I took my son, William, turkey hunting during Minnesota’s A season, which started last Wednesday, April 13. We went down to the three adjoining properties near Red Wing that we had permission to hunt.
Our hopes were high. We knew there were birds in the area, and I have hunted these properties for the last eight years, and had taken birds there every time in the spring. Plus, we would have with us a turkey hunting expert, Steve Huettl, who works for Gamehide, a camo clothing company.
Steve really knows his stuff and I was confident he could put us on some birds. Turns out, I was right.
We waited until Thursday to go out. The weather looked decent that day and that’s the day Steve was able to join us. At dawn, we first went to a spot where my son, Andy, had killed a bird the year before. But, we didn’t hear any gobbling there. We heard a bird gobble several times to our east, so we hoofed it over to a different field.
We ended up hearing a hen clucking, then eventually we heard a tom gobble down the hill. We set up and tried to call him in, but he wouldn’t move our way. Then, we changed positions and drew several toms partway up from the bottom.
But, just as it looked like they were going to pop into view any second, they went back down the hill. Steve and William went after them, and eventually got them to about 30 yards. Unfortunately, there was a little hump between them and the toms, and the birds didn’t want to come over to take a look. Actually, one of them came around and moved quickly past them, but William never saw the bird.
They worked on those birds for two hours before Steve finally spooked them while he was walking around and calling. He tried everything he knew, but the birds came out unscathed.
The weather turned ugly on Friday and lasted into Saturday, so we didn’t go out. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, we gave it one last try. We went back to one of the properties and set up on the far end on a wooded flat where the birds like to roost for the night. I figured they might work their way back to the roost, and we would be there to intercept them.
We sat there for about an hour and a half, then I noticed that William looked very bored. I asked him if he wanted to get up and walk and he nodded quickly. I told him we would walk around in the woods, then walk the edge of the field and hunt our way back to the car.
We heard nothing in the woods, then came back out into the field. We hadn’t gone more than 50 yards along the edge when I spotted a turkey in the cut soybean field. It was a hen. We ducked down, and I wondered if there was a gobbler nearby. Sure enough, to the right of the hen was a tom in full strut. It was a magnificent sight, but the bird was out of range.
Time for strategy
So, we crawled on our bellies to try and close the distance. It worked well until we we surprised to see the hen at only 20 yards when we poked our heads up. She was standing still and staring right at us.
The good news is she didn’t spook, so I figured if we stayed still, she wouldn’t run off. I looked at the tom and he was still strutting. We inched forward and looked again, and this time he, like the hen, was looking right at us.
When toms come out of strut and run their heads up, that’s generally the time to shoot because it usually means they have spotted something they’re unsure of and are trying to identify it and look for possible danger.
It was a longer shot than I would have wanted for William, but I felt the bird was within range of my 12-gauge shotgun. I handed it to William and told him to shoot.
The moment of truth
The bird kept his head up high and still as William tried to steady the gun on his target. He fired, but the bird ran off. It showed no signs of being hit, and eventually flew off.
William was disappointed, but I told him it was a tough shot and a tough situation to be in. I reminded him how cool it was to see the tom in full strut. It’s not often you can walk in that close to a bird like that.
Of course, I wondered if I should have done things differently, like maybe stayed where we had first seen the birds and seen if they might have come to us. Perhaps, we could have done some calling and brought them in.
Oh well. That’s turkey hunting. There are lots of surprises, and you have to react quickly. Sometimes, you do the right thing. Sometimes, you do the wrong thing. That’s what makes it exciting — and challenging.
And, that’s what I hope will make William want to come back for more.