Things are heating up now in the woods for archery deer hunters. The rut is coming on so now tactics change. Tree stands are repositioned to intercept deer as they enter into or emerge from heavy cover along lines of rubs that indicate travel lanes. Deer grunt calls and rattling antlers are now part of the gear. Doe-in-heat scents are sprinkled about and hunters eyes are sharply evaluating the buck scrapes now appearing.
Fall is the mating season for bucks (also called the "rut"). Now bucks begin to lose some of that maddening super-cautious every-sense-on-alert that they survive by every day of their lives. Delicious doe scent now fills the air and they don't try to resist. They sprint recklessly across highways while chasing does as those motorists who connect with them on the roads can verify.
Small-game hunters are out, Beagle music resounds throughout fields and pheasant cackles, fluttering grouse wings and turkey yelps all indicate the hunting season is in full swing.
Fall turkey hunting tactics are far different than those used in spring. The fall season in Management Unit 4D begins this Saturday until Nov. 12, then reopens Nov. 22-24. So to the chagrin of many families, hunters can pursue fall turkeys on Thanksgiving Day. It has always been a bone of contention among my family that I always choose turkey hunting over the big family gathering. Sitting around waiting for a store-bought Butterball to bake and then doing a mountain of dishes has never charmed me. I refuse all invitations from friends to join them for Thanksgiving dinner. I'm going turkey hunting!
Even so, exactly how to pursue fall turkeys depends on the food conditions. If acorns, beechnuts, wild grapes and cherries are abundant then turkeys don't have to travel far to find food. They can roost, fly down and begin feeding and that makes it harder for hunters to locate them. But when you do find an area that shows sign of fresh scratching that is the place to set up shop. Pick a big tree, brush away all stones, and twigs and sit on a pillow. It is vital to be comfortable while watching and waiting for fall turkeys.
As in the spring, any wisp of motion will spook turkeys and set them fleeing. If you possess that legendary turkey hunter's patience that can sit and wait for hours on end for the birds to show up, great. But you must be able to sit like a statue. The movements you make while eating an apple, crossing you legs, smoking a cigarette, movements that seem indecipherable to you, will alarm a turkey 100 yards away.
Most turkey hunters like to just pussy-foot around the woods, hoping to come upon a flock of turkeys. Then they rush toward them, yelling and this commotion panics the birds who then each fly or run in whatever direction they happened to be facing. This is called "scattering the flock," the basic fall turkey hunting tactic.
The reason for such seeming foolishness is that turkeys are a gregarious group; most flocks are made up of young birds of that year and their hens and the young are not used to being separated from mama. After the initial flush, when things quiet down a bit, they get panicky again and begin to call , using what hunters know as the kee-kee run. It's the call of one lost turkey to another. As they begin to call, they also begin to close the distance between themselves and their flockmates.
As soon as the hunter separates a flock, he finds a good tree to sit beneath, gets his calls in place, yanks his camouflage head net over his face and puts on camo gloves because every patch of white skin must be hidden from the sharp eyesight of these birds. He puts a double-reed diaphragm call into his mouth and as soon as he hears that first shrill call from a faraway bird, he wafts his own kee-kees into the autumn air.
If things go as programmed, the birds will be attracted to his calls, and before too long first one, then another and another will appear and he is presented with a shot.
Fall hunting presents an audio feast. The raucous cackle of a ringneck rising from a cornfield, the music of a barking Beagle chasing a rabbit, the flock of squawking geese that passes over our heads, the cacophony of a flock of turkeys all calling to one another in the woods, the barking of a squirrel as it clings to a tree trunk, warning everything within 300 yards of the presence of the enemy, the distinctive cadence of a barred owl at dawn or dusk, even the wild howling of a couple coyotes in the distance, speaks to some deep place within every hunter.
Being afield with the breathtaking colors, the excitement and the audio entertainment satisfies us deeply yet cannot be adequately explained to someone who we know will not comprehend.
Few things startle us as much as the sharp wing flaps of a rising grouse. No matter what else you may be engaged in, the true outdoors person always hears the far away drumming of the ruffed grouse. It's perched on a log, making his wings fan so fast that it makes the sound that can be heard for a couple hundred yards. He wears himself out in this ritual hoping to impress a hen.