penchant for grouping together in large numbers during the fall. The procedure is to stalk or quietly walk through the woods, around field edges or down old logging roads while staying constantly vigilant for turkey sightings or vocalizations.

Upon locating a flock of turkeys, the hunter stalks as close as possible without being detected. Then, in a rush the hunter runs at the group of turkeys shouting or making as much noise as possible. The idea is to scare and confuse the birds, thus scattering them in all different directions.

Once this is successfully accomplished, the hunter sits down and lets the woods quiet down again. After a brief period of time, the hunter begins softly calling in an attempt to lure the birds back and into gun or bow range.

There are a number of different calls that can work. Many hunters will use the kee kee or kee kee run. This call generally simulates a lost poult or jake looking to rejoin its flock. Another great call is the lost hen, which simulates exactly what the name implies. It is a long series of urgent yelps mimicking the sounds of a hen left all alone and looking for her group. The tone should inflect a slight sense of panic. The assembly call is also a long series of yelps but with a much different tone. Instead of portraying panic, it should more mimic the sound of a mature hen calling her flock back to her.

For those who aren't up to or interested in chasing turkeys through the woods, the ambush method may be better suited. This method allows the hunter to wait in a blind or while otherwise concealed until a turkey comes within range. Periodic random calling or sight calling can also be used.

The key to success with this method is almost completely dependent upon good pre-hunt scouting. It does little good to sit in an area waiting for turkeys if there are none anywhere around.

Hunters should drive, walk, look and listen for fall turkeys and try to pinpoint any predictable movement patterns. They might be observed feeding in a particular field regularly or moving along an old logging road each day while traveling between roosting and feeding locations. Once a pattern is found, the hunter moves in during an off time for turkey movement and sets up a blind or otherwise is concealed. Then it is merely waiting for the birds to arrive just like sitting a tree stand while deer hunting.

Regardless of the method used, fall turkey hunting can be a load of fun. The trick is to find the birds, and then have a good time and not judge the success of the hunt by whether or not a bird is bagged.

Illinois hunters have been having fairly good success in the fall. Over the past three seasons, around 1,200 birds have been taken each fall. Specifically, there were 1,161 birds taken last year, 1,189 the year before, and 1,202 in 2005. That's not bad considering the limited number of hunters and counties open to fall hunting.

Success this fall will be anybody's guess. As this magazine goes to press, there is not yet any information available from the annual brood surveys that are the main components of predicting fall bird numbers. In addition, it was not fully known what effect the severe winter last year had on the turkey population. Tom Micetich, who oversees the deer and turkey program for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said, "To participate in such crystal ball gazing is a waste of time."

Nevertheless, hunters still desire some kind of idea of where to hunt and what to expect this season. Although nothing is ever carved in stone and there are a multitude of factors that can play a part in bird numbers and success, a look back at some of the trends from the past few years will shed a little light on the situation. With that in mind, here is a look at some of the most likely counties offering a good chance to bag a fall bird this year.

This county has by far been at the forefront of success for fall hunters. It has consistently yielded harvest numbers greatly in excess of any other county in the state. Based on the past results, it should be one of the top locations to consider this year.

Last season, hunters took an even 100 birds in Jo Daviess County during the fall season. The year before, 96 birds were bagged and a whopping 123 were taken in the fall of 2005. The next best counties typically fall 40 to 60 birds under that of Jo Daviess.

Jo Daviess County has five different public access areas that allow fall turkey hunting. The regulations for the areas differ, so hunters should familiarize themselves with the rules before hunting. Information on all five of the following hunting areas may be obtained by calling (815) 745-3302.

Apple River Canyon State Park (SP) has

a total of over 1,000 acres, but the entire area is not open for turkey hunting. Fall firearms hunting is governed by statewide seasons, shooting hours and bag limits, but a quota of only seven hunters per season is allowed. Bowhunting does not have a quota. Additionally, hunters must have a site-specific permit. Other regulations apply.

The Witkowsky State Wildlife Area (SWA) has 1,069 acres, all of which are open to hunting. Regulations there are similar to Apple River Canyon except that it has a quota of 10 firearms hunters per season. Bowhunters do not have a quota, but the season does not open until Oct. 15.

There are no quotas at the Tapley Woods State Natural Area (SNA), the Falling Down Prairie SNA and the Hanover Bluff SNA. However, firearms hunters at the latter two are required to have a valid county permit. Hunters must sign in and out at both Tapley Woods and Falling Down Prairie. A site-specific permit is required for all three areas.

Jo Daviess County is in the northwesternmost corner of the state in Region 1. The number for the Region 1 office is (815) 625-2968. More information on travel, lodging and dining may be obtained calling (877) Go-Galena (464-2536).

Here is a county that has been on an upswing over the last three fall seasons. In 2005, 49 turkeys were bagged in the fall in Wayne County. The following year, that number rose to 53. Last year, turkey hunters took 61 birds in Wayne. With luck, this year we will see the trend continue.

Unfortunately, Wayne County does not have a public hunting area open to fall firearms turkey hunting. However, bowhunters may hunt turkeys at the Sam Dale Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area (SFWA). Regulations and other hunting information are available by contacting the site superintendent at (618) 835-2292.

