Six Tips for Rainy Day Gobblers
"Any turkey hunting luck?"
That's how a text message left my smartphone earlier this week during the middle of the current spring turkey hunting season going on in the southern Great Plains.
What was the response I received back from J.J. Kent, Mossy Oak pro staff manager for the North Texas region?
"A little," said Kent, also the owner and operator of Kent Outdoors (www.kentoutdoors.com). "But a duck boat is required for admission."
Kent isn't kidding either since as of the writing of this article a total of 8.46 inches of rain has fallen in the month of April in the Rio Grande gobbler country where I live.
Which brings to mind the often quoted statement, in these parts, at least, from the late great Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex television weatherman, Harold Taft, "The next drought in Texas begins as soon as the last flood has ended."
It's certainly the latter this spring since after several years of intense drought in the Lone Star State, the weather pendulum has swung to the other end of the spectrum with frequent thunderstorms, copious downpours, big hail and even a tornado or two.
And this means that knowing how to hunt turkeys in damp weather is a must this season, if putting a longbeard in the oven is the season's final goal.
Kent was able to do just that last week while hunting with client Steve King, a former chairman for the Dallas Chapter of Ducks Unlimited. Despite the fact, that is, that a virtual tropical downpour was inundating the Red River Valley woods where Kent was guiding King.
"We set up in the rain and it didn't stop all morning long," said Kent of a hunt spent in a ground blind trying to prove its water resistance. "We heard two birds early on, one north of us and one south of us, and then nothing as the rain picked up in intensity."
Kent then quipped, "Of course, it's hard to hear anything when rain is pounding down on the roof of your blind."
But a little wet weather, or in this case, a lot, didn't keep Kent and King from continuing to give it the old college try. And around 11 a.m. that morning, their persistence finally paid off.
"It was unbelievable," said Kent, also a pro staffer for Zink Calls and Avian-X decoys. "The rain was an absolute downpour when I looked up and saw a longbeard walk out of the woods and into my hen decoy setup."
With rain dripping through the blind's roof, King steadied his shotgun and let a turkey load of HEVI-Shot pellets go to anchor the bedraggled gobbler to the muddy ground.
"The bird had a 9-inch beard and 1-inch spurs," said Kent. "We had to let the tom dry out a little to even take a photo. And we had to put our clothes in the dryer because we were 100 percent soaked too."
Sounds like a damp turkey hunt, doesn't it?
"It was without question my wettest turkey hunt ever," laughed Kent. "The rain was unbelievable and it was an absolute downpour when that bird walked into the decoys. There was no way I thought we would be successful."
This just goes to prove that when it comes to turkey hunting, you have to go to kill one because not one gobbler has ever been tagged by a hunter sitting high and dry on a couch.
If you’re interested in learning how to up the odds for success on your own wet weather hunt this spring then keep these six principles in mind.
The first key is to have calls that will work in damp weather since many regular calls -regular box calls and slate calls, for instance, will not perform.
Calls designed for wet weather operation include mouth diaphragm calls like the Drop Dead Series Cutter by Cody Turkey Calls, a tube call like the Knight & Hale Widow Maker, a box call like the Primos Wet Box Call or the Zink Wicked Series Crystal Pot Call with an all-weather striker.
(Photo courtesy of Lynn Burkhead)
A second key is to be able to get comfortable as a hunter since hunting in wet weather isn't much fun if you're damp and cold. A hunter can stay warm and dry either by using lightweight camouflage raingear like the Cabela's MT050 Gore-Tex rainsuits or the waterproof/breathable clothing and outerwear made by Sitka Gear.
Another way to combat wet weather while hunting is to do so from a good ground blind like the Primos Double Bull Shack Attack or the Primos Smack-Down. While they may not remain totally dry in a downpour, it sure beats sitting outside next to a tree.
What about hunting tactics during wet weather? In times gone by, I might have said stay in the cabin during an old fashioned frog strangling downpour.
But then again, as Kent and his client proved last week, the third key to wet weather success is to get out there and get amongst them, even if raindrops keep falling on your head.
Jim Lillis, a longtime Texas turkey hunter who has worked for both the National Wild Turkey Federation and Ducks Unlimited, is another person who says that killing a turkey can be done even with a lot of rain falling.
"I killed a really good bird a number of years ago when I worked for the NWTF," said Lillis. "It was on the Oklahoma governor's hunt near Lawton and he was feeding in an open wheat field.
"That bird was not a beautiful photo specimen since he was all wet and his feathers were matted together. But he was a solid three-and-a half-year-old with spurs a little more than an inch in length and a beard that measured 10 ½ inches."
If there is a time to get out of the weather when chasing spring thunder chickens, it's when there is just that – thunder – actually rumbling through the air. Once such conditions have come and gone, the birds will often get active as the storm clears, especially if the wind remains reasonable and the skies brighten up a bit.
“I nearly killed a loud-mouthed tom with a long paintbrush beard during the aftermath of a thunderstorm a few years ago near the Red River,” recalls Lillis. “In fact, so robust was his gobbling after a thunderstorm had passed by that I was all but certain that I was going to tag him.
“Until the next thunderstorm rolled in and sent me scurrying for cover with heavy rain, thunder and lightning, that is. Having never met a longbeard worth dying for, I headed for the truck and called it a day.”
Turkeys will often do their usual thing when only light rain or drizzle is falling, especially in open fields and pastures where they will feed and/or look for potential predators.
Because of the latter, the fourth key to wet weather success is to work the inside edges of timber patches as you seek a cooperative bird that is out in the open where they will tend to be.
As you move to such a hunting spot, do all that you can, however, to avoid sky-lighting yourself in open areas or hilltops. On a day when turkeys don't feel confident in their survival abilities, being seen – or even being suspected – can all but end any chance of success.
Keep in mind that while the gobblers will often move around on light precipitation days, it remains to be seen how vocal they will be. Warm and damp weather often results in fair gobbling activity but chilly and damp conditions will often power down birds with a case of shut-mouth disease.
For that reason, a good tactic for drippy spring days – and the fifth key to success in this turkey hunting tale – is to put yourself in a place with good numbers of turkeys and spots that you often see birds trading back and forth during better conditions.In other words, have your scouting homework done and use it to your advantage in such situations. Once occupying such a spot, be prepared to go old school, calling softly and infrequently while being ready to sit and wait a bird out.
The sixth, and final, key of wet weather turkey hunting success is having a big supply of hunting patience and endurance.
Or like three-time world champion duck caller Barnie Calef likes to say: "Stick and stay and make 'em pay."
Because you never know when a gobbler will arrive, even if the bottom of the rain barrel has fallen out in the local turkey woods you are hunting in.
While such a waterlogged hunt might not be the most comfortable one that you ever kill a spring turkey on, it sure might be among the most memorable that you'll ever participate in, once you get dried off and have your hunting duds in the clothes dryer, that is.