Foul-Weather Turkey Hunting Tips
March 01, 2017
Foul weather — thunderstorms, high winds and even cold snaps — can put a damper on even the most enthusiastic turkey hunter, but since the season is short, hunters have no choice but to get into the woods.
Turkeys don't have the luxury of Weather Channel forecasters, who do a pretty good job of predicting meteorological changes. But the birds do modify their behavior according to the conditions of the day.
Successful turkey hunters know how, and why, birds react to all types of weather and change strategies accordingly.
BLOWING IN THE WIND
Windy days may just be the toughest gig in turkey hunting. Turkey hunting is a sport that relies heavily on hearing for both hunters and turkeys, and high winds rustling through the trees can make that extremely difficult.
Turkeys seem to be extra cautious on windy days, probably because the wind in the trees can mask the noises of predators. They often head for open ground, low spots in woods or protected draws in crop fields, to hunker down out of the wind.
Hunters can take advantage of this behavior by taking note of protected spots and heading for them later in the day when the wind picks up. Also, the rustle of boots in the leaves isn't quite as noticeable on windy days, so sneaking can be easier.
While high-pitched locator calls, such as the screech of a hawk, can sometimes cut through the wind and elicit a shock gobble, turkeys don't seem to talk much when it's really windy.
To break through the wind, consider box or slate calls. They are typically louder than diaphragm calls. But be aware that if a gobble is heard, the bird is probably very close.
FEEDING IN THE RAIN
Heavy downpours may drive turkeys to seek shelter. For the most part, though, rain doesn't bother them too much, as their feathers do a good job of keeping them dry. Turkeys react to rainy days the same way they react to windy days — by heading for open areas. When rain drenches underbrush and water drips from trees, turkeys cannot see and hear as well.
"On rainy days hunters should look for fields or closed roads to find turkeys," said Kevin Lowrey, wildlife biologist. "As the rain eases, turkeys will use those areas to dry out and avoid the dripping woods canopy."
But keep an eye on the vegetation in those fields. A turkey's feathers help protect it from rain falling from above, but may not be as effective at blocking moisture from below or from the side. In fact, turkeys will often avoid higher vegetation when things are wet.
TURNING UP THE HEAT
A sunny day may not seem like harsh weather when compared to a driving rainstorm, but knowing how turkeys react to heat can be just as helpful as having a game plan for rain.
Turkeys don't generally mind the sun. In fact, they can often be seen leaning to one side and extending a wing and leg to expose a large portion of their bodies to direct sunlight. Sunning helps to maintain feather health by dislodging parasites and regulating body temperature.
But turkeys are big, dark birds with lots of down underneath feathers that can heat up pretty quickly, despite the lack of feathers on the head and neck — another thermo-regulating feature.
When temperatures spike, birds tend to seek out shady spots to cool down, and often go silent, as if gobbling takes too much energy in the heat. Hunting early in the morning when temps are still cool is best, but hunters can head into the woods as the thermometer climbs. Sometimes a locator call can be effective at this time of day. An overheated gobbler may be too lazy to talk back to a hen, but often can't help shock gobbling at a crow call — it's hardwired.
GEAR CAN SAVE A RAINY DAY
There is no shortage of companies that make rain gear for hunters, so if there's even a chance of a drizzle, make sure to pack a lightweight rain jacket and pants. Additionally, a dry shirt and an extra pair of underwear and socks can make the drive home much more comfortable. It is also wise to carry gear in waterproof, or at least water resistant, packs.
Other options to consider on rainy days are carbon or acrylic calls. Wood can warp with moisture, and rain renders chalk-dependent calls virtually useless.
Another useful item for a rainy day is a small folding stool to get up off the wet ground. There are several models that fold small enough to fit in a backpack and weigh practically nothing. Alps OutdoorZ makes a turkey chair, and Ameristep has a portable reclining lounger.
A pop-up blind can also be a godsend on a soggy day, but most are relatively heavy. Keep in mind that while blinds will keep the rain off, they provide no protection from lightning.
These days, there seems to be an app for everything, and there are numerous weather-forecasting apps for smartphones. Most show radar displaying weather that is coming, where it's going and when it will arrive.
One app to consider is the Red Cross's free first-aid app, for medical care at one's fingertips. However, since most hunters are more likely to forget rain gear than get hurt, a large-capacity trash bag is a smart addition to the pack. It can double as a poncho, a pack cover, ground cover and a tarp, and it can be used to wrap up a sopping wet turkey before putting it in the car to head home.
Focusing on turkey behavior during bad weather may help bring home a bird, but no gobbler, no matter how long the beard or how big the spurs, is worth getting injured or dying for.
Spring rain means thunderstorms, and thunderstorms mean lightning. More than 30 people on average die every year from lightning strikes, and hundreds more are injured.
Certain weather apps alert when lightning is striking within a certain radius of location. But don't forget that lightning can strike up to 10 miles from a storm, even if it's not raining in that area.
The best thing to do is get into building or a vehicle as soon as possible, but if caught in the open, get off elevated areas to the lowest point possible. But be sure that low area isn't holding water — even a tiny bit can conduct a charge.
The bottom line is, there are no safe places to be caught outside during a lightning storm, but hunters can take care to reduce chances of being harmed.
Also, wet clothes can lead to hypothermia, but on the other end of the spectrum, dehydration, heatstroke and heat exhaustion can be just as bad on hot and humid days, especially if bundled up against the early morning chill.
Always carry water, and dress in layers that can be removed as the day gets warmer. That old saying about losing most heat through the head is a myth, but most turkey masks will keep hot breath around the head, so it's not a bad idea to pull it off for a few minutes every now and then.
SHINING UP THAT TROPHY
Wet turkeys, no matter how big, just look like a scraggly, beat-up mess.
Use paper towels or a soft rag to dab away debris lightly before going over the bird with a hair dryer set on the cool setting to dry the feathers out a bit.
But be careful not to dry him out too much, especially if planning to have the fan, or even the whole bird, mounted. Drying out the feathers too much can dry the skin, and turkey skin is notoriously thin in places.
Dry skin has a much higher chance of being torn when getting the bird ready, or by the taxidermist when he starts his work.
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