Bad Weather Birds
Don't let the weatherman spoil your hunt
In the early weeks of turkey season, rain, wind, snow and fog are all possible. But wild turkeys still have to scratch out a living and perpetuate the species in bad weather. They will be out there somewhere regardless of the weather report.
Years ago, I had taken off work to hunt the spring turkey opener and woke up to steady rain. My first impulse was to sink back into bed with my rain-drowned hopes. But there is only one opening day each year, so I switched my original plan to set up where two forest trails crossed for one in which the rain could float my hopes instead of sink them. I headed to a large clearing and was rewarded with my first archery tom.
Rain, wind, snow and fog all have an effect on turkey behaviour which you can use to your advantage. So, if your only opportunity to hunt falls on the day of a nasty forecast, here’s how to tag out anyway.
Light, intermittent rain and scattered showers don’t have a lot of effect on turkey behaviour. They will fly down shortly after first light and head off to their feeding areas according to their normal routine. Your fair weather tactics and calls will succeed here, but be sure to have rain gear and seat to keep you dry while sitting on damp ground or use a pop up blind.
Steady rain and hard rain are game changers. These will cause turkeys to stay on roost longer and reduce the amount of gobbling you will hear. But eventually they will get hungry and fly down to feed. When the leaves and bushes are drenched, turkeys head to open fields and clearings because they don’t like the wet foliage soaking their feathers and because they can’t hear approaching predators with the rain pattering on the trees or ground.
A pop up blind or good rain gear plus your decoys, near where they enter a field to feed and loaf is the best option in this kind of weather. Set up there before first light and plan to wait them out in comfort rather than try to call them off roost or bumble around in the woods spooking hyper wary birds.
Play it Loud
Though toms don’t gobble as much in wet weather they are still fired up to breed and interested in hen calls. Rain muffles and dampens sound so, to be sure your calls are heard, use loud callers until you get an answer or see a tom coming your way.
The loudest callers are boat paddle box calls, sometimes called long boxes, and aluminum pot calls. These callers produce more volume with a piecing quality that really reaches out there. Although they sound too loud up close, they have a clear, realistic sound in the distance. Contrast this to mouth diaphragm calls which sounds realistic close up but don’t carry far and loose their crisp, turkey like sound in the distance, especially in rain.
Make loud yelps, clucks and cutts on your call to help a tom hear you and lock on to your position. Once he is on his way dial down the volume and use softer clucks and purrs.
If your box call is not waterproof, keep it dry in a plastic bag large enough to put your hands in and work the call without taking it out of the bag. An aluminum pot call will work wet if you use a carbon striker on it rather than a wooden one.
On that rainy opening day, years ago, I staked out a hen decoy in a clearing and sat on a hot seat cushion under my army surplus poncho near where a trail entered the clearing. I blind called sporadically on my long box for two hours before I heard a turkey sound. Finally a hen appeared from behind me, walked all around me and inspected my decoy closely, clucking every step of the way. She walked off, but my hopes were buoyed knowing that turkeys were now on the ground and moving toward fields.
When she was gone I let out another string of yelps on my long box and heard a faint gobble. Game on! A half an hour later a drenched tom strutted out into the opening from the trail. He puffed out his soggy feathers and fanned his bedraggled tail feathers as if the rain did not exist. He headed for my decoy like a laser beam passing right in front of my cross bow. When I pressed the trigger, a spray of water off the bowstring obscured my vision for a second so I couldn’t see my hit. But when it cleared my tom was flopping toward the woods. I found him not long after piled up against a log.
Let it Snow
When the temperature plunges and snow is added to the equation, dress in warm layers and head out anyway because a few inches of snow gives you some great advantages.
Snow on the ground makes feeding areas the place to set up. This is because turkeys need more food in the cold and now have to work harder to scratch for it under the snow, so they will spend most of the day on their best food source.
