Wild turkey hunt is awesome!

May 14, 2014

Faith Outdoors

Thousands of Minnesotans have had their minds on fishing in the last week.

Not me. Instead of a fishing rod, I was carrying a shotgun in the woods of Minnesota and Wisconsin enjoying one of my favorite activities — wild turkey hunting. My hunts in the two states went exactly seven days, and I was able to fill all three of my tags with nice longbeards.

It doesn’t get any better than that. The birds proved cooperative and willing to come in to my calls. I enjoyed some exciting action, with gobblers sounding off in response to my calls, then working their way toward my position, gobbling all along the way.

Three times, I witnessed the excitement of birds showing up within gun range and then pulling the trigger to complete the harvest. Here’s an account of each bird that got a ride home in my car:

Bird No. 1

This bird fell on May 6 in Minnesota on the first day of Season E.

This bird fell on May 6 in Minnesota on the first day of Season E.

My hunt began May 6 in Minnesota, which was the E Season. I started off on a familiar pair of properties near Cannon Falls, getting out of my car in the dark before dawn and walking along a long ridge. I didn’t hear much gobbling on the roost — only birds far off on neighboring properties.

But, I was not discouraged. I know birds go back and forth along the ridge, so I started at the far end and proceeded to work my way down.

About halfway down, I heard a gobble below me in the field. I got even with the bird on top, then started calling. About 75 to 100 yards ahead of me, a tom gobbled and started coming my way. He then dipped down to the bottom of the hill and started gobbling. A second bird did the same thing.

So, both birds were down the hill from me, and didn’t seem interested in coming up the hill. I figured I was in for a long wait, so I grabbed my water bottle and took a drink. As I turned back toward the ridge, I heard something run through the woods.

I knew instantly it was one of the birds, but I couldn’t see it. I figured he must have poked his head up over the hill when I had turned away, then saw me. As I pondered this, I heard as four-wheeler coming toward me at the bottom of the hill. It stopped right where the birds had been gobbling. Then I heard some banging, and eventually a chain saw started up.

Game over for this spot. I don’t know if I spooked the bird, or if it saw the four-wheeler coming. No matter. It was time to move. I walked the rest of the properties and didn’t hear a gobble, so I left and went to a different property where I had permission to hunt.

My brother normally hunts there, but he couldn’t go until the last season and told me to try it there. I pulled in about 10 a.m. and walked to a spot where he had some action last year.

It was windy, so I just started calling about every 15 minutes. About 10:45 or so, I saw a bird enter the far end of the field. A tom! I watched it work toward the edge of the woods. When he disappeared from view, I did some aggressive yelps to get his attention.

It worked. I eased up in my chair and looked over a little rise in the terrain. The tom’s head was up and he had moved in my direction. I lowered my head and decided to wait and see what happened.

It was quiet for a few minutes, then the bird gobbled. He had cut the distance by about a third and was working his way along the edge of the woods.

He continued to come my way and gobble, then he finally was just over the rise. I got my gun up and pointed in his direction, then took the safety off. Within a minute or two, I saw him come into view. He raised his head and neck, as they are known to do, and that was my chance. My Remington 11-87 sounded off, and my Minnesota hunt was over. The next day was the start of my D Season in Wisconsin, and I would be entering the woods with two tags to fill, one lottery tag and one bonus tag.

Bird No. 2

This bird was one of two that came in together.

This bird was one of two that came in together.

I got out to one of my favorite properties for opening day of my season, and heard lots of gobbling. There were lots of birds, and I was excited. But, the first bird I saw came out into a field and was not in range. He gobbled and strutted his way along the middle of the field and eventually disappeared. I then heard a second bird gobble in the woods, and thought it would do the same thing, so I turned toward the field and waited.

After a few minutes went by without a gobble, I turned my head back in the woods and looked at the opening of a food plot the landowner had planted. There was a turkey standing there only about 30 yards away. I think it was a tom, but it saw me and spooked.

Not a good feeling at all. That turned out to be the only tom that came in close. My friend, Steve Huettl, manager of Gamehide clothing, was hunting a property about 15 miles away. He had action, too, but didn’t get a bird in close. He ended up coming over to my property and hunted the far end of it.

