The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

October 20, 2012

Cross: Best to wait in ambush for fall turkeys

— To hunt wild turkeys in the springtime, most hunters would agree, is magical.

But as the birds have exploded in numbers, state hunters now can pursue them in the fall as well.

And fall turkey hunting is an altogether different game.

In the spring, hunters enter a lottery and hope to get drawn for one of the most popular five-day time periods.

In the fall, unlimited licenses are available over the counter for a season that runs for a month.

In the spring, hunters are restricted to shooting only bearded turkeys, usually toms.

The accepted hunting method in the spring is to locate a gobbling tom and then attempt to call him to within range.

In the fall, any wild turkey — tom, hen, poult — is fair game and they are less inclined to respond to calling.

An effective method of hunting fall birds, turkey hunting pundits say, is by using the bust- ’em-and-call-’em method.

The way it is supposed to work is to sneak close to a flock and then sprint toward them, yelling and screaming, scattering them in all directions.

Then the winded hunter is supposed to settle back down into available cover and begin calling in an effort to lure birds, presumably anxious to rejoin their buddies, within range.

In theory, it sounds good.

But after several years of pursuing fall birds, I have discovered a couple of flaws in the technique.

First of all, to really startle and scatter a flock of turkeys sufficiently to all points on the compass, one has to be really, really close.

Emerging from the woods yelling and screaming while sprinting toward a flock of turkeys any distance away quickly becomes a foot race as the long-legged birds simply run away en masse to the nearest cover.

If you’re really close enough to bust ’em up, you’re probably already close enough to shoot one without risking a coronary or looking foolish.

A more sensible technique is to pattern the movements of a fall flock, usually dictated by available food sources, and then ambush them along their route.

Last week, I was employing that leisurely method, comfortably settled into a field chair in a ground blind in a part of the woods where feathers and scratching in the thick layer of fallen leaves indicated a flock of birds regularly had been feeding.

So far during the previous two weeks, the turkeys zigged each time I had zagged, somehow turning up exactly where I had been hunting the morning before.

On this morning, I was committed to staying all day if need be, packing in a stack of papers to grade for the college class I teach, to pass the time.

And when that task was completed, a thick paperback novel would fill the rest of the day.

Papers graded and a hundred pages into the novel, I heard a faint whine above the wind that had built up over the last several hours.

Since a flock of turkeys usually announces its approach with noisy scratching and foraging in the dry leaves, I assumed I had heard a tree limb creaking.

Carefully, I peeked over the partially opened window and was eyeball-to-eyeball with several young turkey scrutinizing the blind from only 10 feet away.

Ever so slowly, I ducked down and exchanged the novel for the shotgun, eased it into shooting position and waited for the birds to wander into my shooting lane.

After several seconds without seeing anything, I turned and peered through the small sliver of an opening I had left in the zippered back window of the blind.

Eight yards away, a dozen turkeys milled nervously. I eased the gun barrel into the opening and searched for a long beard in the mix. Nothing but a hen and her poults.

When a jake stepped clear from brothers and sisters, I put the bead on his neck and pulled the trigger.

Birds scattered in all directions, some running, some flying as they melted into the woods, but the jake lay flopping in the leaves.

It would have been a long day.

The book was lousy.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by e-mail at

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