The Thunder of Spring

Springtime in the Midwest is when the thunderstorms begin to rattle the windows, and the “thunder chickens” (wild turkeys) begin to strut their stuff. Turkeys were reintroduced to my home state of Kansas in the 1960s and there is no greater success story in wildlife conservation. While a wild turkey season has been open since 1974, it really started to become popular due to number of birds about 15 years ago. I tagged my first gobbler in 2000, and have had a love for turkey hunting ever since.

This year I worked hard with my son Noah to prepare for the season, as he was hoping to tag his first gobbler a few months before his seventh birthday. We scouted our farm, practiced with the crossbow, and cut some shooting lanes in the woods in preparation for the opening of the youth season in early April. An hour into the season Noah tagged out with a perfect 15 yard shot. I couldn’t have been prouder, and boy was he excited! His face says it all.

After plenty of pictures, and high fives, we headed home to share the story with anyone who would listen. The next weekend, however, it was my turn. And I was fully expecting the same level of success. I mean who doesn’t visualize an opening morning kill as you toss and turn the night before!?!

I followed the same pattern that had led to our success the weekend before, but to my surprise and disappointment the outcome was not the same. Over the next week I hunted 4 days, utilizing various proven tactics, all of which produced the same result. Nothing. I heard birds, saw birds, but couldn’t get close enough for a chance with the crossbow. Finally, getting worried I might never get my chance, I opted for the 12 gauge to start week two of the season.

The conditions were not very favorable that day, as a storm was expected to roll in later in the afternoon. But eager for success, I opted to take my chances. When I arrived the thunder was already a low rumble in the distance. Things weren’t looking good! Suddenly I heard an unsolicited gobble down in the creek bed just about a 100 yards away. I silently scrambled to setup my blind, and put decoys in the clearings on both sides of the walnut trees

where I would be waiting. To my surprise, the gobbles kept coming without me calling at all!

Once I sat down I started to notice a pattern. Every time there was a clap of thunder from the approaching storm the turkeys would sound off with a thunder of gobbles themselves. As the storm intensified, so did their gobbling, and as a result…I knew exactly where they were! I yelped a few times on my box call, and immediately could tell they were on their way. I watched and waited for them to emerge, and they continued to respond to the thunder as if the storm scarred the gobbles right of them!

Like seasoned veterans they circled around me, and I was sure glad I had taken the time to setup decoys on both sides of my blind. Once they saw the decoys all five gobblers began to strut in bunch formation. They were so close to each other it was impossible to tell the length of their beards, or pick out a clear target. It looked like one big mass of feathers with five brightly colored heads, all coming on a string to my decoys with hardly any effort on my part!

As they reached the decoys three of the birds circled around for a better look, leaving two behind for me to take my shot. Feathers rained down as all five birds beat their wings. As the other three flew away, two of them never got off the ground. While I only shot once, both birds had gone down hard. After logging many hours in the blind the week before, it only took fifteen minutes to double on turkeys with just one shot! As I sat back and soaked it all in, the rain began to fall. Then it hit me, the thunderstorm, the thing I was dreading about that day’s afternoon hunt, was the key to my success in harvesting two beautiful birds.

So, here’s the tip to remember: “Bad weather doesn’t always mean bad hunting.” As a whitetail hunter I knew this, and have often fought through cold, wind and snow in the hopes of getting my chance at a mature buck. But turkey hunting had always been a fair-weather pursuit. In the past, if it was going to be windy or rainy, it meant I was to stay home. But this past season I learned that thunderstorms lead to thunder chickens. So when you’re turkey season seems to be slipping away, be persistent and when all else fails…pray for rain!

Hunt on,

Jim Ostlund

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