Looking at the effects of high winds on turkey behavior and hunting.
There’s a lot of advice on hunting turkeys in high winds, given that breezy conditions are especially common throughout the plains and other parts of the wild turkey’s range. The spring season sees windy conditions everywhere else as well, with lots of spring frontal patterns and the back-end high pressure systems that dry off the landscape. Sooner or later, no matter where you chase gobblers, you’ll have to adapt hunting tactics to tackle some high-wind hunting.
Most turkeys don’t like being buffeted by a strong breeze. My field hunts in much of the Midwest have shown Eastern wild turkey hens to tolerate some rather windy conditions, but usually only for short amounts of time while they feed. You can watch them enter fields, see their feathers blow about, then grow nervous only to leave a short while later. While toms will tolerate the open windblown areas as long as their hens will, it detrimentally affects their ability to strut and display, often causing them to stop the dance altogether. Blustery winds that swirl and approach from different directions in high gusts tend to push birds out of open areas completely, even when weather is otherwise warm or dry.
I’ve done a fair amount of prairie hunting, and open-country Merriam’s wild turkey are pros at adapting to gusty situations. Wind may only be a temporary inconvenience to the hunt in your neck of the woods, but plains birds learn to shift their entire day’s plan around the wind they face. Roosting, feeding and breeding locations can change at the drop of the hat once the weather vane starts spinning. That means you’ll need to adapt your hunting and change locations just as they do.
Big wooded draws are places that should be getting some of your attention, windy or not, but these midday loafing areas can turn into all-day refuges as big winds blow. As I think back to all of the best out-of-the-way turkey hideouts I’ve ever snuck into, they all have a few things in common. First and foremost, they’re in deep, dark holes in the landscape. That can be at the base of a steep embankment, the absolute bottom of a small valley, or in the lowest part of a floodplain surrounded by high ground and higher trees. They all have some good cover surrounding them, but can also be open bottoms provided the wind blows over the top and not through them.
All of which brings me to probably the best tip about hunting turkeys in high winds that I can muster: hunt where it is noticeably quieter. At the locations you’re seeking, birds should be audibly quiet and much different than where you’ve come from. Many a time I’ve dropped in elevation only 20 feet or so to find myself deafened by the relative quietness of a small draw or other zone, hearing only the strong gusts occasionally well overhead. That sound you hear, or the lack thereof, is the sound you’re looking to hunt in.
While turkeys like the quieter conditions, they also have a competitive advantage with their eyesight when the entire landscape isn’t moving. Tall grass swaying, seedlings swinging, and trees tilting makes it difficult for them to separate the natural from a threat, so keep that in mind as you slowly make your way through such areas. Be cautious, however, as weather like this can concentrate birds, making them difficult to sneak up on. It’s tough enough to beat one pair of eyes, but much harder to elude several sets.
If you’re pinned down or otherwise hunting birds out in open, windy country, then absolutely grab a box call and crank away. While you may not hear a response, you may be able to visually spot a bird reacting to the music you just laid down. Alternatively, if you’re seeking out birds in the quieter lowland areas I’m suggesting, don’t beat on that box call paddle too hard, at least not right off the bat. You may be surprised to find a bird within a hundred yards or so from your location, so start off quietly with a soft slate or mouth call. That off-to-the-side area you searched long and hard for can be a ghost town after tripping down into the middle of it and brandishing your loudest of turkey calls.
Generally speaking though, a box call is your best friend on a windy day. I don’t know of any other style of call that can replicate the loud, sharp, and shrill calls that cut wind and distance between you and the turkeys you’re hunting. Birds will delay-call at you often in these conditions, so give them a few yelps then pause. Then give them a few more and pause again, each time allowing ample opening for a response. Just like you’re straining to hear them, they’re often doing the same to listen to that lonesome hen sounding off in the distance. In these conditions, birds may be gobbling that you never hear. Unless you have a pile of land and lots of turkeys to pursue, you might consider sneaking into a great looking (sounding) location, calling, and waiting it out for 30 minutes. Move only once you’re confident that birds are not coming to your location.
High winds are the bane of most turkey hunters, but especially in areas you hunt long enough, bird behavior becomes more predictable during big breeze events. The weather conditions will concentrate birds into smaller locations, making them at times easier to hunt if you know where to look. Consider the wind an ally to your success, and seek out birds in the quiet places you may otherwise overlook during calm conditions.
Joel Nelson is a well-known turkey-hunting personality in the Midwest, working for several hunting product manufacturers and call companies in the past 20 years. Joel has taken birds in more than a dozen states, killing himself or guiding hunters to hundreds of birds in the process. In his travels, he's competed and hunted with everyone from local turkey guides to NWTF Grand National Calling Champions. He shares his experience in the pages of Outdoor News, several online outdoors publications, and on his own blog site Joel Nelson Outdoors, where he invites folks to “Ask Me Anything.”