How to Take Your Father Turkey Hunting

How to Take Your Father Turkey Hunting

There’s an old split-rail fence at Mom and Dad’s place that separates the lawn from the horse pasture. I like to lean against it just before dark and owl hoot. Across the pasture, and beyond the creek, is an oak hillside, and in the spring a gobbler roosts there as many nights as not. The acoustics must be perfect because if I hoot from that fence and he’s there, he’ll answer. Tonight, he’s there.

I expected as much because Dad had seen him strutting in the pasture just the day before. He’d even set up on him, but although the bird gobbled, he never did come in. I was glad to hear that Dad had given it a try, though, because the fire he once had for turkey hunting has faded. There’s nothing I’d like more than to help Dad shoot this bird in the morning.

When I walk back into the cabin with the good news, Dad is watching CNN at two clicks shy of full volume, the television set buzzing like a cheap sound system. He turns it down and asks, “Hear him?”

“Yep,” I say. “He’s roosted right over the creek. But we’re going to have to set up early.” As I emphasize that last word, Dad’s eyes narrow the way they always do when I hint at taking the lead on, well, anything.

“How early?”

Getting a Start

Twenty-four years ago, I watched my first gobbler walk into gun range. I was sitting between Dad’s knees, cradling a 20-gauge as the turkey gobbled over and again, first on the limb, then on the ground. Dad whispered to me, “I’ll tap your neck when he’s close enough.”

He often used friction calls, but Dad was talented enough with his natural voice to win a few local calling contests. He yelped softly, and the longbeard popped into view 30 yards away. The tap on my neck, and the roar of the shotgun, and the gobbler winging out of sight seemed to happen all in same moment. I fought back tears but couldn’t hold them all. Dad just smiled and said, “Do you want to quit?”

“No,” I said.


That one morning shaped my whole life, to this very moment. How do you repay something like that?

Too Late

I know we need to get up at 3:45, but I also know that if I suggest that, I’ll have to argue with Dad, and I’m not up for it. As he’s gotten older, he likes to sleep in. “Four-thirty,” I tell him. “But we’ve got to go as soon as we get up.”

At 4:50, I’m pacing the cabin while Dad fusses with contact lenses and nurses a cup of black coffee. I step onto the porch and strain my eyes at the sky, as if staring at the stars will keep them out a little longer. When I go back in, Dad’s wearing camo pants but fishing around in the hunting closet. “Have you got some extra shells?” he asks.

“I’ve got you covered there,” I say. “TSS No. 9s.”

“Nines?” he says. “I like 4s.”

“Dad, these are…” I stop myself. “I have some lead 4s too.”

He walks back over to his coffee, and I step back out onto the porch, where I hear the first notes of the dawn chorus. “Dad, we need to get going!” I say, slinging a bag of decoys over my shoulder.

“OK!” he says, and splashes his coffee into the sink.

We cross the fence, and I can already see the maples on the edge of the creek, where we’d talked about setting up. It’s shooting light by the time we sit down. Two distant birds sound off, but all around us, it’s silence.

“Think we scared him?” Dad whispers.

“Yes,” I answer. “He watched us walk across that pasture and set those ­decoys, plain as day.”

“I don’t think so,” he says.

I shrug. The gobbles from the distant birds are faint but steady. Suddenly I see Dad twist to his right and shoulder his 870. My heart jumps. I’m thinking that the roosted tom has walked in silently. Instead, I see the wake of a beaver swimming down the creek. We’ve lost a few acres of timber due to flooding out here, and I know what’s coming. Dad hits the beaver in the head with the entire payload of a $10 TSS shell, which I’d handed to him in the dark. Geese flush off the creek, and the horses stampede from the pasture as the blast reverberates through the timber. Dad racks the slide, and regards the smoking hull with a smile.

“Killed that son of a bitch dead,” he says. “You think we ought to move?”

New Spot

We sneak to the other end of the farm, where the distant birds have since gone silent. Setting up on the side of a ridge, with our backs to a copse of hickory saplings, I stake the decoys 20 yards ahead on the right, to Dad’s side. I sit on his left and cutt hard on a mouth call, and any expectations of relaxing in the sun vanish when a gobbler with marbles in his throat fires off 100 yards away. Dad yanks his shotgun to his knee.

