Windy Day Gobblers

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I’m not real sure how well a turkey can hear in high winds, but I know it’s better than my hunting partner, Lynn Stanford, or I could on that cold, windy, March morning a couple of seasons ago. We had set up in one of my proven turkey spots on that morning with hopes of a turkey passing by within hearing distance of our calling at some point.

We were committed to hanging with it as long as we could stand it. Each time I called it would seem the wind would drown out my calls, and I wondered if we were wasting our time.

Forty minutes later I rolled a solid 3-year-old that came running in quietly. He was in our lap by the time we saw him, and I basically shot him in self defense.

Obviously, some days are better suited for turkey hunting than others, but I would rank windy days as one of the toughest. I believe it has more to do with the way it affects the hunter than the way it affects the turkeys, though.

I also feel that our success percentage suffers more on windy days because the turkeys adapt to it better than we do. Wind and turkey season collide on a fairly regular basis, so if you aren’t dropping the hammer very often when the wind shows up, it might be time to make some adjustments.

Calls and Methods: When the wind gets up, the first thing about calling that enters my mind is the volume I need to reach to get a bird’s attention. I used to think that a diaphragm had to be the loudest call there was. That was a long time ago, and I know better now, but it’s a common belief that a mouth call is best for producing loud volume.

The bottom line, however, is the sounds from a diaphragm just don’t carry that far. When you want volume, you need to go to friction calls mostly. Glass, crystal or aluminum calls and boxes are the most widely used on windy days and will reach quite a bit farther than the diaphragm. The tube call is another loud call, and since it isn’t generally as common to a turkey’s ears as other calls, it can produce fantastic results. All these calls can cut through some pretty high winds and again will certainly outrange the diaphragm.

Close friend and longtime hunting partner, Bobby Knight, has established himself as one of the finest turkey hunters I know. We have hunted turkeys together for more than 20 years, and I have seen him strike birds on windy days an awful lot by using a boat-paddle-type box call. He has confidence in it when the wind is howling because of its high-pitched, long-range ability. He said it is not a call he uses much at all until the wind gets up, but when it does, he prefers it over a standard box because he believes it will reach farther than any other call.

I have hunted turkeys in high winds on plenty of occasions and have used various calls and methods along the way. The box has pretty much been the standard for me on those days, but the methods have varied. I think you can basically use the same turkey talk you use on calm days provided you get enough volume. I do, however, like to employ a couple of calls on windy days that I might not use quite as much on calm days. One is the assembly call, which I generally use in the mornings after fly down and in the evenings just before the birds fly up. I will use it throughout the day when the wind gets up. It is a natural sound, and it is also a sound that can give a bird some sense of security.

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The boss hen can be quite a nag, and when she’s not tending a nest somewhere or stealing a gobbler from a would-be happy hunter, she feels obligated to keep the flock together. I have heard assembly calls throughout the day on windy days. I will also use the call of a lost hen on windy days. Wind can scatter flocks, and when it happens, the birds will want to regroup at some point. I have had good results on windy days making a gobbler believe there is a lost hen in the neighborhood.

Of course there is more to turkey hunting than just hearing a bird gobble, making a few calls and pulling the trigger. Setups are always key, and I believe they will vary depending on the situation. I will always try to set up in an area that will help break the wind. It might be as simple as moving to a good bottom, but if you find yourself in a situation like Lynn and I were in, as mentioned in the opening paragraph, we couldn’t get in a bottom. We had to find the best setup that allowed us to hear.

We chose a huge oak tree on a field edge and put it between us and the stiff, March wind. If I am calling in an area and don’t know if a bird is there or not, I will generally try to keep the wind to my back so my calls will carry farther. When I am slipping along, I will use the same method.

I will also try to avoid setting up where there is a lot of movement from nearby foliage. That’s not generally a problem early in the season but can be a problem later on in the season. When you are calling a bird, windy day or not, you should always pick a setup where the bird will feel comfortable coming to. If the wind is high and you have a bunch of moving bushes around your setup, it’s going to make an approaching gobbler a little more uneasy about looking around too long for a hen he can’t see. When in the woods, I will try to pick a setup that puts the bird in range when I see him. You really have to pay attention when the wind is high because you might not ever hear him coming.

When hunting open fields, I’m not a big fan of setting up on the edge of them. I will generally sit back into the woods 25 to 30 yards in hopes of bringing the bird closer to the edge as he looks for the hen. This method has helped me avoid hanging a bird up on many occasions. However, on windy days, I might be forced to sit a little closer to the edge of the field. They seem a little more reluctant to come out of the field and into the woods in search of the hen on windy days.

