I met a fellow hunter in the unlikeliest of places — the National Educational Association Convention, a gathering of Catholic educators from across the country that is taking place at the Minneapolis Convention Center this week.
I went yesterday afternoon to photograph an award that was given to the Visitation Sisters, who are celebrating their 400th anniversary. After the awards program, I went to the exhibit hall to get some candid photos of NCEA participants looking at products and talking to vendors.
Right before the hall closed, I came across a booth run by Jeff and Karen Ellis of Missouri. They have a business called Carline ID, which is used to help keep kids safe when they’re being picked up from school. Turns out Jeff is an avid bow hunter who likes to hunt elk and turkey. The Missouri turkey season opens April 19 and Jeff plans on being out in the field with his bow. We talked about the current state of turkey hunting in his state and we both are concerned.
Three years ago, I went hunting near St. Louis with Father Joe Classen and we got skunked on our three-day hunt. In fact, we only heard gobbling on one of the three days, and we never did get an answer to our hen calls. Father Joe later told me that the harvest was down 25 percent statewide from the previous year.
This year, I read that last year’s harvest was down 25 percent, too. There seems to be a real problem, and Jeff acknowledged that during our conversation. He thinks the issue is the timing of the season. He says it opens during the peak of breeding, when the toms are with hens and far less likely to come to a call. He would like to see the season open a week or two earlier, before the hens start going to the gobblers to breed.
For whatever reason, I am not experiencing the tough hunting in Minnesota and Wisconsin that is going on in Missouri. In fact, I got a bird in both states last year and am very optimistic about this year. It starts with the youth hunt on Saturday and Sunday. I will be taking my 12-year-old son, William. The following week, I take all three of my boys, Joe, Andy and William in Minnesota. The week after that, I go to Camp Ripley in northern Minnesota to guide a disabled World War II veteran.
There was going to be a gap of about two weeks between that hunt and my Minnesota season, but I took on another turkey gig. I had lunch with a friend of mine yesterday, Buzz Kriesel, who lives in Wisconsin but belongs to St. Michael in Stillwater. He took up turkey hunting last year and took a shot at a tom but missed. His season is at the end of April and I offered to go out with him the first day, and he gladly accepted. I’ll let him use my 12-gauge shotgun and I’ll also do the calling for him. I hope to help him get his first turkey.
Interestingly, one of his top hunting interests is prairie dogs. He goes out west every year to do it, and he has bought specialized equipment. It seems there is no shortage of prairie dogs and he is able to do all the shooting he wants.
Another thing he likes to do is fish the St. Croix River. He does well fishing for walleye and smallmouth bass. He even catches an occasional catfish. So, I really hope I can get out fishing with him this summer.
He also offered another interesting invitation — to come to his Catholic men’s reading group. Throughout the year, a small bunch of Catholic men gather to discuss a book they all have read. Buzz started the group several years ago and says it’s going strong. I have participated in book discussions before with other men and like it. So, I may take him up on it. I plan on talking to him more about it in his fishing boat this summer.