I call again, and the bird cuts me off with another deep gobble. He’s coming fast. For five minutes, it’s back and forth—call and gobble—and I know we’re about to see him. I’m watching the rise just beyond the decoys, expecting the tom to materialize at any second. But then, nothing. I yelp, but there’s no response. No drumming, no walking in the leaves. Fifteen minutes pass, and I think this turkey too has busted us.

Then Dad yelps with his voice. Damn, we sound desperate, I think to myself—but the turkey roars back, right on top of us, and I hear drumming. I look all around the decoys, but he’s not there. Cocking my eyes to the left—on my side—I can see the gobbler standing in full strut and plain view, about 30 yards away. Dad has no shot with me between him and the bird.

“Kill him,” he says. I don’t move. “He’s going to get away if you don’t!”

The bird spins his fan to me and drums, and I snap my gun to my shoulder. Dad yelps again, and the turkey deflates, craning his neck. At the shot, the bird flops down the hill, coming to rest just feet from our decoys. When I stand up, I’m shaking my head in disgust.

“What’s the matter with you?” Dad asks.

“I really wanted you to shoot that bird,” I say.

“Hell, I’ve been calling them in for you to shoot for 25 years,” he says. “I don’t know why that should change now. Let’s go eat breakfast.”

Mom takes our picture with the turkey, next to the split-rail fence. It might not be the exact hunt I was envisioning, but I think in Dad’s mind, it played out perfectly.

Written by Will Brantley for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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The Deer Hunter’s Guide To Fall Turkey Hunting

The Deer Hunter’s Guide To Fall Turkey Hunting

Last night, I set up within bow range of a chestnut oak that was raining acorns onto leaf litter scattered with fresh deer poo. I love this time of year, when most of the trees have dropped their leaves, but not the oaks. It makes it so easy to find the mast trees and figure out which ones are producing those acorns that—for mysterious reasons—the deer seem to want more than others. Under the canopy of this oak, along the bank of a little creek, were firm, cap-less nuts, some half-chewed; the poo, greenish and still-wet; and two rubs, newly peeled.

It was a slow hunt, deer-wise, until the very end, when a shooter buck splashed through the creek and pushed through a screen of beech saplings to the base of the oak tree. At 20 yards, he snapped his head up and pegged me. It couldn’t have been hard; I was half-way down the tree, descending with my climbing stand. I could still see the buck pretty well, but it was after legal light, which is sunset in New York.

He blew and spun and crashed back through the creek and over the hill. I figured the spot was pretty much ruined for deer hunting for a while—but I was coming back in the morning. Just before the buck showed, I’d watched about 25 turkeys—all hens and poults—cross into the green field behind me and fly up into the leafy crown of another nearby oak.

Hunt a Fall Turkey Roost

Fall turkey and archery deer seasons overlap in most states, and a treestand is a fine place from which to spot the birds. You’re already elevated, and you’ve likely got a binocular harnessed to your chest. Plus, the early and late prime times of deer movement happen to be when you’re most likely to see turkeys too. And the earlier or later, the better. It means you’re close to the birds’ roost—and the roost is the key for deer hunters who want to fill a turkey tag.

Here’s the thing: You can hunt fall turkeys all day and all week if you want. You can pattern flocks on food or terrain, then slip into their favorite haunts and call them to you with subtle clucks and purrs. Or you can scatter the flock and pull them back in with kee-kee runs and yelps. Or you can hunt them with dogs. But if you’re a hardcore deer hunter, you’re probably not willing to trade treestand time to do any of that. What you need is a quick, simple, high-odds turkey hunt. And that’s where the roost comes in.

The ideal scenario is to watch or hear the birds fly up from your treestand. That way, you know exactly where they’ll be, and you only have to miss one morning of deer hunting. Otherwise—if you see the birds early or late enough that you can assume the roost is nearby—spend one evening glassing to pinpoint where the birds fly up, and come back to hunt them the next morning. Here the step-by-step game plan:

1. Scout Fall Turkeys

Watch the birds and note exactly which tree or trees they fly into, and exactly where on the ground they were standing when they flew up. Odds are, they’ll fly down right to or very near the same spot.

2. Wake Up Extra Early

Give yourself at least a half hour more than what you think you need to walk in and set up. The key here is to slip in super-close to the roost. You want it to be full-dark when you do, and you want to be able to take your time and be as quiet as possible.

