Bowhunting turkeys can be one of the most rewarding hunts of the entire year…or it can be an utter exercise in futility. I remember well those early excursions that ended with a bang. (I threw in the towel and demoted myself to toting a shotgun.) It seemed inconceivable that even the best bow shot in the nation could get close, get the draw, and make a humane shot without relying on Lady Luck.
Nowadays I see it all differently. Most spring bowhunting junkets to two-bird states result in two filled tags. It’s amazing how far a little know-how can take you in the turkey woods. Especially when you know how to handle whatever Mother Nature tosses at you.
Fact is, foul weather can be your worst enemy or your best friend. It’s largely a matter of attitude and making the proper adjustments. For example, one of the best-kept secrets for arrowing a gobbler is riding the wings of a strong wind. Unlike rank-and-file turkey callers, pro staffer John Dudley looks forward to weather forecasts calling for blustery conditions.
“Obviously, the birds can’t hear, so it’s not thatdifficult stealing within sight of a gobbler,” he maintains. “But a good wind is especially helpful for closing in on those last few yards necessary for making a perfect shot. And most guys don’t realize how windy conditions also make stalking much easier because of the distractions. I mean, everything is swaying in the breeze—from tree branches and bushes to leaves and pine boughs. It really throws the birds off, allowing me to get away with extra movement that otherwise would spook the heck out of them.”
One spring I got tired of watching the walls of my blind ripple in 35-mile-an-hour gusts. So I took a short walk during mid-morning and within minutes I found myself ogling a five-some of lonesome gobblers. They were downright shell-shocked at my sudden appearance. As I fumbled for an arrow it was hard to say who was more surprised, me or the longbeards. But I managed to get the draw on the closest one and spine him in his tracks as he scooted off with his buddies. (Warning: Always think “safety first” for this tactic and reserve it for where you have exclusive hunting rights on private lands.)
Here are a few more wrinkles to this game. First, walk into the wind, terrain permitting. Birds can’t smell like big game, so I’m not too worried about my scent, although I still try to keep my body odor to a minimum to avoid alarming deer and other critters. However, a wind in my face means the sound of twigs snapping and leaves rustling blows behind, not in front, of me.
Take advantage of midday hours where regulations allow. Naturally, mornings are always best because the birds are most vocal and on the move, but you’ll find lunchtime gobblers just as vulnerable when the wind howls. Invariably, the best place to intercept these rascals is a secluded loafing area where the birds can while away the hours undisturbed.
Extremely hot weather can reduce gobbling and spring-time love-making, especially if it hasn’t rained for a spell. When gobblers aren’t in the mood, I map out spots where the sun doesn’t penetrate too deeply such as ravines, draws, thickets, hillsides, and bluffs. Then I make a “milk run” from spot to spot. Generally less is more when it comes to calling, but sometimes you can really heat up a gobbler with some timely cutting. Start calling with lukewarm yelps, working your way up the thermometer with more aggressive calls. Be prepared for a hot bird to hold his ground, however, as he gobbles safely from the comfort of long shadows in his midday lair. When that happens I’ll either try to approach him from a different angle or return the next morning about 9:30 when he’s likely to be alone.
Don’t let a blizzard put the freeze on a well-planned turkey trip; turn the tables. I learned the turkey lesson of a lifetime one late April afternoon while pussyfooting along a dry feeder creek circling Nebraska’s Niobrara River. A three-inch dusting of powdery snow sugar-coated the landscape, which bore telltale clues of gobbler and hen whereabouts. Indeed, a remote draw that had failed to produce a single gobble in five years of hard hunting was pockmarked with turkey tracks. I would have never visited the area had it not been for those tracks.
New Mexico bowhunter Ralph Ramos also takes advantage of turkey tracks, weather permitting. “It’s a big mistake not to follow fresh tracks in the snow,” he once told me, “because it’s easy [distinguishing] the toms from the hens.” Since tom tracks are up to a third larger than those of hens, you can tell at a glance if the longbeards have female company which, in turn, tells you how aggressive your calling ought to be. Still, if a plummeting thermometer puts the birds’ libido on the back burner, why not let “turkey trails” reveal a local flock’s daily routine?
What I like most about my current favorite blind is how it keeps me dry. Sure, it drips when it pours outside, because the fabric isn’t totally waterproof. But with a Gore-tex lined camo jacket I can hunt all day in the most inhospitable of conditions. Which is the secret to rainy day gobblers: Wait them out. Hunt with a buddy, stretch out, and take turns watching for birds. Toss in some decoys, and sooner or later a gobbler’s going to happen by.