Friday, May 6, 2016

Tom turkey plays by hunting in the rain playbook

By any standard I’ve used before this was not going to be a take-home-a-turkey day.

The sky was dour and coming apart at the seams with rain showers.  The wind was doing what the wind does best; namely pushing and shoving the raindrops into whatever opening in the blind and clothing were left unsealed.

Coldness, too, the sort that chills and demands that one believes escape comes only in the form of retreat.

However, I was not about to run and duck into my Jeep Patriot. Call me Mr. Stubborn but I actually wanted to see if there was any truth to the hype about hunting spring turkeys during a rain event.

Those are stories that often come fast and furious just before and during the spring turkey-hunting season. You know the titles as well as anyone: “Kill Your Gobbler When It’s Pouring,” “Get The Best Tom Of Your Life When Everyone Else Is Home,” “Beat The Rain And Score.” All of the titles ending with an explanation mark, of course.

The theory behind hunting spring hunting-season wild turkeys in a rain storm is simple enough and has some logic, I suppose. Turkeys hate the rain; at least while they’re confined to their roosts in the woods. They have a tough time hearing and are far from pleased about dealing with wet feathers and all, the pro-hunt-in-the-rain argument goes.

This hypothesis also expresses the belief that turkeys prefer sauntering through fields and pastures. All the better to strut and preen and see and hear, theory continues.

What the outdoors magazine stories seldom add is that if the weather is all wet and drippy for the turkeys it’s also all wet and drippy for the turkey hunter. This explains why I kept my deer-hunting blind up and running, not dismantling it from anchorage along a thread of trees that faced a pasture. I figured that during Ohio’s four-week-long spring wild turkey-hunting season I’d have at least one day to test the theory.

So I plopped myself inside the fabric ground blind before the sun was scheduled to rise, which it couldn’t, of course. The heavy overcast and the steady, dreary rain shower would keep the sun from actually making an appearance. The best was an oozing of light that penetrated the gloom and at least allowed me to begin legally hunting.

Inside the blind I splayed the assembly of calls across my rain jacket; a couple of mouth calls, a pair of tube calls and one each slate-pot-and-striker call, a push-pin call and an owl hooter call. That last one went into action when I determined enough light existed to meet the legal requirements for hunting.

No response was forth-coming as a result of using the owl hooter. Neither did a turkey respond in kind to my use of a tube call, the friction-pot call and one of the mouth diaphragm calls.

But since the rain seemed to have let up a little I figured I’d step into the woodlot’s edge and call. There I listened for any wild turkey which might either still be occupying a roost or else had come down and was making for the pasture. Just like the outdoors story books say that turkeys do when the weather turns sour and all is uncomfortably miserable.

Yet even the barred owls – if there were any – didn’t hail back when I used my owl hooter.

Figuring that by keeping myself from overlooking the pasture from the vantage point of the ground blind I made a U-turn in the woodlot and returned the shelter. That was a good thing. A very good thing, indeed, as such things turn out.

Hardly had I reclaimed the sanctuary of the ground blind when the rain showers resumed, this time thumping the fabric with enough violence that I had to slide a couple of mesh screens back into place over their respective windows.

I then cracked a gun magazine, flipping page and reading about the history of the Kalashnikov (AK-47) rifle and its unique cartridge.

As I am prone to do when hunting turkeys from a blind about every 10 or 15 minutes I’d pucker-up and cut loose with some long “e-yelps” from one of my two tube calls. I use that style of call when prospecting for turkeys because these calls’ realism is trumped only by their loudness. Notes hailed from a tube call can carry for a long way and thus prick the interest of a potential gobbler suitor which otherwise would never know a shout out was made.

Funny, I thought, that almost sounded like a gobbler. No, must have been a dog, I figured. So I tried calling again. Once more I swore I heard a few gobbles, the notes breaking the silence and knifing through the steady rain.

Pitching aside the magazine and reaching for a diaphragm mouth call I also touched the tube call. It was a bid to assure myself that my favorite call was still there, hanging from a lanyard that looped about my neck.

The gobbler had made its approach from the pasture’s far corner, no doubt having left the woodlot’s elbow. I couldn’t see the actual approach, mind you, because the pasture slants sharply enough so that from ground level anything can’t come into view until it reaches the field’s crest.

And that crest is pivotal, marked by a lone boulder that shares company with a scrawny finger of a tree. It was here – on that graceful arc of a grassy pinnacle - that the gobbler stopped to survey the layout.

Now this is where I’ve been keeping something from you. I had company of sorts within my purview. Maybe 20 or 25 yards ahead I had placed one hen decoy - the kind that looks like it’s feeding.

This hen immitation was in the company of a jake decoy, though not any ordinary decoy of its kind. Oh, no, for you see this decoy is affixed with a steel rod that is connected to a motor that is driven by four AA-size batteries which in turn are regulated by a remote control fob that also hangs about my neck.

By clicking the fob’s “start-stop” button I manipulated the decoy to move in a semi-circle direction. Back and forth, back and forth the jake decoy would rotate. Stop and then go, and then stop again. It was driving that poor old gobbler crazy.

The bird would puff itself up and unfold its tail. Every now and then the bird would cut loose with a gobble rich enough to slice the air with a threatening vocabulary that I believed was directed at the jake decoy.

I must confess how even though I hadn’t killed a turkey in more than two years - and really wanted to drop this particular gobbler - I was having a grand time pulling its chain via my remote-control fob.

Slowly the gobbler sauntered across the field, step after step toward the jake decoy. I finally left the decoy’s electric instincts on and happily took note as the bird picked up the tempo to its steps, breaking into a gobbler dance of fanning its tail and hollering its tom-fool head off.

I had been preparing for this event since last year. I even bought a tactical-style TriStar shotgun with its AR-fashioned synthetic stock and AR-fashioned sights. Also, added was a tight-fisted turkey choke tube. Yeah, the way I figured it, if I was going to be in for a nickel with this spring turkey-hunting thing than I was going to be in for a dime.

Lining up the shotgun’s fore and aft fiber optic sights and letting them settle on that part of the turkey where its neck joins its body I launched the shot. For the record, I used one of Federal’s “3rd Degree” three-inch turkey-hunting-specific loads; a layered sandwich affair that contains a trio of different sizes of shot; one intended for short range, one added for medium range, and the last being a stack of pellets especially provided for long-distance gunning.

The gobbler never flinched once the tri-layered column of shot reached its destination. The bird simply collapsed, its rain-soaked wings unfurling.

No question this was a mature tom, very likely the butt-kicking boss of the property. Its spurs measured just under one inch each while its beard took the tape to nine inches. But it was the weight of the gobbler; mercy THAT weight. Twenty-two pounds he went. Yeah, soaking wet, I will admit.

And that’s where we’ll call it a story. Just like you, I’ve read the accounts of how to successfully hunt gobblers when the rain beats a nasty rhythm of soul-searing blues, and you’re far from being confident that today is a good day for a turkey to die.

While I’m not about to suggest hunting from a ground blind that overlooks a pasture during a rainstorm is going to work every time. Oh, no. But on this particular day anyway, everything fell into place.


By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Jeff is the retired News-Herald reporter who covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park systems and the outdoors for the newspaper. Jeff is the recipient of more than 125 state, regional and national journalism awards. He also is a columnist and features writer for the Ohio Outdoor News, which is published every other week and details the outdoors happenings in the state.


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