How to Fool Rainy-Day Gobblers
September 24, 2010
Don't waste your spring turkey hunting season sitting at home just because it's raining outside. The birds are still active in bad weather and they can be fooled. Our expert explains how.
"Do you hear that?" Jim said, referring to the tinny pounding of rain on the camper's awning.
"Yes," I replied.
"What do you wanna do?" Jim asked with a groan, already knowing the answer.
The sound we heard wasn't the whisper of a gentle spring drizzle, but a full-blown monsoon. Even though the rain was steady and showed no signs of letting up, Jim and I donned our gear for the third day of our hunt. So far, two days were complete washouts, and the forecast did not look any better. We had only two options: brave the elements or quit.
Hunting springtime toms in the rain is actually not impossible if you are prepared for it. Rainy conditions might not be enjoyable on a comfort level, but the action can outweigh the unsavory feeling of cold water running down your back.
To prepare for rainy days, a turkey hunter needs a game plan. Here are some rainy-day tactics that will help put a full-fanned boss tom into your game bag.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
PREPARE FOR GAME DAY
Last spring, I accompanied one of my friends on a youth turkey hunt. Our goal was to call in a tom for his 14-year-old brother. The weather forecast was grim, and we only had one day to hunt.
At daybreak, a cold rain greeted us. For once, we had trusted our local weatherman and had developed a rainy-day plan. Forty-five minutes after daybreak, a tom broke the silence. At five minutes to 7 o'clock, Andrew showed a 19 1/2-pound tom with 1-inch spurs and 9 1/2 inches of beard what the business end of a shotgun was all about.
Why were we able to connect during this storm? First and most importantly, we had scouted during the pre-season. Regardless of your game plan, if the birds are not where you are, there is no way you can score. In fact, the night before that rainy-day hunt, we roosted gobblers at two different locations.
Knowing where a bird may be is crucial no matter what the weather is like, but it is even more critical during foul weather. During this particular hunt, we were set up and ready to hunt this tom before daylight.
Second, we positioned ourselves near an old logging road leading to a clearcut. Foul-weather toms are apt to move toward these clearings to strut and look for hens. It does not matter if you can make your box call sound like a Stradivarius. If you are set up in a location that the bird will not go to, all of your calling skills will be in vain.
Pre-season scouting will definitely shorten the time it takes to attach your tag to a nice drumstick, especially when black clouds move in. Spend as much time as possible patterning turkey movements. Add a rainstorm to this equation and you have created a problem that would puzzle even Einstein.
By the way, leave your calls at home when scouting. Save them for the hunt. It is hard enough to harvest a mature tom, and there is no reason to give the bird a doctorate in turkey hunter behavior.
WIDE OPEN SPACES
Now that you have patterned the turkeys in your area, notice how they behave in the rain. Turkeys appear to ignore the rain, but I am not sure if that is the case. It seems that whenever rain falls in my area, the birds head for an open field. Possibly the sound of falling raindrops and wind confuses their primary means of defense: sight and hearing. An open field provides a hiatus from the deluge of sound and motion, and it is not uncommon to find more turkeys than usual in the fields during a rainstorm.
Take the time to observe local turkey flocks during inclement weather, and I am sure you will find that this piece information about turkey behavior will hold true. So far, I haven't found a turkey in any state that didn't exhibit this trait.
Turkeys also choose open areas for strutting zones because wild turkey courtship behavior centers on the showmanship skills of the male.
A gobbler's objective is to be seen. Strutting and drumming is akin to turkey foreplay. The gobbler's love dance is what seals the deal between a hen and a tom for the ritual springtime mating business, not gobbling, as some hunters believe. Gobbling simply lets a receptive hen know where the gobbler is so she can come to him and let him (literally) strut his stuff before her. Therefore, it is in a tom's best interest to find an open area that provides ample vistas. The farther off the hen can see him, the better. Look for open spaces, including farm fields, gas line rights of way, pastures and other forest clearings that will serve the gobbler's purpose.
While hunting, keep these openings in mind and you may be able to turn the table on what could have been a complete washout. Make a mental note of or keep a notebook containing the locations of all of the open areas in your hunting locale. These openings can serve as great calling locations, especially when you are not able to roost a tom the night before.
