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All-Weather Gobblers in the East

Here's how to adapt your turkey hunting strategies for whatever Mother Nature might throw your way.

All-Weather Gobblers in the East

After a heavy rain, turkeys will make their way to fields and pastures where they can dry. (Shutterstock image)

If I could control the weather during spring turkey season, every morning would dawn cool and crisp—say, 50 degrees or so—with a clear sky and little to no wind. It could warm up to 60 by noon, but I’m not looking for anything more than that. If I had a direct line to Mother Nature, that’s what I’d ask her to put together each morning from mid-April to the end of May.

Unfortunately, I’m not in Mother Nature’s good graces, nor do I have the ability to conjure up a specific set of conditions on a whim. So, like all turkey hunters, I play the cards I’m dealt in terms of the day’s climatic conditions. But do I play each hand just a little bit differently based on whether I’m hunting in the wind, the rain, an unexpected stretch of heat, or, as I’ve done in seasons past, 6 inches of newly fallen snow? Absolutely.

Let’s take an in-depth look at how best to improvise, adapt and adjust to spring’s seemingly ever-changing weather, and how being willing to roll with Mother Nature’s hardest punches can help you tag a big-spurred longbeard.

HIGH WINDS

Of all the possible weather conditions this time of year, high winds are, without a doubt, my least favorite to hunt in.

First, wind makes it difficult, if not impossible, for me to hear a gobbler, especially if he’s at any distance. He can hear me well enough, though, and should he feel inclined, he’ll respond to every yelp, cutt and cackle I make. Unable to hear his gobbles through the howling wind, I walk on, calling and not hearing anything, while he continues to gobble and walk my way, eager for a rendezvous with the little hen he’s been hearing. Eventually, I round a corner on the two-track, still having heard nothing, and there he stands—briefly—until he figures out I’m bad for his health and makes his exit.

Second, wind makes turkeys, naturally high-strung to begin with, extremely nervous. Everything in their world—branches, leaves, tall grass and the like—is moving, and try as they might, those old gobblers can’t keep their eyes on all of it. Too, and like mine, their ability to hear and pinpoint sound, be it amorous or dangerous, is somewhat diminished in the wind. So, what do they do? They head into open areas where they can compensate for the wind with their incredible eyesight. However, I can’t blatantly walk out into the open, and since he’s now reluctant to come into the timber, we’ve arrived at an impasse.

So, do I go home when the winds pick up? Or stay home if it’s blowing when I get up? Not a chance. I pack a comfortable seat, maybe an extra cushion, a lightweight collapsible blind, a good book and a PBJ. I find a spot as much out of the wind as possible—a small hidden meadow in a valley, or the junction of an old logging road and field edge—stake a pair of realistic hen decoys at 15 yards and I wait. An hour. Two hours. Three. Patience is a virtue in the wind; that, and calling every now and again, working any lulls in the wind. Simple yelps and clucks will do it, as real hens will often quiet down under these conditions. Most importantly, I use my eyes. My hearing has been compromised, so like that old gobbler, I rely on my vision since there’s a good chance he’s going to come in silent.

THE WET STUFF

A light rain or passing spring shower doesn’t cause me to change my game plan much. It’s wet, obviously, so I’ll put away my wooden box call and switch to a diaphragm or pot-style call with crystal glass and a non-wooden striker—something that will work just fine in the rain. Under these conditions, I’ll let the birds dictate where I spend my time. If they’re in the fields, I’ll hunt the edges. If they’re in the timber, I’ll slowly walk and call my way through the woods.

However, should the skies open up and it really starts raining, I’ll ride out the storm in as dry a spot as I can find, just as the birds will be doing. When the rain stops and the sun returns, soggy birds will head for the fields where they can dry out a bit, and that’s where I want to be, set up on a field edge behind a pair of hen decoys.




If there’s rain in the forecast and I have an opportunity to prepare, I’ll set a pop-up blind on a field edge, stow a folding chair and a couple decoys inside and slip in quietly on the morning it’s supposed to rain. There is but one guarantee in all of turkey hunting: It’s tough, if not impossible, to tag a gobbler from the couch. Unless, of course, the couch is in the blind at the edge of the field.

