Fall Turkey Hunting? To do or not to do?

By Aaron Stonehocker

I will never forget my first turkey harvested with a bow.  It was my first year of archery hunting. I spent the entire year fine tuning my accuracy on paper targets strapped to hay bales at Mrs. Carol’s farm. As fall season approached Pat, a family friend, offered to take me out to his farm in search of giant Iowa whitetails, an opportunity I was not about to turn down.  He had two pieces of advice for me before the hunt:

“If you shoot a buck, it had better be something you are paying to hang on the wall.  Oh, and you had better buy yourself a turkey tag because this farm is loaded with them.  Got it Red!?”

Outside the truck before heading into the early morning darkness, Pat offered a couple stand options to me but when I realized I forgot my safety harness, we elected it best for me to sit a ground blind on the edge of a CRP field.  Not long after sun-up I spotted antlers bobbing through the CRP breaking the skyline of the hill in front of me. I got myself up in the seat, bow to full draw, and waited for him to show enough of himself to take a shot.  The buck crested the hill, turned broadside, and locked onto the blind. Shaking from adrenaline and fatigue, I tried desperately to quickly determine yardage, shot placement on a halfway CRP concealed animal, and if that rack was “big enough” to mount on my wall…or at least if Pat would consider it big enough for me to mount on my wall?  With mixed emotions, I eventually elected to let down my draw at about the same time the buck disappeared back the way he came with a short snort and a swift tail wag.

(About now I know you are probably looking back at the first sentence of this article, or if you weren’t, you just did, because this article is about my first archery turkey hunt remember?)

I felt defeated for not shooting at that buck (one I would have been proud to take even to this day) but kept trying to boost my confidence with the notion that I had enough smarts to decide against taking a shot when I was pinned down, couldn’t see the full target, and wasn’t 100% on my yardage.  Afterall, the day was young and was already promising for opportunities to abound.

About that time, I started hearing scratching coming through the woods behind the blind.  I froze, clutching my bow with release attached to my string, as adrenaline filled every inch of my veins.  I started to hear a very unfamiliar purring sound mixed with lots of scratching and fluttering as whatever it was started to close the distance to the blind.  I strained my neck to catch a glimpse of what it might be out of pin holes in the back window of the blind. Is it a raccoon? Coyote? Bobcat…?

I slowly eased my head back to the front where I caught a glimpse of movement revealing the identity of the creature that was now surrounding me, a flock of Jakes!  I could barely believe what I was seeing as I watched them excitedly for a second before remembering that tag I had in my pocket that was good for a super-size order of turkey nuggets.

I quickly targeted the biggest one, drew my bow, and let the first arrow fly…right over the birds back.  I don’t know what was crazier: the fact that I just blew a 7-yard shot or the idea that the birds didn’t spook? They simply looked up, checked their surroundings, and went right back to milling around.  I grabbed another arrow and let her fly…right over the birds back again. A third…same result followed by the same reaction from the flock that was now about 15 yards from the blind. I had one arrow left.  Now, more frustrated with myself than enjoying the wonder of what was happening to me on my first ever archery hunt, I knocked the arrow, took a deep breath, and adjusted to compensate for what happened on the first three downs of this drive.  I sent the arrow sailing towards the bird and this time it connected right on the money, taking out one leg and one wing, dropping the bird immediately and killing it moments later.

While the rest of the birds decided that it was time to get away from whatever had just taken out their buddy, I sat there smiling with excitement, relief, and relishing in the fact that I had just taken my first turkey with archery equipment on my first ever archery hunt, on the same farm I harvested my first Iowa long beard earlier that year with a shotgun.

Most hunters think about turkey hunting in Iowa as a spring only chase, but I think they are falling short by not capitalizing on yet another opportunity to put fine food on the table in the fall.   Turkeys are just as much fun to hunt in the fall as they are in the spring, with the only exception being the type of calls one would expect to fill the morning air.

Fall turkey hunting also offers sportsmen the opportunity to further support the conservation efforts of our states DNR by giving more funding through the tag purchases. Not to mention one more reason to be in the woods a few more days each year creating lasting memories to share with friends and family.

The birds are typically following a routine: moving from roost, to food, to dusting grounds and shade before they repeat the steps in reverse for the evening.  This allows hunters a better chance to connect on a flock that is likely using the same food sources as the deer and other game we are chasing in the fall. The birds typically roost in the same locations on a property, so your best option is to find a spot between a good roost location such as an oak stand or maple bottom and a good food source such as young mast crops, fresh cut fields, or areas with lots of bugs for them to eat.  Food plots are becoming more popular, which are also great places to find birds looking for nutrient dense plants to fill their crops with in the fall.

All in all, fall turkey hunting is something that you won’t find me missing out on each year that I can muster up the extra twenty something dollars when I go to buy my deer tags.  I love doubling my chances at bringing home the bacon to my family, and I know that it benefits both me and the state’s efforts to keep our hunting traditions alive and well. Good luck this season, and hopefully you will have an extra tag burning a hole in your pocket!