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Nobody hopes to go turkey hunting in the wind. What we all want is a bright, crisp morning that dawns with birdsong, comfortable temps and, a tom sounding off from a nearby tree. Windy days mess with that ideal scenario in a variety of ways. They’re usually colder, which makes things less comfortable for us and often give turkeys a case of lock-jaw. To make matters worse, a stiff breeze also makes any toms that do want to gobble harder to hear.
It all begs the question: Do you even want to hunt turkeys on a windy day? And my answer is: Sure, if those are the cards you’re dealt. While the conditions are far from ideal, I’ve learned how to score on those days when the wind sways the treetops. Turkeys might not act as sparky on breezy days as they do on perfect mornings, but once you learn how wind affects turkey behavior and how to adjust your tactics accordingly, you’ll be right back in the game. Here’s how to go turkey hunting in the wind and punch your tag anyway.
How Wind Affects Turkey Behavior
One of the most miraculous things about turkeys to me is their ability to hang on to a roosting limb and ride out a windy night. How they get any “sleep” (if that’s truly what they’re doing up there) baffles me. But sleep (or at least rest) they must, because when dawn comes they pitch down and begin a new day like always. But during that windy day, they’re apt to behave a little differently.
Next to their eyesight, turkeys rely heavily on superior hearing to help them avoid and evade predators, and of course, heavy winds compromise that ability. To compensate, windy-day turkeys will often seek relief from wind the by feeding, strutting, and loafing in sheltered valleys and on the lee side of hills.
The other ploy that turkeys use on windy days seems counterintuitive; they head to fields and pastures. While this doesn’t give them any advantage in terms of hearing, the open expanses allow turkeys to use their eyes to spot predators or other threats. Hanging in the wide-open also allows birds to zero in on potential danger from a long ways off so they can take evasive action. I once watched a flock of 10 hens and three longbeards milling in a large alfalfa field one windy afternoon, the fans of the strutting toms blowing back and forth in a stiff breeze as the hens fed around them. Suddenly the once-content birds snapped their heads erect and, as if someone sounded an alert, the birds flushed almost in unison and sailed far overhead and across a broad valley. Minutes later I spotted a coyote, watching the flock disperse through the spring air. How long he’d been stalking the birds I couldn’t tell, but he had to look for a different protein source that day.
It’s also worth noting that how much wind it takes to influence turkey behavior is a relative matter. On the prairies and plains, turkeys live with wind as a matter of routine; the Kansas rancher who’s let me hunt for years always jokes “If deer and turkeys had to wait for a calm day to be active out here, they’d never move.” Conversely, turkeys living in big-woods habitats seem to limit their movement when the wind kicks up. Of course, they don’t have the luxury of moving to fields and pastures like their open-country cousins, but they do seem to gravitate to stands of mature timber, where they can see better than in brushier habitat.
Adapting to Windy Day Turkeys
Any time I feel less than confident when faced with a windy day, I remember a Kansas hunt from a few years back. My buddy Tom and I had driven 12 hours to bow hunt the prairie birds of western Kansas and arrived on a day when it seemed nearly impossible to kill a gobbler. While the snow–which blew sideways in sheets for much of the morning—had ebbed a bit, the wind had no intention to give up the fight; it was double the grass and brush over, and causing the tops of ancient cottonwoods to sway so hard it seemed they’d snap.
Still, we staked down a blind in a spot that I knew held turkeys. Then I placed two decoys out and propped stout sticks against them so they wouldn’t blow away. I used a long boat-paddle-style box call–known for its volume and shrill pitch—to bang out a series of yelps, but I still felt like I was whispering during rush-hour traffic. I was rummaging in my vest for another call when Tom said, “What’s that up there?” He pointed to a pair of black specks on a distant ridgeline, and through my binocular, I saw a pair of gobblers that appeared to be staring our way.
“Has to be a fluke,” I muttered, but cranked on the boat paddle again. Then I stared in amazement as the birds stretched their necks out to gobble, then set their wings and sailed toward us. Minutes latter, they were in our dekes and Tom arrowed the biggest one, a brush-bearded gobbler that crumpled only 10 yards off.
How to Hunt Turkeys in the Wind
As the birds in the story above prove, turkeys can hear surprisingly well in the wind; those gobblers had to be over 400 yards off when they not only heard my first yelps, but zeroed in on their location. That said, it’s still a good idea to switch to a loud, high-pitched call when the wind kicks up. Box calls, which I use only occasionally at other times, become my go-to calls for windy days. A high-pitched, shrill boat-paddle or long-box style call that can carry yelping and cutting for some distance is idea. For pot calls, I like ones faced with aluminum, ceramic, or glass that produce plenty of high-pitched volume.
Since turkeys are often in open areas on windy days, decoys are important. Not only do birds often need a visual clue to compliment the yelping they’ve heard, decoys can often attract a bird you’re not calling to or even aware of. More than once I’ve taken an extended break from calling, then looked up to spot a tom heading my way that simply spotted my fakes and strolled in for a look. One word of caution on decoys when the wind is up. Leave the foam fakes at home. Instead, you’ll want harder-sided decoys with a little weight to them, and you’ll need to staked them firmly, as a wind gust can uproot them otherwise. I once had a gobbler coming in perfectly, until my hen deke spun Exorcist-syle, then tumbled off its stake and blew right at the gobbler, who flushed and flew like he’d been shot from a cannon.
When I’m on the move and trying to strike a bird, I’ve learned to do so with the wind in my face as much as possbile. Early on in my turkey hunting days, I used to do it the opposite way, with the wind at my back, thinking I needed all the help I could get to carry my calls to the turkeys. Problem was, the turkeys had no problem hearing me, but with the wind carrying their gobbles away from me, I was not hearing them. I bumped at least a half-dozen toms before I finally figured out that, just like deer hunting, I needed to keep the wind in my face as I walked. That way when a tom responds to a yelp, I actually hear it and can set up immediately. Another thing I learned in a hurry was that one gobble on a windy day is worth 10 on a calm morning. If a bird can hear you through the wind and has gobbled in response, odds are high he’s coming. On a calm morning, it seems any bird with a beard is gobbling, but much of that talk is just idle chatter. If you hear a gobble reasonable close on a windy day, maybe cut the distance a little, but then set up quickly and get ready.