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Turkey doggin': make the fall season as fun and rewarding as it can be.

Most bowhunters are familiar with the tall task of tagging a. spring gobbler with stick and string, but diehard bowhunters across the country enjoy hunting when the odds are against them. If you enjoy the work required to tag a torn with a bow in the spring and have a hard time waiting until next spring to get your gobbler fix, consider bowhunting turkeys in the fall. Most bowhunters who tag turkeys in the fall do so while perched in a treestand waiting for a decent buck to walk by. But if calling in turkeys is something you enjoy, forget about the treestand and hunt them on the ground.

Some bowhunters who don't focus on fall turkey hunting believe hunting them in the fall isn't as fun because you don't hear yelping hens and gobbling longbeards like you do in the spring. That is a false statement. I call birds in during the fall, and getting a longbeard or even a hen within bow range by calling is much more difficult in the fall than it is in the spring. The trick many serious fall turkey hunters use in the fall that isn't allowed in the spring is using a dog to break up turkey flocks.

Bred To Hunt

A fall turkey dog is bred to find turkeys and bust up the flock by running into the flock, separating its members and forcing the turkeys to fly. When the dog busts the flock, it often barks like crazy, informing the hunter that a flock has been busted. The hunter is usually several hundred yards away. Turkey dogs work like any other bird dog or coon dog; they comb the woods and sniff out their game, which in this case is turkeys. When they get on the trail of a flock of turkeys, they follow the scent until they find them.

When hens with poults or longbeards hanging in a bachelor group get separated from each other, they reassemble at the sight of the bust. Sometimes it is within an hour and other times it is four or more hours later. After they get broken up, they start calling to each other trying to locate each other so they can get back together. The hunter with the dog sets up where the dog busted the turkeys and starts calling to the lost birds before longbeards start calling back and working their way towards the caller. The dog climbs inside a duffle bag and sits motionless while the hunter calls.

Brett Berry, a competition caller and pro staff member for Zink Game Calls, owns two Appalachian Turkey Dogs from John Byrne, the famous turkey dog breeder from Virginia, and has spent most of the last decade chasing turkeys in the fall. Whether hunting with a shotgun or a bow, the calling tactics are the same.

"The most common call used in the fall is the kee-kee run or whistle of a young turkey. When the young turkeys get split up from the brood hen, they start calling to each other so they can locate each other and get back together," Berry explained.

If you bust up a group of gobblers, the low raspy gobbler yelp is often the call used to call them back in.

"The yelp of a gobbler is much slower and lower pitched than a hen most of the time. When my dogs bust up a group of gobblers, I sit tight with the dog for hours, waiting for the gobblers to respond and come in, "Berry added." The torn turkey we find in the fall woods is much different from the bird we hunt in the spring. A fall gobbler doesn't have hormones running through his veins like a spring torn does. He doesn't come running to the call; he takes his time. Occasionally he calls and rarely gobbles, although gobbling does occur in the fall woods.


"Longbeards often come in silently. Taking a longbeard in the fall requires more calling skill, more woodsmanship and more patience."

If hunting turkeys in the fall sounds like fun to you, the key to success is finding the food source the turkeys are feeding on. Pete Clare owns Turkey Trot Acres in upstate New York. Turkey Trot is the only guiding operation in the United States that offers fall turkey hunts with dogs. When hunting, Clare heads for the woods mid-morning and often locates food sources.

"Turkeys enjoy acorns and beech nuts, like deer," Clare stated. "Once the first frost hits and the insects die, turkeys eat mostly nuts. My dog often find turkeys and busts them near a food source."

Other places to look for turkeys in the fall is near agricultural land.

"If there aren't many acorns in the woods, we often find the birds eating near cornfields," Clare noted. "You can't bust turkey flocks where there aren't any turkeys, so if you want to find and bust fall turkey flocks, find the food they are eating.

Like any game species, if you want to tag it with a bow, you need to do your homework and be in the perfect spot after the bust. Using decoys is also an advantage because you need the birds to come in close when using a bow.

"If I hunt with a bow in the fall, I always use a Double Bull pop-up blind and several decoys," Berry said. "In the spring, one decoy is all I need to bring a torn in close. In the fall, when a busted flock hears me kee-keeing and sounding like two or three birds reassembling, they expect to see many birds as they approach my setup. If they don't, they often get suspicious right away."