3. Set Up on the Roost

If possible, set up within gun range of the spot where the birds flew up. Otherwise, get as close as you can without bumping the roosted birds. You might be surprised by how close you can get. I’ve found that if it’s dark and I go slow and crawl the last 10 or 20 yards, I can usually get within 50 yards of the roost, and sometimes closer.

4. Keep Quiet Until the Birds Fly Down

Wait. Don’t make a sound until the first few birds fly down. If they fly in your direction, you probably won’t have to call at all. If they don’t, go ahead and cluck or yelp softly. This can bring the other birds on the ground closer or make the ones still in the tree fly to you—or both.

5. Call in Fall Turkeys

If all the birds fly down out of gun range, start with clucks and soft yelps. If that pulls them closer, just keep it up. If not, switch to kee-kee runs and yelps. (See below for how to make a kee-kee run on a turkey call.) The birds are still assembling just off the roost, and the sound of a lost poult can pull a hen into range.

6. Sit Still and Wait for Your Shot

Be patient. Turkeys tend to mill and loiter around the roost in the morning. If that’s what they’re doing, stay put and call intermittently. It could still happen. Even if they do fly right to you or you call them into your lap, don’t be in too much of a hurry to shoot. Watching birds pitch down and assemble on nice fall morning is a sight to see. Enjoy it for a bit.

A Bonus Turkey for Thanksgiving

I snuck within 60 yards of the roost and within 30 yards of the spot in the green field where I’d watched the birds fly up the night before. The first three hens sailed out of the oak and landed on the opposite corner of the field, out of range. I clucked a couple times and yelped softly and the next two birds flew right to me. Then, by ones and twos, every other bird in the tree did the same. Pretty soon I had the whole flock milling around in front of me: the hens herding the poults, and the poults bobbing around, still a little clueless. Although fall poults look nearly as big as grown hens, they only weigh about half as much, and they’re especially good eating.

I watched the show for a bit and then lowered my cheek on the buttstock. There were a couple of hens at around 40 yards—a makeable shot with my 20-gauge loaded with Winchester Long Beard. But there were also several poults only a chip shot away. As I mulled it over, I remembered that my wife and I are hosting Thanksgiving this year and that the 25-pound domestic bird we always get, which barely fits in our oven, is enough for the meal but never enough for leftovers. We don’t need another turkey. That would be too much. What we need is another half-turkey. A nice, tender one. So, I picked out one of the clueless half-turkeys right in front of me and brought it home for Thanksgiving.

How to Make a Kee-Kee Run

If you’ve only hunted turkeys in the spring, you may have never learned how to make a kee-kee run on a turkey call. So, here’s what you need to know.

In the fall, poults will make a series of high-pitched whistles whenever they get separated from the flock. Hens make the call too, in order to locate and guide lost poults, and generally to assemble the flock. The rough translation is: “I’m over here, where are you?” That’s why producing the sound on a call can draw fall birds in. If you scatter a flock, you’ll hear almost nonstop kee-kees. But turkeys may do it any time the flock needs to come together, such as immediately after fly-down.

You can kee-kee on about any type of call, but it’s easiest on a pot call or mouth call. On a pot, just keep the striker up near the outside edge of the call, where the pitch is highest, and run it in a straight line, instead of dropping it down toward the middle of the call where the pitch is lower.

On a mouth call, the first thing you have to do it pick a call that makes it easy for you to produce a clean, high, whistle. Some people prefer an easy-blowing single or double-reed batwing call. Others like a ghost-cut call, which is designed for kee-ing. Try different cuts and reed configurations until it clicks. Once you’ve got the high note down, it's easy: just make a run of three or four whistles in a row. Do it repeatedly, sometimes ending the run in a yelp or two. Here’s a YouTube video of my friend and World Champion turkey caller, Mitchell Johnson of Dead End Game Calls, showing how it’s done.

Written by Dave Hurteau for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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Turkey Hunting The Black Hills

Turkey Hunting The Black Hills

A sudden winter storm makes an already challenging public-land hunt even harder—and more rewarding

I was on my way to check one last piece of public ground for my evening hunt, when something out of place on the trail, covered with fresh snow, caught my eye: a set of turkey tracks. I hopped out of my truck for a closer look. They were small, but I hoped they belonged to a jake, rather than a hen. I grabbed my shotgun and set off to follow the footsteps like mountain lion hunters in the area had been doing a few months earlier after their quarry.

