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Fall turkey hunt tactics

• Oct 5, 2019 at 2:00 PM

When the 2019 fall wild turkey hunting season comes in on Oct. 12, you might expect to see many thousands of eager hunters out there combing the forests and fields. After all, it should be a simple business to get one. You don't need sophisticated skills with a turkey call, and you can shoot either a tom or hen. Most of Ohio's counties will be open to this fall hunting, including three new ones: Lucas, Hancock, and Erie, so there's no need to travel far to hunt.

But last year, only 11,501 fall wild turkey permits were issued, while over 65,000 hunters were out during the spring season. And those eager outdoor folk killed 21,097 birds, while the fall hunters bagged only  1,060, a ratio of success only about one out of 10. So, why so few hunters and so few birds down? Probably one big reason was that archery season was open when turkey hunting camein last fall, and likely many were seeking deer instead of birds But still the success rate was very low, and again the question was why?

I suspect there are several answers to that question, and knowing those answers can put gunners and bow hunters in the winners column while most others draw zeroes. The first point, and it's probably the  most important, is that you've got to find turkey to kill one. The birds will be mostly flocked up now, sometimes in groups of 40 or more, and they're not interested in sex, but in food to fatten up for winter. So, there's not much point in heading out there to sit under a tree and start a series of amorous hen clucks.

Scouting is always important, but it's REALLY important in fall, so find out where they're foraging and you're almost home free. In the northern half of the state, they're likely to be feeding heavily in harvested corn and soybean fields, particularly the latter. I well remember sitting in a hillside forest in Knox County one year waiting patiently for a whitetail to pass. A farmer had harvested a 5-6 acre soybean field below, and apparently the turkeys knew it, because they came past in a swarm heading for the field.

There were probably 50 birds, big old gobblers, jakes, hens, and small polts born that spring, and they came by flying or walking hurriedly seeking dinner. I was wearing full camouflage, and at least a dozen passed by less than 10 feet away, their attention totally on the field. Unfortunately, the turkey season hadn't come in yet, so I let them go. They'll likely be doing the same in harvested corn, seeking energy rich golden kernels, so you check the fields around looking for scratch marks, fallen feathers, droppings and other signs of bird presence, and make your stand accordingly.

In the south, southwest, and southeast, there aren't many fields, just heavy forest, and in this situation, look for oaks, particularly white oaks. The acorns are equally energy rich and killed with fats and carbohydrates, so sign here is worth hunting. Remember too, that if you see a passing flock, a standard tactic is to charge it yelling, flush the birds in all directions, then sit down with a hen call. The birds want to join their flock again, and will re-gather shortly. A few clucks then will draw birds wanting togetherness, and provide you with an easy shot.

Hooks & Bullets:

The 2019 Ohio deer archery season should be a good one and approximately 370,000 archers will be out looking for venison. "Ohio's deer hunters should expect a banner season this year," said Kendra Wecker, Chief of the Division of Wildlife. "The public land harvest last year strongly suggests that the regulations imposed in 2018-19 protected a large portion of the antlerless population which will yield more deer on our public lands this fall..." Last year, 46 percent of the total deer harvest (79,098) was taken by archers.

It just doesn't pay to cheat. Six non-resident anglers were recently convicted of over-bagging on Lake Erie walleye and sentenced in Ashtabula Municipal Court. The anglers were spotted by wildlife officers doing "double tripping", filling their limits and returning to the lake the same day and limiting out again. The judge fined the defendants, ordered them to pay restitution for 99 walleyes, and revoked their Ohio fishing licenses for three years.

Walleye fishing has definitely slowed in recent days along the Big Lake, thanks to hot weather. The fall yellow perch bite hasn't picked up yet either, as water temperatures have remained warm. A few perch are being caught between South Bass Island and Kelleys Island, and some walleye are being taken 3 to 6 miles east of Kelleys Island, and north of Cedar Point. The catfish bite in Sandusky Bay continues to be good with many fish weighing over 10 pounds.

The Put-in-Bay Winery will host a Wine Fest  from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today. Visitors can sample local wines, good food, and a Lake Erie view at the fest.

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