By having several decoys set up, Berry is often able to entice birds within 20 yards or less. Another key to Berry's success comes from the fact that he hunts edges.

"Once my dogs bust up a flock, I try to locate an edge that isn't too far from where the flock was busted. I like finding a field edge that borders a thicket or wood line." he explained. "It has been my experience that turkeys like to approach through an edge when getting back together so they can see around them if predators approach and disappear into the thicket or take off flying if needed. Let's not forget that birds are sometimes on edge when you call them back in because a dog recently busted them up. Calling them into an edge has increased my success rate over the years."

Some dog breeds can be used for both duck hunting and upland hunting, but turkey dogs serve one purpose--flushing turkey flocks. Many bowhunters who enjoy spring turkey hunting might not be too excited about getting a dog that only serves one purpose. I thought long and hard about a turkey dog before finally purchasing one for myself. If the idea of busting a turkey flock and calling it back in sounds like fun to you but you don't have a turkey dog, don't worry--almost any dog can be trained to bust turkeys. Many old timers who fall turkey hunted with dogs long before spring turkey hunting was legal trained mutts from the pound to bust turkeys.

"Dogs are smart animals. I think almost any breed of dog could be trained to flush turkeys after they know that is what you want them to do," Clare noted.

Training Your Own

To train a dog to find turkeys, hide turkey wings and have the dog find them. When he does, make a big deal about it and say the word "turkey" repeatedly. Eventually they associate the smell of a turkey with the name turkey and go searching for turkeys when you say the word. Any bird dog will gladly bust turkeys if allowed by his master. The easiest way to introduce a dog to turkeys is in a field. Let your dog run down a'flock of birds in an open field and they will be hooked for life. The downside is many dogs won't bark when they flush a flock of turkeys.


"The Appalachian Turkey Dog barks when it flushes a flock of turkeys, which is why this breed is so valuable. If my dogs are hundreds of yards away and out of my sight, I know they busted a flock when I hear them starting to bark," Berry said. "A dog that doesn't bark can be used to flush turkeys, but knowing where the flock was busted can be difficult."

If purchasing a dog is not in your budget or you don't want a turkey dog, you can still bust fall flocks without one, but chances are slim that you will be as effective at it as a dog is.

"A dog is extremely fast and uses its nose, speed, barking and the element of surprise to separate a flock of turkeys," Berry said. "The best way to do it without a dog is to bust the birds off the roost in the morning. Hunters should sneak under the roost before daylight and make lots of noise. Clap your hands, shout, and wave your arms. Try to get the birds to leave the roost and fly in all directions. If you can them spread out, you can sit down around their roosting area, put up a pop-up blind, and call them back in."

Bowhunting fall turkeys often requires more skill and effort than spring hunting, but using a dog makes it extremely fun.

Regardless if you have a turkey dog or not, try fall turkey hunting with a stick and string--chances are you will enjoy it. Flushing and calling birds on a sunny fall after noon is just as fun as shooting a spring gobbler.


RELATED ARTICLE: Turkey Dog Breeds

The most popular breed of turkey dog is the Appalachian, which is bred by John Byrne (540-586-1813) from Lowry, Va. Byrne began crossbreeding bird dogs more than 50 years ago with one goal in mind: creating the perfect fall turkey dog that would run ahead of the hunter, find and flush turkeys and bark upon flushing the flock. Today, the Appalachian turkey dog is highly sought after by hardcore fall turkey hunters.


Many bowhunters aren't sure where to aim to quickly kill a turkey. Some experts suggest aiming at the butt of the wingbone. Others suggest aiming for the head. My favorite spot to shoot a turkey is a couple inches about the legs. Joel Maxifeld, vice president of marketing at Mathews Archery, taught me that by aiming just above the legs, you hit the bird in the bottom of the chest cavity. You also take out the tendons in their legs so they can't run. If you're unsure of a turkey's anatomy, practice on a 3-d target before the season or purchase a Master Target face target that has the vitals outlined. The paper thin plastic target faces can be taped to the front of any block- or bag-style target.



Brett Berry poses with one of the many turkeys he has taken in the fall with his turkey dog Cricket.
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Author:Breen, Tracy
Publication:Petersen's Bowhunting
Date:Sep 17, 2011
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