COLD AND SNOW

Eighteen inches of snow fell on eastern Iowa the night before opening day in 1997. That year was my wife Julia’s and my first as Iowa residents and we both had turkey tags for the season’s first segment. In addition to the snow, the temperature was well below freezing and there were winds in excess of 30 miles per hour in some places. Some may choose to stay home in such conditions. We did not. In fact, we were home in front of the woodstove just after 1 o’clock, warming our toes while a brace of longbeards hung in the garage.

But how to deal with such miserable weather? It’s important to remember that turkeys have a short window in the spring during which to procreate. Despite the snow and frigid temps, they’re still going about the business of breeding, though perhaps not with the same enthusiasm if it were 60 degrees, sunny and calm. What’s this mean for the turkey hunter? Slow way down.

Recommended


M.D. Johnson, Eastern tom in snow
A freak spring snowstorm won’t cancel a tom’s desire to breed, though it may temper his enthusiasm somewhat. (Shutterstock image)

In ’97, we were young and eager to get out and start the season, so we left in advance of daylight on opening day and spent the whole of the morning getting cold and hearing little to nothing. It was almost noon before we heard our first gobble. Thirty minutes later, the bird was lying in the snow, Julie was digging for her turkey tag and I was trying to restore feeling to my feet.

My point is that under these conditions, I’ll often delay my hunt until mid- to late-morning, hoping for at least a small rise in temperature. Once afield, I’ll focus on two primary elements—a southerly (sunny) exposure and a high-energy food source, if available, such as waste corn, soybeans or acorns. Warmth and food are what the birds are looking for, so that’s where I’ll be, wearing snow camouflage and slowing my entire process down. Typically, I’ll sit and cold-call quietly, letting the birds come to me. If I do walk and call a bit, I won’t get out of first gear. Keep in mind that snow tends to soak up sound, but cold can actually make those sounds clearer and farther reaching. Does it make a difference? It can, both for and against you; still, it’s something to think about as you try to determine how far away that gobble you just heard might be.

EXTREME HEAT

I dislike hunting turkeys in high heat—say 80 degrees and higher—and I don’t think the birds like it any better than I do. To combat the heat, gobblers will seek shade, often in low-lying areas around water, which becomes even more of a necessity on unseasonably warm days. Like humans, turkeys will slow down during periods of high heat, especially during mid-day when there may be little to no activity at all.

Under these conditions, hunt both early and late in the day. With temperatures forecast to soar, I’ll plan to hunt hard during the first two or three hours after daylight, and, if allowed by law, the last couple hours in the evening. Hunting in the evening actually serves a two-fold purpose. First, it’s theoretically cooler, which should increase turkey activity. Second, an evening hunt gives me the chance to roost a bird for the next morning. Then, well in advance of shooting time, I’ll slip within 75 yards of his roost and let him make the first move.

When it’s silly hot, it’s important to focus on the aforementioned shade, as well as any geographical features, like a creek bottom, where the temp could dip. It’s a safe bet that an old longbeard is familiar with that topographical feature as well. One of my favorite high-heat places to hunt lies at the foot of a tall hardwood-studded hill where a shallow creek tucks back into a shaded finger of meadow between two high ridges. Come midday, I settle in behind two hen decoys and, more often than not, fall asleep—but only after calling for a spell. On more than one occasion, I’ve awoken to find a full-strut gobbler romancing my fakes. Does it get any better? A nap and a longbeard?

COOL, SUNNY AND CALM

And so, we’ve come full circle, back to the part where I can control the weather and opening day dawns clear and cool with no wind. It’s a textbook morning: I call, a turkey gobbles, we both advance. After a bit, he hesitates and goes silent, so I find a good seat and get myself situated. My opening yelp is met with a thunderous gobble. As he approaches, I can hear him spitting and drumming. Suddenly he’s at 60 yards in full strut. I yelp softly just to hear him roar, and he obliges me immediately. Fifty yards. Gun up, bead on his wattles. Forty yards. He pirouettes. Another spit-and-drum. This one I can feel in my chest, as if the sound were wrapped around my heart. Thirty yards. Twenty-eight. Close enough. The metallic click of the safety seems brutally loud in the stillness. I cutt loudly. He turns, drops out of strut, and periscopes his head.

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