This spring the turkey hunting proved to be a challenge all across the West. Everywhere we chased these regal birds whether it was in Nebraska, or Idaho, or even here in Montana we were met with bad weather. The last 6 weeks had some ups and downs but overall I learned a lot about how weather affects turkey hunting.
I started out in Nebraska at the end of March. It is the earliest state to open out West and their turkey numbers are usually very high. The winter was extra tough on all wildlife due to a large amount of snow and very cold temperatures and the spring started out cold and wet as well. Upon arrival in the corn husker state we were told that the turkeys suffered some die offs and that the areas where once many turkeys resided were down by 30%.
Once we got settled into our hotel we went out scouting. The forecast was correct because we did not see near the birds on the ranches that we did the year before. Due to the cold weather the birds were still grouped together in their winter flocks. This makes hunting tough due to the birds not responding to calls or decoys yet. We set up in the highest traffic areas which we found by scouting. We were up early and listened for the birds on the roost than watched their travel. In the afternoons we again set up where we could see as well as hear the birds to see where the roost areas were located. After a day and a half we had a pretty good idea on where to be for an archery shot.
By the end of the week we took 4 long beards, all with archery equipment and none of the birds were shot using traditional tactics. What I mean by this is using decoys or calling to lure the birds into range.
The Montana opener was April 8th this year and again it was still like winter. I spent 2 weeks looking and listening for birds on the National Forest where I hunt. Due to the deep snow it was very hard getting around to locate groups of birds. I had to wait until opening day and hope the birds used their habits from the years past. Much to my delight Dominic, my friend and myself were met with gobbles at first light. I went and set up on the group of birds and began calling off and on and trying to coax a Tom over to my decoy spread.
The birds were very sluggish due to the near 30 degree temperatures and as the morning dragged on and the mercury began to rise the birds became more vocal. By 10 o’clock the woods erupted in the sounds of hens and toms bickering back and forth. I kept working the soft hen sounds and pretty soon the entire flock was headed our way. Within the next hour we had our first double of the spring with Dominic shooting his first bird with the bow and I had another good long beard to my collection.I had to guide a few clients this year after I tagged out and that was also very tough. Central Montana had some of the highest amounts of moisture ever recorded and the bird numbers were way down. I had a client come in for his first ever turkey hunt and the pressure was on. Luckily at mid day I spotted a mature tom walking alone along a pasture fence out looking for girl friends. We were able to get ahead of the bird and set up the decoys. Due to the high wind I had to use a box call because the sound carries much further. I could never hear an answer and did not know if the bird heard me. We were just about to pack up our set up and re locate when I heard the gobble. Within 30 seconds this bird stood at the decoys and his day was ended by a 15 yard shot from the gun.
The last hunt was supposed to be in the prime time of the turkey breeding season. Again cold wet weather had the birds shut down and not very vocal. We had to cover a lot of ground and hike into some new areas trying to locate the birds. After 3 days of cold damp weather the sun finally broke out. The birds flipped the switch and started acting like they should. We located a jake with a hen on a ridge who answered my every call. After setting up 100 yards away through the timber and setting up just a hen decoy I began calling. With every step the jake gobbled as he came into our set. Another 20 yard shot with the gun ended his reign and the season came to a close.