Tough Weather Turkey Hunting Tips
May 12, 2016
In this game called turkey hunting, there are multiple variables that you can actually do something about. You can educate yourself on the virtues of sitting still.
You can practice being patient. You can scout. And scout. And scout some more. You can become well versed in turkey language. You can pattern your shotgun, update your camouflage, and learn everything you can about your quarry, the wild turkey.
What you can't do, no matter how hard you try, is rule Mother Nature. You can't control the weather. It will be what it is on any given day you decide to venture forth into the turkey woods.
In the 26 years since tagging my first longbeard, I've seen it all, weather-wise, and for better or worse, I've hunted most of it. High winds, torrential rain, bitter cold, humidity, 100-degree heat, snow: If Mother Nature serves it up, I've more than once sat at her dinner table.
While turkey hunting under challenging weather conditions might be difficult, does it necessarily mean the hunting has to be unproductive? Can you tag a gobbler in the rain? Should you even bother leaving the house when the wind is in excess of 25 miles per hour, with gusts to 40?
The short answer is this: As the old saying goes, it's tough to tag a tom from the couch. And as the older saying goes, the birds are still out there, doing what spring gobblers and hens do. So dress accordingly, and don't let the door smack you in the backside. It's time to hunt.
I'd rather hunt in any of the following types of weather as opposed to high winds, and I'll tell you exactly why.
One, wind makes it difficult, if not impossible, to hear, and that includes wearing one of the hearing-aid sound amplifying systems, which, as I've discovered, do little but enhance the roar of the wind. What makes the aural element worse here is the fact that turkeys can hear quite a bit better than I can.
This results in the following scenario. I call, and he gobbles. I don't hear him because of the 34 mph wind, so I move on; however, he, thinking I'm a sweet-sounding hen, walks in my direction. Again, I call, again he gobbles, and again I hear nothing.
We both keep walking toward one another. Eventually, having enjoyed the silence, I round the corner of the logging road, and there he stands — but only momentarily, before running away at great speed.
Two, wind makes turkeys nervous, and unfortunately, turkeys come out of the egg with their nerves on edge. Wind makes objects like trees and branches and foliage move, and gobblers are uneasy around things that move, unless, that is, they're hens.
So to combat this all-out motion, toms head to the open areas — fields and such — where they can compensate for their impaired hearing with their incredible eyesight. It works, too: Unfortunately, I can't walk out into the open because he'll see me, and he's reluctant to come into the timber where, today, the world looks like a snow globe of green.
That doesn't mean it's impossible to kill that tom, though. When the weatherman calls for high winds, my strategy is simple: I sit. And I sit still. I take an extra cushion or a low-slung lightweight chair, and I plan to stay put. Why? There's absolutely no sense in walking around calling while listening for something I can't hear...and busting bird after bird in the process.
So, I find a small meadow, grassy bottom, or point where a logging road comes out of the timber, any or all ideally out of the wind as much as possible. I stake two or three realistic relaxed-pose hen decoys at 20 yards, I get comfortable, and I wait.
I call sparingly because hens often have a tendency to clam up in high winds, and my objective is to look and sound natural. And I try to call during lulls, if any, in the wind. Finally, I use my eyes. I can't hear much anyway, and there's a good chance he's going to come in silent. High alert is the key phrase here.
If there is only a little rain — a sprinkle — I really don't change my game plan much at all. I will switch exclusively to a diaphragm call or a glass or crystal pot-style call with a plastic, acrylic, metal or carbon striker, simply because wood, slate and water don't go together well.
At times I will concentrate my efforts on the open areas — fields, interior logging roads, clearings — during a light rain, but if the hens are going about their business in the timber, then I too will be in the timber.
A heavy downpour, however, requires a switch in tactics. Turkeys will generally huddle up in a hard rain, finding a place as much out of the weather as possible, where they'll ride out the deluge.
However, just as soon as the rain stops and the sun breaks through the clouds, I'll want to be on a field edge with my decoys in place and a thick, hopefully waterproof cushion under me. Damp birds will gravitate to such openings following a rain; here, they'll shake, dry off, and soak up as much radiant energy as possible.
A word of advice here. Pay particular attention to The Weather Channel for talk of rain prior to your hunt. If possible, stake out a pop-up blind along the edge of the aforementioned field or clearing a day or two in advance. If you're confident you are hunting in a place where no one will steal your gear, store a pair of folding chairs and your decoys inside. Come any wet morning, just slip inside, pour a coffee, and enjoy staying dry.
I dislike turkey hunting in extreme heat almost as much as I hate hunting in wind. With cold, you can layer clothes; on a hot day, however, you can only disrobe so far before your camouflage is no longer effective.
Turkeys, I believe, don't like heat and humidity any more than we humans do. In order to stay cool, they will seek shade, especially in low-lying areas near water. Often, I've seen gobblers, under extreme conditions, do what some songbirds do: lie with wings outstretched and actually pant in an attempt to regulate body temperature. The result is that turkeys will often slow their activity during mid-day in response to these high temperatures.
The answer here, then, is reasonably easy. If the mercury is slated to hit 90 by noon, I'll hunt for three or four hours after first light. Or, if allowed by law, I'll spend that final two hours of the day afield. The latter strategy serves a second purpose, as I'll use the fading minutes of daylight to — hopefully — roost a gobbler. And here I mean precisely; not within an acre or more, but to the tree. Better yet, to the branch in the tree.
Quality binoculars will help here. Then, prior to shooting time and the onslaught of the next day's heat, I'll sneak to within 100 yards and let him make the first sound. If he gobbles at my soft yelp, I'll swap call for shotgun, and get myself ready.
If your hunt time is limited and you have to make the most of a full day, focus on shade and any geographical temperature drop, such as a cool creek bottom. One of my favorite late-season high-heat places to lurk lies at the bottom of a hardwood-studded hill. There's a small shallow creek tucked back into a permanently shaded little finger of meadow between two ridges, each filled with fine roosting trees and two-track-road strut zones.
Mid-day, despite the sweat coursing down my back, I'll settle in behind a couple fake hens and, nine times out of 10, take a nap — but only after calling for the better part of an hour. More than once, I've awakened to find a strutter spinning among the decoys.
And, yes, more than once I've scared him off as I've bolted into consciousness. Still, a nap and a longbeard? How do you beat that combination?
One spring where I hunt, turkey hunters woke to a very cold morning with wind gusts in excess of 30 mph. Some folks stayed home; others dressed appropriately and ventured forth. Of those, many killed birds. How, given the undeniably inclement weather?
As mentioned earlier, spring gobblers and their hens will go about their business — the business of breeding — regardless of the weather. They have to; otherwise, turkeys would cease to exist as a species. That said, cold weather, particularly a radically rapid drop in temperature, does influence turkey behavior. Simply, it slows it down.
In situations of cold temperatures, I'll often delay my departure until later in the morning, or even wait until after lunch to head afield if I'm hunting where afternoons are legal. Once in the field, I'm looking for two elements — a southerly exposure and a good high-calorie food source.
Sun, even small sunbreaks, means warmth, and the birds will take advantage of any radiant energy by heading to these south-facing locations. High-energy foods, such as acorns, corn, beans, or other grains, help offset the heat loss due to the fallen temperatures. Turkeys, typically — though not always — will become lethargic under cold conditions, but they will warm up, perhaps later in the morning. Maybe that afternoon. Or even the next day.
Keep in mind that some successful days don't result in you killing a turkey, but rather cause you to be in a great position to kill a turkey the next day.