Let's say you've put your gobbler to bed and you know he'll be there in the morning. Now what?
When I've roosted a tom the night before, I will nestle in as close to the bird as possible before daylight the next morning. This scenario is ideal from the hunter's perspective, especially during a rainstorm. If there is an open area close to the roost site, that is right where I will set up. I should be able to see a good distance, which helps if the bird comes in silent. During wet conditions, birds can appear like apparitions in the fog. Open areas increase the chances of seeing the bird before he sees you. Stay alert and don't let him catch you snoozing!
And, as we've discussed, gobblers will move to open areas to strut. Nine times out of 10, birds will hit an open area first, giving you an early morning opportunity to work your magic.
For that youth hunt, we had roosted the birds the night before. Our plan for the next morning was simple: set up near the birds in a position that offered a good vantage point. Turkey sign already littered the clearcut and logging road, so we knew the birds were familiar with the area, and we also knew that these open areas are very attractive to a rain-pelted longbeard.
With these two things in mind, we decided to invest the better part of the morning in thi
To help beat the rain, we decided to use a blind so we could stay dry and comfortable. Second, it concealed our movements, which was important because there were two men helping our "youth" on his first turkey hunt.
Blinds are not a necessity on any turkey hunt, but they can be a welcome advantage when Mother Nature opens the faucet on your hunting grounds.
Another complement to rainy-day gear is one of the tree-mounted umbrellas that are sold by outdoor retailers. These are not necessities either, but they do help make things more comfortable. At a minimum, consider waterproof footwear and a rain suit that blends into the surroundings. I keep a lightweight rain suit in my turkey vest at all times.
In any case, be sure to sit still during a rainstorm. Birds travel almost normally during inclement weather and will show up quite suddenly in open areas such as the one we had chosen.
When you are in a rainstorm, do not be afraid to use some volume. It is difficult for turkeys to hear over the wind and noise of the rain. Choose a call with a sound that will carry. Keep in mind that your calls will not reach as far in foul weather.
Also, decrease the amount of time you would normally allow between call series. For instance, I began calling that morning at 6:20 a.m. The calls in my first series were soft. The ones in my next series, only five minutes later, were louder and more aggressive. At 6:30, I began with some loud calling, and it was at this point, I believe, that the bird heard and responded to my calls. It wasn't much later that he was on the ground gobbling his head off just 70 yards from our location.
When it is raining, I will call every 10 minutes, as opposed to every 20 or 30 minutes during fair conditions. If the bird is only able to hear the calls 100 to 200 yards away, you need to call more often. Remember, frequent calling during periods of rain and wind will increase the chances of pulling a gobbler into your setup.
If the bird responds to your calls, increase the time you allow between calling sequences. If you maintain the more aggressive style of frequent calling when the bird appears or responds, you may fall into the over- calling trap.
Public land birds can be especially finicky when it comes to call frequency. If reduced calling doesn't do the trick, you can always pick up your call frequency. It is easier to fire up a reluctant bird than to try to coax him back after he has shied away from over-calling.
TO DECOY OR NOT TO DECOY?
Decoys can be a great asset in the wind and rain. Once you are set up, the birds may not hear your calling, but they may see your decoys if they are placed properly. Last spring, I hunted a full day through drizzle and fog. Several birds had gobbled on private land next to the section of state-owned land I was hunting. After four hours of hunting, only a cat and one horseback rider had responded to my calls. I thought it was time for a change.
While the rain continued to fall, I walked half a mile to another field. After 30 minutes, three gobblers appeared on the field edge and came to my decoys like they were tethered to a string. With the rain falling, my 12 gauge erupted and two of the gobblers left the area knowing that the hen was a spy.
I am unsure if these birds heard my initial calls and investigated the field, or were just traveling in that direction. In any case, when they spotted my decoys, all three came in like the devil was chasing them. Set your decoys in a position that is visible in all directions. Try to keep all of your shooting opportunities available. If there is a dip 40 yards away and the bird can examine the decoys from there, you can't shoot him, which means the decoys are in the wrong spot.
