It has probably been eight years ago now — one of the more memorable turkey hunts I’ve ever had.
I was a student at the University of Georgia, so Tuesday afternoons during the spring quarter meant I’d be heading for my favorite WMA in search of an afternoon gobbler.
I was on birds, too.
I’d seen gobblers on several occasions feeding on wild onions in the back corner of this big field.
On this particular afternoon I’d be calling for David Henderson, a good friend of mine who was a rookie in the turkey woods. Although he was in his freshman year of turkey hunting, his progress was coming along nicely. Several weeks earlier I had called in his first turkey, a handsome jake from the Redlands. With both of us feeling confident, we made the trek toward the big field.
Thankfully it was empty, so in an aerobic walk we went through the middle of it and made it to the back without detection. We picked out a pair of comfortable trees, and over the course of several hours I scratched out several series of yelps, clucks and purrs.
After studying a field that long, I finally just had to lay my head back against that big pine to look at something different. Clouds, dark ones, were beginning to form above. Everything goes through your mind when a storm is brewing… Is it going to pass? How bad will it be? If I left now, could I make it back to the truck before it starts?
I brought my head off the tree, and there they were — 150 yards out, positioned in single-file line on the field edge. Three silent gobblers stood looking for the hen they’d been hearing.
David and I both saw them at the same time, and we both whispered frantically under our headnets to make sure the other knew to be still. The gobblers put their heads down to feed and continued a little farther out into the field. David got his gun ready, and I reached for my striker. I squeaked out a light yelp — one to let them know I was still in town — on my slate call. Nothing.
By now the clouds had darkened the field and the first bit of afternoon thunder rumbled in the distance. It was amazing — all three gobblers lit up with a simultaneous gobble. In the excitement of such an amplified “gobble,” I cutt back, and they hammered loose again. The changing weather seemed to be turning them on.
In the next five minutes thunder became more frequent and a swift wind began to sweep through the field. Although the main storm was passing to the north of us, we were reaping the rewards of a nasty middle-Georgia boomer.
Those birds never missed a beat. Gobbling at every crack of thunder and at every call I made. They were coming down that field in a hurry… not even taking time to strut. It was a race.
Now, standing well within gun range, those lonely toms all looked at each other, wondering where in the world this sexy-sounding hen was.
All three of them would have to pick up the search in the next county as David’s 12-gauge scattergun sent them flying. I’m not really sure how David missed that bird, but a jammed gun meant he was down to a single barrel. The show was over. Oh well… still a very memorable day, one that I will never forget.
Lesson learned. Don’t let a little thunder scare you from going hunting. It could end with an oven-roasted turkey… dang near did for us.
Bobby Knight from Eatonton hunts all over the country, but he spends his time chasing Georgia birds at Cedar Creek WMA and the Oconee National Forest.
“Usually thunderstorms get the birds fired up,” said Bobby. “You can be going all day and hear very little gobbling, and it’ll start to cloud up and begin to thunder and birds just go to gobbling like crazy.
“I was hunting with a friend of mine one day and it started thundering. What we did was sit in the truck until the storm had pretty much moved over, but it was still rumbling off in the distance. We got out and started hitting a few spots and got on a bird that was fired up in a clearcut. The thunder had him fired up. He made a death march right to us.”
Gary Berrong from Hiawassee said thunder is a great way to get an inventory of birds in the area. He remembers a trip on the Chattahoochee National Forest in Towns County while hunting several miles from his truck.
“We thought it may rain, but we figured we’d try it anyway,” said Gary. “We knew there were three birds in there, and we knew about where they were going to be roosted. At daylight one bird gobbled, but he wouldn’t work. A storm rolled in and we decided we’d stick it out — not knowing how bad it was going to be. It started lightning, thundering and raining, and every time thunder would roll we heard birds that we didn’t even know existed in this cove. I bet we heard 15 birds gobble — absolutely gobbling everywhere during the storm. These are birds that didn’t gobble from the roost. I never heard that many birds in one spot gobble because of a storm.”
