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25 Reasons to Hunt Turkeys in the Fall

I know, I know.

There is nothing like spring wild turkey hunting in Nebraska, and the fall hunting season for wild turkeys, well, it just doesn’t rise to that level.

Or, does it?

Hmm.

I don’t think you can call yourself a true turkey hunter until you have willingly and eagerly accepted the fun challenge and vivid excitement of hunting North America’s largest upland game bird during the fall season in Nebraska. Hunters who have never experienced fall hunting are missing an opportunity to learn more about wild turkey behavior. The sight and sounds of 20 to 30 turkeys approaching from all directions can be just as exciting as calling in a spring gobbler, trust me!

Interestingly, the generation of hunters (like my kids) that came of age after the successful reintroduction of the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) to the Nebraska countryside sees wild turkey hunting as a spring-only activity.

Really?

Although many turkey hunters have never tried it, they are quick to tell you the fall turkey hunt isn’t for them and it isn’t great.

They’ll say it is merely an easy ambush hunt with a big flock of birds. They’ll say they don’t want to shoot hens or young-of-the-year birds. They’ll say the turkeys aren’t that vocal in the fall. They’ll say the turkeys are not in the same places as they were in the spring. And, they’ll say that there are too many other game animals and birds to hunt during a Nebraska fall.

Excuses, excuses, excuses.

I’ve heard those phrases repeatedly from hunters as to why they don’t want to pursue wild turkeys in the fall. And, I think they’re really missing out!

A hen wild turkey pauses for a moment along the edge of a harvested cornfield in eastern Washington County, Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

It certainly is no secret that I, Greg Wagner, am very passionate about wild turkey hunting in Nebraska! Of course the spring season is awesome, but I thoroughly enjoy the fall season, and I think you should, too!

fallturkeyharvested
Your blogger poses with a large hen wild turkey taken during the fall on the edge of a soybean field in western Douglas County, Nebraska. Photo by T. Andre Shousha of Waterloo, NE.

With Nebraska’s 2017 fall wild turkey hunting season opener fast approaching on Thursday, September 15th, once again, I have sat down at the computer and compiled, what I believe to be, the numerous reasons – 25 to be exact – why you and your hunting partner should join me in buying a fall wild turkey hunting permit in Nebraska this year. See if I can spur (no pun intended) you on to get one. Here the 25 reasons.

1. TWO FOR ONE PERMIT(S). Buy one Nebraska fall wild turkey hunting permit (Resident Price – $30, Nonresident Price – $109), use bow, crossbow and shotgun, get to hunt statewide and harvest two birds. You can have two permits during the fall season. Don’t forget your habitat stamp, too!

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A pair of hen wild turkeys feed in smooth brome grass in northern Douglas County, Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

2. A BARGAIN FOR YOUTH. Youth turkey permits are only $8 and there is no age restriction on turkey hunting. Besides the inexpensive permit, turkey hunting is a perfect portal into hunting for youth. As soon as a youngster is able to safely and confidently shoot a shotgun, that young person can take to the woods with an adult mentor and have a realistic chance of shooting a turkey each time he or she goes out. With fall wild turkey hunting, blinds with chairs are used, scent is a non-factor and absolute silence isn’t necessary.

firstturkey
A young hunter displays a jake wild turkey he harvested in eastern Washington County, Nebraska. Photo by Jim Druliner of Omaha, NE.

3. EASY PERMIT TO GET, CARRY AND USE. Turkey hunting permits in Nebraska are easier than ever before to acquire and carry via modern technology. Turkey permits can now be purchased, shown and tag-cancelled on your mobile device or phone! A screen shot of it can be taken as a back up. You can go paperless!

4. LONG SEASON. Fall wild turkey hunters in Nebraska enjoy an extremely long season.  It runs from Sept. 15 – Jan. 31 and is one of the longer fall wild turkey hunting seasons in the country!

5. LOTS OF BIRDS. The wild turkey populations in Nebraska remain strong and stable. Wild turkeys thrive in all 93 Nebraska counties! Fun fact: Nebraska ranks 48th in the nation in the amount of woodland acreage, but generally falls in top 15 states in the country for overall number of wild turkeys harvested. Get this, Some counties in Nebraska even rank within the top 10 counties in the nation for turkey abundance!

