(MCT) — KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jay Faherty admits that he is the exception to the rule when it comes to turkey hunting.
Most hunters look down their noses at the fall season, thinking that it’s a time when the birds aren’t very vocal and aren’t receptive to calls. Spring is the time they look forward to, when lovesick gobblers readily come in and put on a show for the perceived hens that are calling them.
But Faherty will tell you that the big turkey birds can put on more of show than most hunters imagine in the fall. Take last weekend, for example.
“We had a fantastic hunting trip last weekend near Mount Vernon (Mo.),” said Faherty, who invented the HIPS (Hidden In Plain Sight) Blind and was taking some of his pro staff out. “I called for them, and we had some adult gobblers running in, gobbling and actually strutting, they were so fired up.
“It was so exciting. We got one of the birds real close and one of my pro staff shot him with a bow. Everything went just the way you’d want it to.”
Now Faherty was hoping for a repeat on a farm near Smithville Lake. He slipped through the darkness early one Tuesday morning before he finally arrived at a strip of timber along a pasture. He arranged his HIPS blind, which is actually a camouflaged shield with a kickstand to prop it up in front of him, pulled a facemask down and began calling just before daylight. By the time, he had finished a series of yelps and kee-kee runs, he had turkeys calling from three directions in front of him.
As he continued to call, he watched the turkeys that had just pitched down from a tree across the pasture begin milling around in the open grassland. But when mother hen joined them, they followed her lead and walked away.
When they got to the end of the field, Faherty used an often-tried fall technique and raced toward them to break up the flock and try to call in one of the insecure birds. But that didn’t work as planned. The young turkeys flew in the same direction, reassembled and again walked off with the hen.
“If they had scattered, I guarantee one of those young birds would have come in running,” said Faherty, 47, who lives in Gladstone. “But when they go the same direction, it doesn’t take them long to get back together.”
Such is fall turkey hunting. It can be difficult with a gun. It can be even more challenging with a bow, especially a longbow.
“Turkeys have such amazing eyesight, it can be tough to get them close. I take most of my shots at 20 yards or less,” Faherty said. “They don’t have a curious bone in their body.
“When they see something out of place, they’re out of there. They can see a hunter pull back on their bow. That’s why I came up with this HIPS blind. It hides the hunter and it’s easy to use.
“I have been playing with something like this for 20 years. Believe it not, I used to hide behind a piece of tarpaper and it worked just fine.
“But this blind I came up with is lightweight, you can put it up in about two seconds, and it blends right into the woods.”
For Faherty, this is just the most recent innovation he has come up with to help hunters take turkeys. He helped design a mouth call for his friend, who owns Cramer’s Custom Calls. He named one of the models Miss Leighann after his wife.
“We even made one of the calls in purple, which is her favorite color,” Faherty said.
He has taken dozens of turkeys with his longbow, and he travels the Midwest giving seminars about turkey hunting. But his real passion is guiding children and adult beginners and helping them take their first bird. Faherty has been involved with programs put on by the Missouri Department of Conservation, Royal Rangers, Wounded Veterans, Deaf Camp and Walk in the Woods, and has been active in helping people with disabilities outdoors get outdoors.
“I didn’t start turkey hunting until I was 20,” he said. “I remember how I heard a big ol’ gobbler pitch out of a tree and almost land on me.
“After that, I was hooked. I starting taping the sounds of turkeys and I would study them. I became a good caller by driving my family nuts. I would just practice constantly.”
Today, Faherty is the total package when it comes to turkey hunting. He is an excellent caller, he knows where to set up, and he can drop a bird on the spot with a head shot with his bow. But even he has days when the birds win.
“Turkeys are a challenge to hunt with a bow,” he said. “But when you are out here on a beautiful fall day, the leaves have turned colors and the turkeys are talking, shooting a bird isn’t the only thing that counts. It’s just being out here that matters.”
FALL Turkey hunting in Missouri
WHEN: The firearms season opened Oct. 1 and will continue through Oct. 31. The archery season opened Sept. 15 and will run through Nov. 9 and then Nov. 21-Jan. 15.
WHAT: The fall season isn’t exactly the main attraction in Missouri. About 15,000 hunters buy firearms tags for the fall season in Missouri. Compare that to spring permit sales of more than 100,000.
WHY: The adult gobblers put on a show in the spring. They strut, gobble and dance as they react to hunters’ calls, which they mistake for the sounds of hens. During mating season, they want to make sure they catch the ladies’ eyes. In the fall, turkeys are generally less vocal and the show is more subdued.
DIFFERENCES IN THE HUNT: In the spring, hunters imitate the calls of lovesick hens to draw the big gobblers in. In the fall, hunters often target flocks of juvenile birds traveling with one or more adult hens. They often break up the brood flocks, then call one of the insecure young birds in.
THE KILL: Hunters shoot many more birds in the spring than in the fall. Consider 2011. Hunters took 38,327 birds in the spring and 7,077 during the fall firearms season.
HUNTING TRENDS: The 2009 season was the best in recent memory. During that fall season, hunters took 8,355 turkeys during the firearms season and 3,263 during the archery portion.
TURKEY POPULATION: In the fall of 2010, wildlife biologists with the Department of Conservation estimated Missouri’s turkey population at almost a half a million.
POPULATION TRENDS: Despite the heat and drought, Missouri turkeys pulled off a second consecutive year of impressive nesting. That’s good for this fall’s hunters, who should find more young turkeys in the woods. That’s also good for next spring’s hunt.
SAFETY: Hunter safety officials recommend that hunters wrap a blaze orange strip around harvested turkeys before they are carried out of the woods.