On a clear, calm day from a prominent ridge you can hear a turkey gobble a mile away. But how many clear, calm days do you encounter during spring turkey season?
A few, yes. But quite often, particularly in the early season, a howling wind is the norm. If you hunt in western states, this is a particularly common weather situation.
I can't count the number of times I've hunted for Merriams turkeys in states such as Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana and Wyoming in the face of strong, gusting winds. Hunts I've made in Texas for Rio Grandes have also often been breezy undertakings.
Strong wind makes it hard to hear toms even a few hundred yards away. It also makes it hard for gobblers to hear you. That makes calling birds especially difficult.
Wind has other negative effects, too. It makes turkeys more nervous than normal, since it's harder for them to hear and see predators with tree branches clattering and bushes swishing wildly all around them. A nervous bird is less likely to come charging boldly in to our calls than a calm and relaxed one.
But don't just roll over and smash off the alarm button when the wind howls. Breezy weather doesn't necessarily mean bad hunting. Like any problem, it simply has to be confronted head-on. Recognize the negative conditions, analyze them and determine how to adjust your calls, hunting location and strategy to cope with the heavy wind.
Actually, there are some advantages to strong breezes. For one thing, some hunters may simply stay in camp or at home when they hear the winds howling at 20 mph, so you'll have less competition in the woods.
Since bushes are swaying and branches blowing, it's also a bit harder for a turkey to see small movements on your part. That can allow you to move in close or to change positions more easily if your original calling spot isn't just right.
Quick Attack. Winds vary in their strength throughout the day. Often they'll build up heaviest a short while after daybreak and into the morning. Take this as your cue and try to locate a tom the night before or early that morning with an owl hooter or a crow call. Then move in fast and close, more aggressively than you usually would.
|In breezy conditions, try using a box call to cut through the howling winds.|
Try to get on the bird and call it in quickly before the breezes build up and it's difficult for him to hear you. Rush in tight in the predawn and work him hard. Take a gamble on it.
Cover Ground. If this quick-hit strategy doesn't produce, or if the breeze is already stiff at first light, figure on doing lots of footwork to cover a large amount of territory. While many toms may be quieter than normal because of the wind, a few will sound off. You need to cover lots of ground both to find those vocal birds and to compensate for your calls not carrying as far.
Where to Find Them. If the wind blew hard the evening before turkeys will roost lower down in hollows and valleys or at least part way down mountain and hillside slopes. Even if they don't, this is where they'll head to once daylight comes and they fly off the roost. I've seen toms slip off their perch and glide half a mile down into a valley to escape a harsh breeze in a single flight.
Who can blame them? They'll find calmer conditions where they can hear and be heard. They'll also find more hens down there as well. And with the calmer conditions they can relax and go about the daily routines or feeding and breeding without loud bushes and tree branches clattering all around them.
Not all toms fly all the way down into the valleys, though. Some prefer to slip down a level or two to benches, hollows and side bowls-areas partially sheltered from breezes, but not in the low country.
On these lee sides of hills and shelves they can usually escape most of the loud flapping shrubbery and swaying tree branches and also hear and be heard by hens. So focus your search on valleys, stream bottoms and the lower third of hills and mountains when the wind blows viciously.
Calling Tactics. Pause to call often in breezy conditions — more than you normally would. Also lean towards calls such as boxes, tubes, clear and high-pitched diaphragms, and wing bones that can be heard for a long distance. Loud, long strings of yelps are good, but cutting seems to pierce the air and carry particularly well. Also try locators such as woodpecker, crow and owl calls.
Once you get a bird coming, or if you've found turkeys in a protected bowl or valley, you can tone down the calls. But for locating birds in the teeth of a wind, keep it loud and aggressive.
While you might normally wait just two or three minutes after calling when searching for birds, if it's windy I prefer to pause for four or five minutes. Call several times before heading to a new spot. The bird might not hear your first call or he might be gobbling back but you can't hear him. Wait a few extra minutes and you might pick up his call or he may move a bit closer, allowing you to hear it.
Finally, keep in mind that even in windy conditions, the amount of breeze varies considerably throughout the day. There are usually calm periods and breaks between the gusts.
Try to time it so you are walking between areas you want to check out when the wind is howling, pausing to call and listen during breaks in the breeze when you can hear more clearly. This tactic can increase your success odds considerably during windy weather hunts.
|Turkeys can often be found in fields when there's heavy winds.|
Decoys can be useful if the wind isn't gale force. If it is, they often blow over or spin and bend unnaturally, doing more harm than good.
If gusts aren't too fierce, decoys can help catch the eye of a gobbler that didn't hear your call because of the wind. The fake bird might draw his attention enough that he moves a bit closer where he can hear your yelps, clucks and purrs.
Just make sure you anchor the decoys firmly to the ground so they don't flap and spin unnaturally. If they do that, they'll scare away more birds than they attract.
One More Tip
Turkeys often move to fields in heavy wind because they can see danger more easily there and escape the noise of clattering branches and swishing bushes. Scout to see where they enter and exit, then set up an ambush just back in the woods at those locations. They'll often move to these open areas within an hour after sunrise on windy days.