6. SATISFIED HUNTERS. A survey of turkey hunters last fall shows they were mostly satisfied with their Nebraska hunting experience. We at Game and Parks conducted the survey with a questionnaire which was sent and made available to 2016 fall turkey hunters. Of the 1,114 responses, 63 percent responded that they were satisfied with their hunting experience and 98 percent replied they would hunt in Nebraska again during the fall season. The survey indicated that 20 percent of nonresident hunters were former Nebraska residents who continue to return to hunt.

7. ARRAY OF SUBSPECIES/FEATHER COLORATION. Making Nebraska an even more intriguing destination for spring wild turkey hunting is the fact that you never know what coloration of feathers will be on your bird or what turkey subspecies you might shoot! Jeff Lusk, Upland Game Program Manager for us at Game and Parks, says the color gradation of tail feathers can resemble the appearance of Eastern, Rio Grande, and Merriam’s subspecies or Merriam’s crossed with game farm Eastern’s, all of which have been released in Nebraska over the years. Most of our birds are thought to be hybrids. Game and Parks is presently studying wild turkeys to determine the genetic makeup of the turkey population across the state. It should be pointed out that, in northwestern Nebraska, turkey hunters in the rugged, scenic Pine Ridge area will encounter one of the nation’s best Merriam’s/Merriam’s hybrid turkey populations with plenty of public access available to hunt them! 

8. VARIETY OF HABITATS AND MANY PUBLIC LANDS. Wild turkeys in Nebraska can be found in a variety of habitat types and on many public properties. Turkeys in Nebraska seemingly adapt to virtually any dense native plant community as long as coverage and openings are widely available. Open, mature forests with an interspersion of various tree species appear to be preferred. Fall wild turkey hunters in Nebraska will find good opportunities to pursue birds on over 500,000 acres of public and public-access lands.

9. COMBO HUNT. You can combine a fall wild turkey hunt with other hunts (Deer, pheasant, quail, grouse, etc.) or even a scouting trip for other game.

mixedbag
Nebraska’s mixed bag potential is shown with the harvest of wild turkeys, sharp-tailed grouse and rooster pheasants in one trip in the Sandhills. Photo by Justin King and courtesy of Daryl Bauer/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

10. FIND FALL FUNGI. Fall wild turkey hunting also offers a unique chance to look around your woods for edible, fall wild fungi to compliment that wild turkey being roasted in the oven!

giantpuffball
This is an edible fall, giant puffball mushroom found in the woods of southern Sarpy County, Nebraska on a fall wild turkey hunting expedition. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

11. UTILIZE YOUR CALLS AND DECOYS. A spring turkey can hunter can certainly utilize use his or her calls and decoys to locate flocks of birds or scatter a flock of birds and call them back together. The primary calls turkey hunters make in the fall are the kee-kee, lost yelp, assembly yelp, gobbler yelp and gobble. It has often been said that in the fall you make female sounds to female turkeys and male sounds to male turkeys. Regarding decoys, remind yourself that the roll-up decoy weighs nothing in your game bag and looks like a real hen. Put out one to represent a lost turkey, or a few to resemble birds regrouping after a scatter.

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A slate wild turkey call. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

12. BIG TOMS ARE A MAJOR CHALLENGE. Big, adult toms typically hang out together, are wary and present a formidable challenge to get near in the fall when their not in breeding mode. So, spending more time with wild turkeys in the fall will make you a better spring gobbler hunter!

tomturkey
A wild tom turkey looks for corn kernels to eat in a combined corn field in eastern Washington County, Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

13. PATTERN THE FLOCKS BY FINDING THEIR FOOD. Flocks of wild turkeys can be easily patterned during the fall and winter months, especially a hen/poult group traveling to and from a food source. Potential food sources may be grasshoppers, corn, soybeans, cut wheat, oats, grain sorghum, leftover sunflower seeds in a dove field and mast. Note your field edges. What the flock did yesterday is likely what they’ll do today and tomorrow. It’s easy to unravel the turkeys’ comings and goings so you can set up the best plan in order to intercept and hunt them. Remember, unlike in spring, turkeys are driven by food in the fall rather than the need to reproduce. Therefore, scouting food sources is one of the best ways to find birds.

