Fall turkey hunting season begins Sunday

Fall turkey flocks are made up of lots of juvenile birds. There are more turkeys in the fall that any other time of the year. The younger birds have not yet faced the challenges of winter and many predators. Mortality is high over the winter months. Because there are more birds in the fall, it is a great time to take a young hunter or someone just getting into the sport. Good luck on all your hunts.

Nebraska’s fall turkey season begins today! The season will run through Jan. 31, 2020, and that makes it one of the longest hunting seasons we have. For the last 20 years, Nebraska’s turkey population has exploded. Even areas with marginal habitat seem to harbor turkeys.

To help manage the bulging turkey population, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission allows hunters to purchase up to two hunting permits, and you can harvest two turkeys of either sex with each permit. Permits are also good statewide. This gives you many opportunities to hunt. You can get permits at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission office or online at outdoornebraska.gov. Here is a quick review of the regulations:

Shotguns

You can take a turkey with any “legal” shotgun. The shotgun must be 10 gauge or smaller. The venerable 12 gauge is probably the most used shotgun, but any gauge, any model, any action will work. I’ve taken a number of turkeys with the smallest standard gauge, the .410. The best shotgun to use is one that you can shoot the best.

For a new hunter, especially a child or person of smaller stature, I recommend a 20 gauge with a No. 5 or No. 6 shot size load. If you can handle a 12 gauge, that’s even better.

Hunters need to be aware that some of the new blended turkey loads, those shotshells loaded with various sizes of shot for maximum pattern density are technically illegal in Nebraska. Nebraska regulations specify that No. 7½ shot is the smallest shot size allowed. Several of the new blended shotshells have smaller shot in their payload.

Scouting

Simply put, scouting is the single most important thing you can do to insure a successful hunt. If you haven’t been out there scouting yet, you may be out of luck, particularly if you’re hunting public ground. The really choice spots are probably already staked out by more motivated hunters and will probably have been actively hunted by noon today. That means the birds have most likely changed their daily patterns. Scouting more remote locations usually pays off.

Camouflage

The art of camouflage requires you to think about cover, concealment and what you wear. You don’t need to be wearing the latest camo pattern or perfectly blend into your background, but you don’t want to stand out in the landscape. For example, if you’re hunting in some of the thick cedar canyons southeast of town, the desert camo pattern you have seen our troops wear in Iraq and Afghanistan may not be the best choice. You’ll be an obvious bright spot in a world of dark hues.

Another key point for turkey hunting is practicing how to use the sun and shadows. Think about the old western cowboy movies: Every gunfighter wanted the sun at his back. It’s the same way in turkey hunting. If the sun is at your back, it is far easier for you to see the turkeys and more difficult for the turkeys to see you. If you are tucked into the shadows, particularly with a harsh contrast cause by looking into the sun, many of your movements may go unnoticed, and with a sharp-eyed quarry like turkeys, every advantage you can create will help you.

Hunting spots

Turkeys are creatures of habit. Once you find a spot to hunt, start looking for turkey activity and begin figuring out their pattern. Look for areas that indicate active feeding. Scratchings on the ground are a good sign. Also, look for natural pathways caused by physical features on the landscape like ridges, tree lines, canyons or draws that either funnel turkeys to take a certain path that are easily traveled. Turkey are not that different from people. They will take the path of least resistance if they can. A spot along this kind of route can provide some good shooting opportunities. Watch where you sit though! Don’t be too high and skyline yourself or show your silhouette. The human shape is easy to identify and easily seen by turkeys.

Calling

Calling is most often thought of as a springtime turkey hunting activity but you can call turkeys in the fall. Not many hunters attempt calling in the fall, but it does work. Just listen to a family group of turkeys moving in the fall. The hens are always calling, almost constantly. These calls keep the group together. The calls you need to mimic are “clucks” and “purrs,” these sounds will attract turkeys.

Decoys

I will use decoys for fall turkey. Just look at how turkeys travel in the fall, when they are in family groups. They are gregarious birds, so they look for other birds to join up with. Decoys can help you do this very effectively. I use both static and moving decoys. It can make a big difference and can increase your shooting opportunities dramatically.

Practice

One last item: Practice with your shotgun at distances you expect to shoot. Experiment with different shot sizes, loads and choke combinations. If you’ve never experimented with these variables you will be amazed at how differently a shotgun can pattern. That being said, it is Sunday morning, the season opened at dawn, and if you haven’t practiced you will just need to do the best you can. Good luck and have a safe turkey hunting season!

Turkey hunting seminar

Look at your calendar for Saturday. The McCook Campus of Mid-Plains Community College will be hosting a seminar on Fall Turkey Hunting Tactics. The class will be from 9 a.m. to noon. There is quite a difference in how you hunt turkeys in the fall verses the spring. This session addresses those differences and provides tips and techniques that the attendee can use to increase their chances for success. A review of laws, calling techniques and regulations are also part of the class. They will even be some “practice time” so attendees can work on their calling techniques. Cost is only $10 per person. For more information, call Marlene Goodenberger at 308-345-8122.

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