The nearest town is the small community of Johnsonville on SR 161. Hunters needing lodging or other facilities may want to consider Flora, Salem, Fairfield or Mt. Vernon.

Wayne County, as well as the next four counties below, is in Region 5. The number for that office is (618) 435-8138.

A total of 56 turkeys were taken last fall in Jefferson County. That was down a bit from the 67-bird total from the year before. In the fall of 2005, there were 63 birds taken. Although the numbers have fluctuated slightly, the county has consistently yielded good success.

The Rend Lake SFWA offers hunters over 12,000 acres of public access. Fall turkey hunting is allowed most anywhere on the site except for designated waterfowl refuge areas and campgrounds. There is no quota at Rend Lake. The site is located eight miles south of Mt. Vernon, just west of Bonnie. For more information on regulations and hunting at Rend Lake SFWA, call the site directly at (618) 279-3110 or contact the Region 5 office.

For travel and lodging information near Rend Lake, contact the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce (COC) in Mt. Vernon at (618) 242-5725.

This Region 5 county gave up 53 turkeys last fall. While still a respectful number, it was a slight downturn from the 56 taken the year before and the 60 taken in 2005. Nevertheless, Marion County has traditionally been good for fall hunting and this year with any luck will be no different.

The Stephen A. Forbes State Recreation Area (SRA) is located in Marion County. It does not allow firearms hunting for fall turkeys, but bowhunters are welcome. A site permit is required and must be displayed in the windshield of your vehicle while on the property.

Located off Route 37, the Stephen A. Forbes SRA is found approximately seven miles southeast of Kinmundy. For more hunting information, call the Region 5 office or contact the site superintendent at (618) 547-3381. Traveling hunters will find the Marion County COC, they may be reached by phone at (618) 997-6311 or toll-free at (800) 699-1760.

There has been quite a lot of variance in the fall success in Union County. There were 35 turkeys taken there in 2005. That number jumped in 2006 to 57 birds but fell last year back to 46. The number of fall birds taken is only a fraction of the number taken in spring, so a slight fluctuation in the numbers may or may not be an indication of anything significant. The preliminary harvest numbers from the spring season this year showed Union County to be slightly up from last year, so maybe that's a good sign for the fall season too.

There are three public access sites that allow fall turkey hunting. Each of these sites has differing regulations and sign-in requirements. Contact the Region 5 office or each site directly for the specifics.

The Union County SFWA is located seven miles west of Jonesboro off Route 146. It totals over 6,000 acres. Contact the site superintendent at (618) 833-5175.

Nearby, the 5,019-acre Trail of Tears State Forest may be found five miles northwest of Jonesboro between Route 127 and Route 3. The site has ample turkey-hunting opportunities, but there are portions of the property closed to hunting. Contact the site superintendent at (618) 833-4910.

The Cypress Pond SNA is part of the Ferne Clyffe SP. It is located at the northernmost point in Union County right on the Johnson County line. There are over 1,000 acres available for hunting. Contact the site superintendent at the Ferne Clyffe SP at (618) 995-2411.

The Union County COC may be reached at (618) 833-6311.

Another Region 5 county that fared well last season was Pope County in the southeastern portion of Illinois bordering the Ohio River and the Kentucky line. There were 44 turkeys taken there last fall, which was up from the 34 bagged birds recorded there in 2006. The year before, 39 fall birds were taken.

Firearms hunting for turkeys is not allowed in the fall at Dixon Spring SP. However, bowhunters will find about 265 acres open for fall archery hunts. Hunters must check in and out and only hunt in designated huntable areas.

More information is available at the Region 5 office or by contacting the site superintendent at (618) 949-3304. The property is west of Golconda and 1 1/2 miles east of the intersection of state routes 145 and 146.

The Dog Island SFWA offers fall turkey hunting for both bow and firearms hunters. However, the property is rather small and only provides around 220 acres of hunting access.

The property may be found 18 miles south of Golconda on the Bay City Blacktop. More information on hunting and regulations may be obtained by contacting the numbers listed above for the Dixon Springs SP. The Golconda Pope County COC may be phoned at (618) 683-9702.

Finally getting out of Region 5, our next most successful county from last fall is found in Region 4. Hunters took 40 turkeys the

re last fall, which was only one better than the year before. There were 48 turkeys bagged in Adams County in 2005. Preliminary results from the spring season this year showed a significant increase in the harvest from last spring, so hunters might possibly find improved hunting there this fall as well.

The Siloam Spring SP offers both bow and firearms hunting for fall turkeys. A site permit is required and gun hunting is by quota. Additionally, firearms hunters must possess an Adams County permit.

For more hunting information, contact the Siloam Springs SP at (217) 894-6205.

Turkey hunting is also allowed at the Mississippi River Pool No. 21 SFWA, although much of the property consists of islands and is accessible only by boat. More information on this property is available from the district wildlife biologist who may be reached at (217) 285-2221. For both this area and the Siloam Springs SP, hunters may also contact the Region 4 office at (618) 462-1181.

For more information on traveling and hunting Adams County, the Quincy Area COC call (217) 222-7980.

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