If you are a hunter who relies on decoys a lot, you will need to consider the wind when you start putting them out at your setup. When I was still a beginner in the turkey woods, I decided to give the decoy thing a try.

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I had no clue as to what to do with them beyond sticking them in the dirt out in front of me. One particularly windy day, I had a couple of fakes out in front me and could not help but laugh as they spun like tops. From that point forward, when using decoys, I have always placed a stake of some sort on both sides of the decoy, usually by the tail, to keep the bird stationary. There’s nothing wrong with a moving decoy, provided it’s not spinning beyond recognition. It’s also a good idea to leave the decoys in your vest sometimes. Let’s face it, when your decoy gets airborne and blows away from your setup, you might want to forgo them.

I tend to move about more in high winds if I don’t have a particular place in mind to spend a good while. I just want to give myself a chance of being close to a bird and feel I stand a better chance of getting inside the hearing range of one if I am on the move a little more than normal. Again, if I have a particular area I know the birds like to hang out on windy days, I might be more apt to set up and call a while. Keep in mind, though, that while you can generally get away with slipping through the woods without being detected on windy days, provided you do it with caution, you won’t be able to hear birds scratching in the leaves or those soft feeding purrs that you might hear on calm days. You will need to stay on your toes because you might walk right into a bird and spook him. You might also come up on another hunter, too. Safety should always be your foremost consideration when moving through the woods—windy or not.

When you get a response to your calls in high winds, you need to realize the bird is generally closer than he sounds. If it’s later in the season after the leaves are out in full force, you better get ready.

Bird Behavior: Turkeys, at times, can be slightly predictable. Windy days are one of those times. Turkeys are generally found more in bottoms away from the wind or in large openings. The woods, where the wind is a prevailing force, tends to make the birds skittish. That’s not to say you have a huge advantage, but every bit of information as to where a turkey likes to hang out is valuable.

Lynn has been hunting turkeys for more than 40 years. His track record speaks for itself, so when he and I were discussing windy-day tactics one day, I paid way more attention to that discussion than I ever did to anything I ever heard in a high-school classroom. One thing Lynn said that really jumped out at me was when he told me that he treats windy days in the turkey woods just like he does rainy days. He went on to say that he found birds in the same places that he finds them on rainy days more than anywhere else. Big fields, power lines and new clearcuts are all great places to find the birds.

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Lynn and I were hunting together one windy evening and were easing along the edge of a large field when we spotted a group of eight turkeys ahead of us 200 yards away. They hadn’t spotted us, so we froze on the spot until the birds wandered into the bottom below the field edge and out of sight. We then made a wide circle to get past the birds and set up on the edge of the big field and facing the bottom they were in. Over the next hour and a half I used a glass call, a box and when the wind would allow it, a diaphragm. All eight of the birds eventually showed up, and I removed a good 3-year-old from the small flock.

There were a total of five hens and three longbeards before the shot, and none of the birds had said a word the entire hunt. I had done little more than use basic hen talk with a lot of volume.

As I mentioned, turkeys are affected less than hunters on high, windy days, and it brings to mind another hunt several seasons ago that will always help me keep windy days in proper perspective. On one particular hunt, I was walking just inside a tree line that bordered a field. The wind was howling that day, and I remember fighting the urge to head to the house. My persistence was rewarded minutes later when I glassed a pocket on the field 200 yards away. I worked a little closer and set up. I knew I needed volume and grabbed my box. The first call I made got the bird’s attention, and I watched as he stretched his neck out to gobble. He began strutting, and I remember laughing out loud as his fan blew over his head. The next call I made produced the same results, and he began heading my way. He was close to 150 yards when I first called to him. He was not more than 75 yards the first time I heard him gobble. He had gobbled close to 15 times before I heard the first one.

I have often said that just because a bird isn’t gobbling doesn’t mean he isn’t there. That day made me adapt a new way of thinking on windy days. Just because you don’t hear a bird gobble, doesn’t mean he isn’t gobbling. The wind had little effect on this bird other than where he was spending the day.

There are a few advantages to the hunter in high winds. The wind will allow you to get away with more. When trying to slip through the woods, the noise you make will be minimal compared to calm days, and you can get away with more movement at your setup. Of course you still don’t want to be doing anything you wouldn’t normally do when a turkey is in plain sight, but the wind can cover a mistake or two occasionally.

Windy days coincide with turkey hunting a lot. The only thing turkeys might do differently on windy days is talk a little less and head to two predictable places—openings and bottoms. Other than that it’s just another day in the glorious spring woods. I’ll hit the woods on a windy day with the same enthusiasm as I do on a calm day and avoid any myths that say windy days are better spent at the house.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>