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California’s Fall Turkey Tactics

Going after a fall turkey is much different than going after a spring bird, which means you need to change up your tactics if you want to have a successful fall turkey hunt.

In So Cal, the fall turkey season starts the second Saturday of November and lasts for about two weeks. You can harvest one bird of either sex and need a current license with an upland game bird stamp. The biggest obstacle, however, is getting to the birds. This time of the year they are not spread out across the backcountry. You’ll find them in large groups or fall flocks — usually on private land.

Hens stay in groups of 15 to 50 birds and the jakes hang out with them. The toms will be in bachelor groups of four to 12 birds. Although they may be near the hens they won’t be paying any attention to them, so to call in a fall tom you have to use tom calls such as the tom yelp. The tom yelp is like the two-note hen yelp but it is slower and raspier. I do hear toms gobble a little bit in the morning during the fall but they don’t go off like they do in the spring. So I only gobble if I hear a bird gobble first or right after fly down time to try and locate the toms.

It’s not as exciting as hunting turkeys in the springtime. You don’t get the big show — all the strutting and gobbling — they won’t come running in and pummel your jake decoys. Still, it’s a lot of fun and provides a chance to bring home a wild turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

The ideal situation is to know where the birds are roosting, and where they are going after fly down. They will usually do the same thing for several days or even weeks but they do change their pattern a little as the season rolls on. Once I know their travel route, I will set up and kill one as they come into range.

Where to Set Up

A pop-up ground blind is a great way to go in the fall. I like to set mine up a few weeks before I go hunting so the turkeys get used to seeing it. If you can set one up along the bird’s travel route, you stand a good chance at finding them.

The blind will give the bow hunter good cover, and It’s a great way to film your hunt. If I have the back windows open I will wear all camo, but if the back windows are closed I think it’s best to wear black long sleeves, black face and head cover.

When hunting turkeys, move really slowly and keep the noise to a minimum. A lot of the time you find them out in the middle of a field or meadow and it’s really hard to get close to them. So the best tactic is to get ahead of the birds and set up at a spot where you know they will come by as they feed and work their way across the meadow.

If there is no way to do that, then I do something that I learned while watching a couple of coyotes put the stalk on a large flock of birds. I will unload my gun and set it down in a safe spot and then run straight at the center of the flock. The idea is to scatter the turkeys and this works best with a couple of guys. Notice the direction in which the majority of the flock heads and try to get close to them. As they settle back down, they will start calling each other back in and if you’re in the right spot and ready, you should get a chance at a hen.

Try to call them back your way by using an assembly call or “kee kee” call. This is also a good time to listen to the birds make these calls and watch how the other birds react. Remember that hen sounds will attract other hens and tom sounds will get the attention of the other toms, so if you get close to a group of big toms and you start yelping to them like a hen, they probably won’t pay any attention to you.

With the fall season about to get going, now is the time to get out and find your flock. Put a trip together with a couple of guys and set a good plan into action.

California’s Fall Turkey Tactics

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Doug Lancaster was born and raised in San Diego, and started hunting and fishing as a child with his father and his buddies. He has spent the last 35 years chasing tuna and yellowtail up and down the west coast of SoCal and Baja. But he lives for upland game hunting and bow hunting big game. Doug started turkey hunting in 94; at about the same time San Diego was starting their turkey-hunting program. At that time there was no one here to learn from, so after years of trial and error in the woods he was able hone his skills and begin calling-in and harvesting turkeys on a consistent basis. He could not be happier to see turkey numbers steadily growing in SoCal, and enjoys helping new turkey hunters get past the long frustrating learning curve that comes with this incredible sport.