With fresh snow on the ground, turkeys stand out like flies in a sugar bowl, so scouting from a distance is a good option to locate field birds. If you scout on foot you can find and follow their tracks quietly to their feeding area and hatch out a plan to set up and call in a tom. If the snow is soft and silent you can risk getting much closer than on frozen crunchy snow provided you keep out of their line of sight by using the landscape and vegetation.
With fresh snow, you can follow their tracks backward to locate their roost site. Knowing where they roost is the best scouting tip you can have to plan future morning hunts if you want to set up near the roost while it’s still dark. It’s best not to hunt them right at the roost in the late afternoon or evening for fear of spooking them off that roost and right out of your area, so a good plan is to intercept them along the way back to their roost. And the tracks in the snow will reveal the route they travel if they backtrack.
If the snow is still falling you will need the louder box call or aluminum pot call to punch through and be heard. In still, cold air your regular calls will do just fine.
Light flurries that amount to little or no accumulation on the ground don’t affect turkey behaviour as much as the colder temperature, which may shut down gobbling but not breeding instinct. So, you can stick with your fair weather plan and calls but be vigilante for a silent tom in stealth mode sneaking in to your set up.
Of all the weather variables, wind affects turkey behaviour the most. By wind, I mean a steady blow of 20 kph. or more and frequent strong gusts – the kind of wind that makes you pull your hat down tight. Wind keeps turkeys up on their roost longer in the morning and can reduce their gobbling. It makes them hyper wary because everything around them is rattling and moving in the wind and they can’t see or hear predators easily in such conditions.
Wind also makes it harder for you to hear a gobble and harder for a tom to hear your calls. Again, use the loud calls previously mentioned to punch out farther through the wind when you are trying to strike up a gobbler.
Play the Wind
Use the wind to carry your calls downwind to where you expect turkeys to be by setting up upwind of them. But keep watch carefully for an approaching tom because his gobbles will be carried off downwind away from you and you won’t hear him until he is nearby.
But if you hear a faint a gobble coming from up wind, the tom may not be as close as he sounds because the wind carries his calls farther. He might not even be hearing or responding to your calls, just volunteer gobbling. If that’s the case, you can safely move upwind closer to him as long as you stay out of sight or make a wide circle around him to his upwind side so that your calls will reach him.
Time your calls to lulls in the wind or between strong gusts so you can hear a tom gobble back. His gobble may be delayed because he is straining to hear in the wind also.
When turkeys do fly down on a windy morning they fly into the wind. So if you are planning a set up before first light near the roost, set up on the upwind side of it. If your first set up near the roost doesn’t pan out, figure out where you would go to get out of the wind in your area and you will likely find some turkeys there. Wind becomes your ally by concentrating turkeys in a sheltered location. They will seek out buffered areas where you can’t hear the wind. Good places to try are sheltered valleys or creek bottoms, the lee side of a steep hill, forest clearings surrounded by trees large enough to be a wind break, or the sheltered corner of a field. In general check out naturals windbreaks where the hens can scratch and peck for food and the toms can strut and display without getting blown around.
Fog and Mist
Wispy ground mist doesn’t cause turkeys to alter their daily plans to feed and breed but heavy fog will keep them up on the limb until they can see the ground at least. The fog can hide you pretty well and muffle any noise you make if you want to sneak in close to the roost and wait for them to fly down when the fog lifts. Move slowly and carefully keeping track of your location with compass or GPS if you are moving under a shroud of fog. Of course you must know from previous scouting where toms are roosting and how to get there before attempting this tactic. Again, use the loud callers when blind calling in foggy weather.
Don’t go to Extremes
There is no gobbler in the woods worth the risk of being out there in extreme weather. White out snow squalls, electrical storms and gale force winds are real hazards to your wellbeing. If you don’t get lost in a whiteout or zapped by a lightning bolt there is a real good chance a dead tree limb falling off a wind shaken tree will spear you as it falls. Stay home and you will live to call in that gobbler another day.
But don’t let the weather man scare you out a good chance at you tom in moderately poor weather, especially if your hunting days are limited. It won’t take you long to dry out and warm up after your gobbler is in the back of your truck.
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