By Gerald Almy
Have you noticed something about the weather the last month or two? It seems virtually every other day, if not more, vicious winds whip through the fields and forests.
Nobody that I know likes the wind, but turkey hunters hate strong winds worse than anyone. Wind makes it difficult to hear toms even a few hundred yards away. It also makes it hard for gobblers to hear your calls.
A strong wind has other negative effects, too. It makes turkeys more nervous and skittish than normal, since it's harder for them to hear and see predators with tree branches clattering and bushes swishing wildly.
But don't just sleep in and give up hunting 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.
In truth, there are actually some advantages to strong breezes. For one, 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. Here are some strategies to employ if you encounter strong winds during the next few weeks.
Get on the bird fast: 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. Then move in fast and close, more aggressively than you usually would. 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.
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, birds will roost lower down in hollows and valleys. 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 and more hens down there as well.
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 the loud flapping shrubbery and rattling branches and also hear and be heard by hens.
Calling Tactics: Pause to call often, and lean towards calls such as boxes, tubes, clear, 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 peacock 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 a minute or two after calling when searching for birds, if it's windy I prefer to pause for four to 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.
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. Then you can work him in with seductive yelps, clucks and purrs.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.