Gary said he and his partner didn’t believe the storm was going to be as bad as it was, and he doesn’t recommend anybody sit outside in lightning. Try doing what Bobby does. Hang out at the truck until the worst part of the storm passes. Once it turns to a lighter rain, head out and find a bird. With a little distant thunder, they should still be gobbling.
“I used to not like rain, but now I’ve killed several turkeys in misty rains using the same calling tactics I normally use,” said Gary. “A light rain doesn’t seem to bother the turkeys. Plus, you can get closer to a roosted turkey without making any noise. If it’s rainy, I can get within 75 yards in tight terrain.”
Gary said a light rain can prove effective, especially for mountain hunters. Middle and south Georgia hunters will find turkeys heading for the fields when the rain starts to fall. Gary hunts all National Forest land, where there are very few fields. Because of this, birds stay in the woods when the skies open up. During rains, Gary eases around, hoping to find a gobbler and make a setup.
“I’ve found that if it has rained the night before or if it is lightly raining, then the birds are going to the fields,” said Bobby. “Turkeys move to an opening where they can see and hear a lot better than when it’s raining and noisy in the woods.”
Bobby said if he shows up at a rainy field and there are no turkeys in sight, he’ll still set up and call. He’ll sit there for a few hours, confident that birds will appear. He keeps his calling conservative, because he believes the birds should be on their way naturally.
“I’m going to use my diaphragm calls because if it’s wet, most friction calls won’t work as well,” said Bobby. “I just yelp, cluck, purr, sit and wait. If I’m hunting property without fields, I’ll hunt either clearcuts that haven’t grown up or logging roads.”
Birds also head to open areas when you find yourself hunting in what most Georgia turkey hunters experienced on the second day of this year’s season — high wind.
Bobby said it took a windy day before he was able to connect with a bird he called, “Hammer.” He’d hunted this bird for three days, and Hammer wouldn’t answer a call unless you really cranked up your volume and aggressiveness. Hammer began to change his tune one morning after Bobby located him.
“Once I pinpointed him and got within 150 yards I gave him some soft yelps when the wind would lay,” said Bobby. “He actually answered, and I hushed. He knew I was there. Ten minutes later he gobbled on his own, and he was closer. He was looking for me.
“When the wind is blowing I’ve seen a lot of birds get skittish. That may have been why he was gobbling on his own — after all, he never had. Eventually he showed up.”
After talking with Bobby, it seemed to me that Hammer was in a shock-gobble mode, gobbling at soft yelps and even no turkey sounds. Bobby believes it was the high winds that had this bird wanting to open his mouth — much like they do in a thunderstorm. Hammer was killed in a river bottom, which is one area Bobby will focus in during a windy hunt.
“When it’s windy, I’ve seen a lot of birds fly down and get in areas out of the wind,” said Bobby. “They’ll go to bottoms. Also, if you have a big field that has a higher level and a lower level, I’ll check those lower areas. A lot of times you’ll find them there because it is less windy.”
Bobby will use loud and high-pitched turkey calls to locate a bird. Try cutts on a loud box call or sounds from a high-pitched glass call. Sometimes during wind storms, Bobby will use the noisy woods to get closer to the birds before he makes his setup. Once there, he says soft calls work good — it did for Hammer — since the birds naturally become skittish and will often gobble when the leaves begin to swish.
Gary, who hunts mostly in the mountains, said he’ll look for windy-day turkeys on the backside of the mountains or either in a cove.
“I think during the night when the wind is really zipping, they’ll change their roosting sites — they’ll just fly off and go to another place.”
Bobby said he has witnessed birds move overnight during a thunderstorm. In some cases, a midnight thunderstorm rolling across your turkey hole can be a blessing, especially if you’re hunting a henned-up gobbler that has no reason to come to your calling.
“I was on Cedar Creek, and the birds (after separating on the roost) had moved 75 yards away from the hens,” said Bobby. “I lucked up and got between the hens and the gobblers. The hens pitched down toward me, the gobblers came right to the setup, and I took a nice longbeard.”
Some hunters believe that turkeys are better than weathermen, and they just know when a weather front is coming. Bobby said to look for roosted birds in tight, short pines during rains and winds.
Although you may have to adjust your hunting location and tactics, you shouldn’t shy away the next time the thunder rolls or the winds start to blow.