Snow bird

May 8, 2013

Faith Outdoors

A snowy landscape made for an interesting backdrop for this Wisconsin turkey hunt.

A snowy landscape made for an interesting backdrop for this Wisconsin turkey hunt.

As I arrived to my hunting spot near Ellsworth, Wis. on Sunday morning for a “spring” turkey hunt, the landscape was radically different from previous years.

I just finished my Wisconsin season, which ran for seven days. On the first evening, snow started to fall where I hunt. When it was finished the next morning, there was 13 inches on the ground. So, I did not hunt for the next three days.

I went back out on Sunday morning. Some snow had melted, but there was still lots on the ground. I hunted a very nice piece of property where my sons and I have killed birds over the last six years.

Turns out there was a fired up tom roosted just a few hundred yards from where I parked the car. The snow didn’t seem to keep the toms from doing what they like to do in the spring – court the ladies.

Making my move

It was tricky to slip in close because there were no leaves on the trees, and the blanket of snow added more light. I couldn’t get in as close as I would have liked, but I got into the section of woods where this gobbler was roosted. I ended up sitting down against a tree in a blanket of snow, which I had never done before.

The tom was gobbling hard on his own, then I heard a hen yelping. I mimicked her a couple of times, then she shut up. I was hoping he would fly down before she did, which is exactly what happened.

He was hot to trot and flew down into the field and continued to gobble. I called softly, then quit. He kept working toward me in the field, and I was convinced I would see him in an opening in the brush on the edge where he was walking. I wanted to sit right along the edge, but felt it would be too risky in terms of him seeing me from the roost. So, I tucked in around the corner, about 30 yards from the edge.

The moment of truth?

Had he walked right along the edge, I would have had a nice 30-yard shot. But, as it turned out, he walked about 20-30 yards out into the field. That put him at about 50 yards or so. Had he stopped in the opening and ran his head up, I would have taken the shot. Instead, he walked right through it and continued toward the corner. I did not shoot because I wasn’t sure I could knock him down.

He reached the corner, but there was a lot of thick brush between me and the bird. I turned to the right hoping he would round the corner and come on in. He only needed to go another 25-30 yards and I would see him again.

What did he do? He stayed right at the corner and continued to gobble. I waited, then did a little more soft calling. Over the years, I have used soft calling to lure the bird the final steps into range and into a clear spot for a shot. He gobbled right away, but stayed put. More than likely, he wanted that hen to come out and show herself.

Time to wait

I’ve played this game before, and knew it was time to shut up. A lot of guys can’t stand it when a bird hangs up, so they keep calling. I have learned that staying quiet usually causes a bird to get curious and come in looking.

I knew he didn’t have any hens with him, and he already had come this far. Plus, there was absolutely no obstruction between him and I, so there was no reason for him to hang up.

Then, he went quiet for a bit, and that’s usually when the bird is moving. So, I got my gun up and ready, then took the safety off. He gobbled again, and seemed a bit closer, but still had a little ways to come. I kept my gun up, and finally took the safety off.

The final steps

Only about a minute later, I caught movement to my left. He walked out into the field about 20 yards and finally cleared the brush and reached an opening. I should have done what my friend suggests and made a call to get him to stop and raise his head.

But, in my excitement, I put the bead on him while he was walking and fired. With his head pulled in toward his body and not raised up, I ended up putting more pellets into the body than I would have liked. In fact, I broke his wing. But, the end result was good – the bird went down! My shot was about 30 to 35 yards, which was well within the range of my shotgun.

I was worried that that the breast on the side facing me would be riddled with pellets. That happened last year on a similar shot. Amazingly, when I breasted out the bird, I didn’t find any pellets on either side.

The two breast halves are now in the freezer. The only tough part was I sliced my thumb when I was breasting out the bird. I had just sharpened the fillet knife, so it went right into my thumb. I went to the Urgency Room and they actually used some type of glue. Oh well, a small price to pay.

Another bird in the snow

Steve Huettl sits in the snow with the bird he took in Wisconsin last week.

Steve Huettl sits in the snow with the bird he took in Wisconsin last week.

My friend, Steve Huettl, hunted the same season and went out into the snow like I did. However, he did not wait until Sunday. He went out Friday afternoon and actually stalked in on a nice gobbler that had hens with him. He snuck in close and shot the bird.

That’s not the way the game is usually played, but you have to adapt to varying conditions. Last year at this time, the trees had leafed out, and the hens were sitting on their nests incubating eggs. With the ladies absent, the toms were left lonely in the woods.

This year, Steve says the birds are “henned up” right now in the areas hit hard by the snow. He believes the snowstorm wiped out all the eggs the hens had laid, meaning they had to start breeding all over again.

That makes for very tough hunting. So, he told me to count my blessings that I was able to get a bird to come in, and come in without any hens around.

I say “Amen” to that. God is good, and I give credit to him for helping me get my Wisconsin “snow bird.”

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About Dave Hrbacek

Staff photographer and writer for The Catholic Spirit. Also, avid outdoors enthusiast with a passion for hunting, fishing and photography. Married to Julie and have four children, three boys and a girl.

View all posts by Dave Hrbacek