Turkey Hunting: Heaven In High Water

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Editor's Note: Some states have restrictions on hunting game animals in flooded areas.  Be sure to check your state regulations before hunting in flooded areas.

If there is one truth in a sport riddled with uncertainties, it is that no matter the year, it will rain on opening day.  No matter what the long-range forecast is, you can pretty much bet the farm that you will be hearing rain drops on the tin roof when it’s finally time to knock the rust, and the safety, off.
In the Deep South, those spring time rains that keep us hitting the snooze button typically parlay into swollen creeks and rivers, forcing turkeys and turkey hunters alike to adapt to the rapidly changing environment.  While many bodies of water will fall as fast as they rise, larger rivers such as the Mississippi may make your favorite turkey hunting spot look more like Bayou Meto in mid-January for what seems like an eternity.  So what do you do when the water is, as Johnny Cash sang “thirty feet and rising”?  You hunt.
Turkeys love to roost over water.  If you can find a cypress pond on a map, you can almost assuredly find at least one gobbling turkey.  Turkeys feel that they have protection over predators via roosting over water, thus it is a favorite resting place for them.  Now if they have no place to strut, feed, and loaf, that is a different animal.
In this event, turkeys will either seek out “the hills” or will try to find whatever dry patch of land that they can, including peninsulas formed by the high water.
Last spring, the Alabama River in south Alabama was beyond flood stage on opening day near Monroeville.  Tee Dzwonkowski’s favorite spot to hunt was three feet under water, but he was not content with hunting turkeys on the high ground near his camp on the opposite side of the river.  He decided to slip into the area with his duck boat and trolling motor, and find whatever dry ground he could to set up on.
Soon after daybreak, with multiple turkeys gobbling around him, he killed a nice Alabama longbeard on a peninsula that jutted out into the flood waters.  The base of the tree he set up on had a fresh water mark on it, and cottonmouths were making their way towards the falling water through the slick mud.  The turkeys that were in his area were using the peninsula to head towards higher ground, and Dzwonkowski took one of them for a boat ride.
While high water is in most cases temporary, those turkey hunters that know how to adjust their environment can be successful.  As Dzwonkowski found, peninsulas can be death traps for lonesome longbeards, but the key is knowing how to find, and then get to, those peninsulas.
There may be no tool more valuable to a turkey hunter than a good set of maps, with a topo map being a high water hunter’s best friend.  If you can identify a small rise or ridge in the middle of a river or creek bottom, you can almost guarantee that turkeys will be in the area.  As always, knowing the turf can be a huge asset, as you will instinctively know where those rises in the terrain will be, and you will also know how to best approach those areas.
Having a small johnboat with a quiet trolling motor or a couple of paddles may be the best way to slip into the area.  But you would also be well advised to take a pair of your duck waders along should you need to bail out of the boat to get closer to the high ground. 
The key, as with any hunt, is to get close.  Making the effort to try and roost the turkeys the evening before may help you get into the area early enough to get tight with the turkeys and prevent bumping the birds.  Because your margin of error is small due to the size of the area you may be hunting, caution is the name of the game.  While targeting turkeys on a peninsulas may be a calculated risk, you do not want to throw caution to the wind.  Hunt slow, and hunt smart.
Another aspect mentioned earlier is that turkeys may be forced out of the bottoms altogether and will be clustered on the nearby high ground.  This is a perfect storm for the turkey hunter, as he will likely encounter multiple turkeys in a small area and will have a high probability of having a good hunt.
One such encounter took place in the spring of 2009 in west Alabama.  Because a flash flood left every inch of a 2,000 acre river bottom underwater, I broke daylight to multiple gobblers on the nearby bluff I was hunting.  The sun had barely risen before I flicked off my safety and leveled a longbeard at twenty steps.  After the waters had receded, the area was average at best for the remainder of the year.  The flood had simply transformed the high ground into an overnight Mecca for the turkeys.
Whether you wade the bottoms in search of dry ground, or play it conservative and head to the hills, you must be willing to adapt on the fly when Mother Nature throws a kink on your plan.  You simply cannot view a spring flood as a detriment; you must look for the silver lining in the cloud and seize the opportunity at hand.  If you do, you may find some fabulous hunting and a happy post-hunt breakfast.
Wild Turkey Report Staff
Wild Turkey Report is the internet's new destination for information on the sport of turkey hunting. Follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wildturkeyreport and on Twitter @wildturkeyreprt!
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