Also, make sure that when he does finally move into gun range that you can shoot. Move your decoys away from any piece of cover or terrain that will allow the bird to eyeball the decoys without being in your sights.
NO BIRD ON THE ROOST? NO PROBLEM!
If you were unable to roost a tom the night before, do not take this as a sure sign of failure. The first day I hunted last season was miserable. We arrived at camp late and were unable to scout. The alarm clock rang and out of bed we sprang, only to hear the sound of pelting raindrops and rolling thunder. We only had a limited amount of time to hunt, so we were determined to go out no matter what the conditions.
We greeted the wet weather with our best raingear, ready to test our luck. A friend and I went one direction, and Jim went another.
Because we hadn't had time to scout or roost any birds, we simply found a good vantage point for glassing. The rain slowed up for a little while, and we were able to hear a bird, but another hunter had already moved in on this loud-mouthed tom. We moved from that area to another, glassing each field.
When you are hunting in a rainstorm, it is a good idea to stay along the edges of cover rather than walking through the middle of open fields. Move along tree lines, fencerows, power lines and logging roads as you glass for birds. Remember, this is not a race, but a slow walk with many long pauses. Let your binoculars do the work, because if you see the birds first you have a chance. If they see you first, the game is over.
While rain has dampened your hearing abilities, it has also lessened the turkeys' ability to hear. It is nearly frivolous to try to locate a gobbler in a rainstorm with conventional locator calls such as hawk, crow or owl. Because of the heavy rainfall, it may be difficult for the birds to hear these sounds, and even if they do, most likely you will be so close to the gobbler that your loud calling will have already alerted him. By slowly moving from one open area to another, glassing for toms, you can eliminate this problem.
Don't go boldly through areas you think may contain birds. Glass them from the edges and stay in the shadows. Have a predetermined route with a final destination for calling set up. I will usually check several areas and then set up in a field for an hour or more before starting my glassing routine over.
Remember, you can't call him in if all you do is walk around. You must set up to call even if you do not spot a bird. They are out there; you just haven't seen them.
On our opening day hunt, the rain began coming down harder and it was difficult to hear. Because of the ruckus of the rain, there was no sense in using locator calls, so we continued to check the fields for birds but were unsuccessful in locating even a hen.
We picked another good vantage point and began calling. Soon, a hen answered us. I was hoping that there might be a gobbler with her, but as a group of hens came along the field edge, another hunter appeared from the opposite direction. Needless to say, the birds left the area, and we continued our glassin
g and calling in another field.
Our efforts finally paid off. Although we had spotted a nice tom, we had one more problem in addition to the rain. The bird had positioned himself in a section of posted land that was adjacent to public ground. We could only get within 400 yards of the bird and there was a large swamp between us. I guess the old saying is true - when it rains, it pours! We made the most of the situation and set up as close as we could to the strutting tom.
It didn't take long before the hunt got interesting. One series of calls out of my mouth call and there was the gobbler, coming in fast. The bird saw us as he crested the hill just as my partner introduced him to a load of No. 5s. Despite the rain, this hunt ended successfully.
This bird had come from the opposite direction of the first bird we had seen. In fact, our other hunting partner heard the shot from a distance and came over to investigate. It was almost quitting time, so we stayed put and continued calling. An hour later Jim put the hammer down on an even bigger gobbler in the same spot! Not a bad morning's work considering the extent of the black clouds lining the skies.
Your best bet for foul-weather calling is any call that can handle the wet environment. I prefer diaphragm yelpers, but I also like to keep my friction calls handy. You can overcome the obvious moisture problem by simply keeping your box call, push-button call or slate inside a plastic bag. You can even operate most of these calls from inside the bag. A bread or newspaper-delivery bag is ideal for keeping calls dry.
Tom turkeys are worthy adversaries under any circumstances. Foul-weather toms can be even more challenging because of the additional difficulties created by rain, wind and fog. By preparing for these conditions and taking advantage of the time you have in the field, you can beat those toms under nearly any circumstances.
Let the rain keep your competition in front of the fire while you get into the turkey woods where you belong. Rainy weather may even be your best chance on public lands because it allows you to hunt without interruptions from other hunters.
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