turkeyswinter
A large hen/poult wild turkey flock seen in a combined soybean field in southern Sarpy County, Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

14. VOCAL BIRDS. Wild turkeys speak the same language in fall as they do in spring, but differently. Fall turkeys tend to be more vocal than birds in the spring. When a flock of hens and poults gets worked up in the fall they can make quite a racket! While you won’t hear the woods lighting up with gobbles like in the springtime, fall turkeys do and will gobble at times to show dominance!

15. RECEPTIVE LANDOWNERS. Many Nebraska landowners are receptive to turkey hunters and turkey hunting in the fall because bird numbers are most abundant after the spring hatch.

16. HELP WITH DAMAGE. You could help landowners experiencing agricultural or property damage problems caused by too many turkeys on their farm, ranch or acreage by harvesting hens.

wildturkeyswinter
A flock of wild turkeys feeds on a snowy December day on an acreage in northern Douglas County, Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

17. PEAK WEIGHT. The birds are at their peak weight in the fall and winter. Throughout autumn and early winter, the turkey eats as much as it can (e.g. grains, mast, etc.) building up fat reserves for the colder weather periods that lie ahead.

18. SIMPLE TO COOK, HEALTHY TO EAT, TASTE GREAT! Wild turkeys are simple to cook, have high nutritional value and are positively delicious! Cooking with moist-heat is the key to wonderfully-tasting wild turkey on the supper table.

19. SHOOT YOUR OWN THANKSGIVING TURKEY. You could shoot your very own free-ranging holiday birds for Thanksgiving and Christmas! Young tender birds can also be harvested, if desired.

20. ALREADY HAVE THE LEGAL EQUIPMENT AND CLOTHING. Hey, you already have the legal equipment and right hunting gear to hunt turkeys in the fall! At a minimum, a shotgun with a tight pellet pattern and a good load will do. Whatever camouflage clothing you have will work, you could even mix and match the patterns if you wish!

21. THAT BLIND WILL WORK JUST FINE. With portable, camouflaged ground blinds that most hunters own, fall wild turkey hunting presents a superb opportunity for youth, those who are physically challenged and newcomers to be comfortable, allow for some movement, effectively deal with changing weather conditions, and get real close to the birds.

Camoportableblind
A portable, camouflage ground hunting blind positioned in cover on a fall wild turkey hunt in eastern Washington County, Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

22. TAKE TO THE DEER STAND. Have access to a tree stand or box blind for deer hunting? Then, take to it! Wild turkeys use deer trails and are generally in the same areas as deer. While unorthodox, you are more likely to see turkeys from a distance and learn a bit from them for the following day’s hunt. That is, if you don’t take one right away.

23. FALL COLORS. Fall wild turkey hunting gives you the chance to be directly out amid the colorful fall foliage!

The brilliant foliage colors of late October as experienced from a fall wild turkey hunting blind in western Washington County, Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

24. SOLITUDE. Opposite popular season openers (e.g. firearm deer and pheasant/quail), fall wild turkey hunting offers a quieter, more pleasant time to be in the field.

25. TRADITION. Turkey hunting during the autumn months allows you to continue America’s rich turkey hunting heritage which first began with Paleoamericans hunting the birds for food mainly in the fall, as evidenced by the examination and testing of historical artifacts. Nebraska’s wild turkey hunting heritage actually started with a fall season in 1962. I remind you that fall was the original turkey hunting season in the U.S.  According to the Smithsonian Institute, historical records show that in describing the autumn of 1621, William Bradford said the pilgrims of the Plymouth colony (in Massachusetts) ate waterfowl and venison but that there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many.

After all, don’t we eat turkey at Thanksgiving, not Easter?

Always watchful, a hen wild turkey stares at a camouflaged ground blind during a fall crossbow hunt in Dawson County, Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

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About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Public Information Officer and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media sites, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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