Gobblers love good weather. Crisp, clear mornings and abundant sunshine entice an otherwise tight-lipped old longbeard to broadcast his vitality and availability for spring romance. His fondness for an idyllic sunrise makes sense when you consider his breeding strategy revolves around a far-reaching, booming voice and an iridescent mating display that looks best dry, preened, and bathed in rays of morning sunshine. For those same reasons, turkey hunters love good weather, too.
But the adage “April showers bring May flowers” took hold for a reason. Spring weather is unpredictable at best and quite often inhospitable. Let that not be a deterrent: A tom’s life calling is to breed hens and fertilize eggs in a short reproductive window. There are no rain delays in the sport of turkey hunting. If you want to squeeze the most opportunity out of a short spring season, you’ll need to develop a few strategies to outsmart a gobbler in the rain. The following tips could be helpful in bagging that tricky water-logged longbeard, even if his fan won’t be Instagram-worthy.
Gear up for Success
Proper gear is a factor in any successful hunt, particularly those in inclement weather. Outfit yourself in plenty of layers and always include a packable, breathable rain jacket regardless of the current weather. Spring conditions can and do change rapidly. If heavy moisture is in the forecast, a pair of lightweight waterproof pants can mean the difference between waiting out a stubborn gobbler comfortably and throwing the towel in misery. Long sits and belly crawling to field edges in saturated vegetation become more tolerable if your gear helps you stay dry in the process.
Think like a Bird
The wild turkey is the only creature in the woods that likes rain less than you do. Their otherwise puffy and iron-clad chainmail of feathers becomes about as useful as a soppy down blanket when soaked. To maintain body heat, turkeys make strategic decisions regarding the logistics of their daily schedule with an emphasis on protecting the integrity of their feathers. These adaptations commonly include delayed fly-down times and a penchant for choosing open terrain to feed and wait out the weather.
Longer on the Limb
If the woods are silent at dawn and you have a strong suspicion a gobbler has roosted in the area, hang tight. Rainy mornings may push back the traditional a.m. flight schedule by hours. I’ve even seen them fly back up into the tree for a rainy-day nap after filling their crop with breakfast. Here’s where that dry, comfy gear pays for itself. On more than one occasion, I’ve succumbed to the chills or boredom of wet, silent woods and stood up to go prospecting, only to bust a lazy longbeard off a limb nearby. Even turkeys are prone to slapping that snooze button when conditions are dreary. Let him make the first move.
Turkeys flock to open areas in wet weather, presumably to avoid brush-busting through water-laden vegetation. Soaked fields may also offer opportunities for productive invertebrate grazing. Target your efforts to open spaces during rain in whatever form available in the birds’ habitat. Mountain Merriam’s love to loaf on logging roads or congregate in clear-cuts during inclement weather. Rio Grande and Eastern longbeards reliably seek the comfort of a hayfield or meadow when rain sets in.
With gobbling often suppressed during these weather patterns, rely on your eyes instead of your ears to locate birds in open spaces. While their feeding and loafing patterns are rarely logarithmic, sometimes the terrain will offer up an obvious final destination if not a scheduled arrival time. Sneak over there and greet them when they finally show up three minutes or three hours later. This approach offers neither the sexiness nor satisfaction as calling one up from across the holler, but it has proved lethal as an act of desperation after I’ve exhausted every calling strategy on a wet, wise old bird.
If downpours bring out the worst conditions in the sport, keep in mind that the action can heat up quickly when things clear. Some of the most intense afternoon gobbling I’ve heard took place in the sunny aftermath of a seemingly relentless spring deluge. Having lost interest in and track of his ladies in the downpour, a blast of warm vitamin D and UV light put that longbeard’s mind immediately back on the timely task of making more turkeys.
Don’t rely on a single phone icon to characterize the weather for the entire day. Take advantage of apps that offer up-to-the-minute doppler and schedule your entrance into the woods to coincide with the clearing. Not only can this window offer up some of the best gobbling of the day, but you’ll also likely have the woods to yourself.
Just Get Out There
If you only allow yourself to hunt gorgeous days, you're effectively cutting short the already painfully curtailed spring turkey season by at least half. Sometimes you just have to spend time in the woods, even if killing a longbeard feels like a longshot. I’ll often justify a Hail Mary in a hailstorm as an opportunity to watch Mother Nature shake off another winter while I browse for morels with a shotgun slung over my shoulder. There are worse ways to waste a day.
Sometimes, though, turkeys refuse to demonstrate expected behaviors in response to bad weather and continue strutting and gobbling unfazed by these distractions. A few seasons ago I notched my last tag on the last day of the season this way. With no additional openings left on the calendar to reschedule this final outing, I entered the woods with expectations as low and soggy as the late spring cloud cover.
A mature but uncharacteristically enthusiastic longbeard failed to read the gobbler handbook of foul weather behavior and carried on in constant song and dance in spite of it. Let the outcome of that hunt become an inspiration for you to don the rain gear and get outside, even if it means wallowing in misery most of the time. You’ve got the entire summer to dry out and warm up.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.