It had been a grueling day in the snow and cold of the Black Hills, but this line of prints took the bite out of the air. I crept alongside the tracks, making some quiet yelps along the way. At any moment, I expected a gobble back but didn’t hear a sound. I kept going.

Change in the Weather

I’d already had a successful spring turkey season, with an Eastern that I shot in early April and the new state-record Rio Grande that I killed with my bow not long after. To complete my South Dakota slam, I just needed a ­Merriam’s, and the Black Hills offered the best chance to get one.

As this is one of the few places in North America where all three species are found, I was in a unique position to take each bird in the same state and season. This would be my toughest turkey hunt yet, though, tackling unfamiliar public ground. The Hills are known for their abundance of birds and rough topography, both of which allow South Dakota to be liberal with its unlimited resident and nonresident tag allocation: There might be a lot of turkeys here, but they’re all hard-earned.

The Black Hills are also known for moody weather. According to the National Weather Service, Spear­fish experienced one of the most remarkable weather events in history with a 49-­degree temperature change in Dec. 1943, when the mercury jumped from minus 4 to 45 degrees in two minutes. The Köppen climate map tells a similar story, with a humid subtropic climate and a subarctic climate existing within just 50 miles of each other inside the Black Hills. On my hunt, I’d have both.

The day prior, it had been 70 degrees with clear skies. But that morning, I sat in my truck with the glow of my rearview mirror reading 25 degrees as a bland radio host warned that a foot of snow was on its way. I got out of the vehicle and stepped into total darkness. Tall pines cloaked the lights of Rapid City, and dense clouds eclipsed the moon and stars. As I started up an old logging road, the forest was dead silent. No wind, no footsteps, no songbirds and, worst of all, no turkeys. I could hear only the snow—now trending closer to ice—pelting off my hood before it began to collect in my beard. When the sun finally rose, the hills felt emptier than they did in the dark.

For two hours, I hiked the trail without hearing or seeing a turkey. I’d stop on tall ridges to glass the vast mountains, and call with hopes of coaxing a gobble. It was a fruitless hunt, and a march that only a desperate turkey hunter would make.

With these conditions, the birds were in survival mode. The blizzard drove the turkeys to bunch up and seek shelter and food near bird feeders and feedlots. With 1.2 million acres of public land at my disposal, though, the last place I wanted to see a bird was within eyesight of someone’s patio.

I stuck to the logging roads all morning and afternoon. When I’d get cold or tired, which usually took just a couple miles of hiking, I’d head back to my pickup and relocate to a new piece of ground. I did this three times, dreading the next time I’d have to get out of my truck to take my shotgun for a walk. I took the scenic route to the last trailhead, consciously getting behind schedule so I’d have more time to stay in my dry and warm vehicle. That’s when I spotted the turkey tracks.

Spencer Neuharth hunting bearded hen Spencer Neuharth

Bearded Lady

After a quarter mile, I arrived at a steep cliff face where the tracks temporarily ended. If the turkey wasn’t on the other side of this, I figured, I’d start my descent back to the trail. Just over the crest, there stood my Merriam’s. I raised my shotgun—only to realize it was trained on the blue head of a hen. I brought the gun to my side, mumbling something about my luck with the unknowing bird at 30 yards. Accepting that this hunt was over, I kneeled in the snow and watched the hen. Then the bird turned broadside to me, exposing a 6-inch beard, making her legal to shoot with a male turkey tag. After I was absolutely certain the beard wasn’t a mirage that my greedy brain was projecting, I reshouldered my gun and touched off a concluding shot.

As I stood over the bird, I took a mental picture of the scene. This rare bird was a fitting reward to a demanding day afield—a salve for my aching feet, numb fingers, and chapped face. I’d do it all over again in a second.

Gear Tip: Shock Treatment

HS mega hoot owl call H.S.

Shock-gobbling is a weakness in the turkey’s armor, since it gives away a tom’s location on the roost. Hunters can use this to their advantage in areas they’ve never hunted; the technique is great in big woods like the Black Hills. The most common locator calls mimic an owl or crow and are most effective just before daylight. I like the H.S. Mega Hoot Owl Call ($12;, which takes some practice but makes lifelike calls. If you’re able to get a tom to answer, move in on his turf and surprise him with a couple of hen yelps at daylight.

Written by chillman for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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