Gobbler in the Rain

It has been a strange season for turkeys in my area, this year. I've hunted them on the same farm for the last five years, and I've learned the pattern of their activities which I can usually expect. Once the gobble is mostly over, about two hours after sunrise, the birds start showing up in the fields to feed. All types show up, hens, jakes and longbeards, frequently a lot of them. They stay in the fields until early afternoon, then seem to head for the woods, again. Throughout the day birds can be seen most anywhere, and a lot of them seem to be moving around. I've taken advantage of this in years past, and have ambushed more than one bird by being watchful as I move around. Not so, this year. I've hunted nine times, and I saw my first bird in a field yesterday morning. I've also seen almost no sign, no droppings, no strutting posts, no dusting areas. I finally saw one track in the mud yesterday. I've heard toms gobbling, but only once on the farm I hunt, on the second day of the season. I've seen only two birds moving in the woods. Something is different on the farm this year.

So, I haven't been hunting with high expectations. I've had great fun, as usual, but have been resigned that I won't have a lot of birds to work. The best day, even more than the day I took my first bird, was a rainy day early last week. I love hunting in the rain. It adds a special feel to the hunt, and there is a look to the woods which one sees only in the rain. Colors are more intense, the air is full of mist which adds a dreamy quality to the woods, and the limited visibility gives you the feeling of being enclosed in a bubble which moves with you as you stalk. The ground is soft and the woods are quiet to move through, always a good thing when one is hunting large game.

Hunting in the rain with a flintlock also adds an element of challenge which I thoroughly enjoy. In my endeavors to learn the skills which were common in the colonial period, I've found few things which give me more satisfaction than the ability to use the flintlock under most all conditions without failure. I've worked at it with considerable seriousness, and have high confidence I can make the gun fire in the wet. That is a good feeling.

I've seen birds on rainy days, before, but never knew if one could successfully hunt them in the rain. The literature of the sport written by modern hunters says rainy days can be good turkey hunting days, but I've never taken a bird under such conditions, so far.

It was a warm rain, which, falling on the cool ground, caused heavy mist in the fields and woods. Watching the dawn light build and seeing the wet, steamy world gradually appear was something to remember. The sound of rain falling in the woods is so very pleasant. It had rained enough during the night that all the little rivulets and the rocky creek were running noisily, too, so the woods were full of the delightful sound of running water. Dressed in my usual 1778 outfit of breeches, leggings, moccasins and linen rifle shirt, it felt great to be skulking about in the wet. The new spring vegetation is that marvelous yellow-green of bright, clean, young foliage, and colorful wild flowers of many types and hues are everywhere underfoot. Patches of dogwood in bloom and large areas of May apples with their showy white blossoms are a sure sign of spring in Kentucky.

I wore my oiled cotton rain shirt, ala the description of "an oiled surtout against the rain" given in Dr. Wm. Smith's book in 1765, and it worked very well. Of course, that didn't prevent my being soaked to the knees, but that's no problem, I'm accustomed to that. I also used my cow's knee to good advantage.

It all worked. I hunted near a hilltop from first light till about 0730, and the rain fell lightly but steadily. I then moved lower on the hill, down to a spot just above a field which has produced in the past, more than once. I set up under the broken stub of a large old cedar tree and put one decoy twenty yards in front. Soon after I was settled, the sky became very dark, the wind became blustery, distant thunder became almost constant, and then lightening began to flicker and crackle as a thunderstorm moved directly over my position. Watching the ridges to the west as the storm drew near, I saw the most distant one disappear in the approaching heavy rain, then the middle one, and then the rain started in earnest where I sat and continued for 20 minutes. As the storm moved past me and the rain eased, dense white tendrils of fog or mist rose from the woods across the creek, and the scene was a most beautiful one. What a marvelous thing to see nature at work from such a close vantage point, to actually be part of the picture being created. It was as if no one existed in the whole world but myself, and I liked the feeling more than I can describe. At about 0800, with light rain falling steadily, I forced myself to break the reverie the storm had lured me into and bring my attention back to the problem at hand. I called blind and had the satisfaction of having a young tom quickly respond to my calling. He never said a word, didn't strut, just showed up beyond the decoys and came steadily to me with love on his mind, intent on finding that sexy hen. What amazing concentration they demonstrate, what purposeful action! Marvelous creatures.

His quiet approach was typical of what all of my birds have done. I see film of birds approaching other hunters at full strut, gobbling, popping and buzzing. I had a bird do that the first season, but never since. All my birds have come in silently, without strutting. I don't know if it's my calling, which isn't very good, or what else it might be, but I have to be extremely watchful when I call, because my birds never seem to give me any warning that they are on the way.

Luckily, I saw this one approaching from quite far out, and was able to slip the cow's knee off and get situated to cover him. He stalled at about 35 yards for a minute, or so, then came just a little closer. That was a mistake. The flintlock fired instantly, and he went down in a heap. I ran to him and held him down as he beat out his last. My season was over, and it had been another good one.

I've only been hunting turkeys for five years. I didn't collect a bird the first season, but have taken two birds each of the last four. All have been taken with my 20 gauge flintlock fowlers, and it is a point of pride with me that all were taken as the old boys did it. I doubt there is anyone in Kentucky who has duplicated that feat, and it is a good feeling to know I have acquired the skills necessary to accomplish it. Preserving the old skills, including hunting with a flintlock in the rain, is something I consider important, and I thoroughly enjoy that aspect of my attempt to recreate the life style of our forefathers.

Every turkey taken is special for me, more than most any other game I've ever hunted. Taking this one in the rain with a flintlock was even more so. Much more so.

Copyright © B. E. Spencer 2002 All rights reserved.

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