He saw a bird about 125 yards away in the woods and worked it for an hour and a half before it finally came to about 45 yards. He took a shot and hit the bird, but it flew off after getting back on its feet. He never found the bird.

That was it for the action that day. We skipped Thursday because of the rain and came back out on Friday, May 9.

Steve found a good spot on the property he had started on opening day, and killed a nice bird at 7 a.m. He suggested I come over and try it there, as the birds were active. I had called in a jake (juvenile male), but decided to pass and wait for a mature tom. One came out into the field, but wouldn’t come in close enough for a shot.

I took Steve up on his offer and went to the property he was hunting at about 9:30 or 10. We set up my blind at the spot where he took his bird, then went walking to try and strike up a bird. We heard gobbles on neighboring properties, but none on the two we had permission to hunt.

So, about noon, we went back to the blind and I climbed in for the afternoon, while Steve went back home with his tag filled. He assured me birds would come through, and that I should just sit and wait.

Turned out to be a relatively short wait. It was very windy, so I called more often than normal so that birds could hear me. At about 1:20, I thought I heard a gobble but wasn’t sure because of the wind. A minute or two later, I heard the sound again, this time more distinct and closer.

Definitely, a gobble. The bird sounded off again, even closer this time. Then, a second bird gobbled right after this one did. Two birds!

What I often do when this happens is give them some soft calls, like clucks and purrs. I did these on a Tom Teaser mouth call, and the birds lit up after hearing that. No more calling. Shutting up is the way I get the birds to come all the way in.

I was set up in a blind only about 10 yards into the woods along a flat spot on the ridge with brush piles behind me and to my left on the edge of the field. I saw a dark shape come along the field edge in some brush right before the big brush pile.

A second bird was right behind it. They walked and gobbled as they reached the brush pile. At this point, they were only about 20 yards away, but I didn’t want to shoot through the brush pile. So, I waited.

The first bird made it to the other side of the brush pile and stepped into the clear. As I put the bead on him, he gobbled one more time, which was very cool. That was the last gobble of his life.

The second bird didn’t know what to make of it, and he nervously paced back and forth behind my bird. I did have a second tag, and I debated whether to take this bird. I got out of the blind and crawled toward the spot where my bird lay. I had the brush pile as cover, so I was able to get closer. In the end, the other bird saw me and spooked. But, I was not disappointed. I had a nice longbeard to take home, and I would simply come back and hunt another day for my last tag.

Bird No. 3

The third and final bird was a beauty!

The third and final bird was a beauty!

I was not able to hunt on Saturday or Sunday because my nephew got confirmed on Saturday and I was his sponsor, and Sunday was Mother’s Day, which I made off limits to hunting. After a wonderful weekend celebrating the sacrament on Saturday and motherhood on Sunday, I made plans to get back in the woods on Monday morning. Wisconsin has seven-day seasons, and so I had two more days to hunt.

I went back out to the property I started on opening day. I had a slightly different setup, hoping I would be close to roosted birds. I was, with one tom no more than 75 yards away. But, he only gobbled once and then shut up.

Once again, a bird came out into the field, but he came out of the woods behind me and was out of range by the time I turned around and looked into the field. He went to a little point of woods, then strutted and gobbled at about 75 or 80 yards. I tried to entice him to come over, but he wouldn’t budge.

He eventually rounded the corner and continued on down the edge of the woods. Birds were gobbling not too far away, but nothing would come in. So, I got up and followed the first bird.

I set up on a flat bench running perpendicular to the woods and way out into a valley. This is where Steve worked the bird he shot at opening day. Birds were gobbling in the area, but once again they would not come in.

That’s when I decided it was time to move, as in go to another property. It was a 30-minute drive to the small farm I planned to hunt, but I figured a change of scenery was in order. I had shot a nice bird on this property in 2011, so I was hoping for some action this time around. The landowner said she hadn’t seen or heard birds this spring until about a week or so ago, when she heard a tom gobble and saw a group of hens walking in her meadow.

This is a great piece of property, and I pulled in about 10:30 hoping to strike up a tom. I hiked across the meadow to a tree line that sits on the property line. There was a meadow on one side and a harvested crop field on the other. Birds seem to like spots like this, so I was optimistic.

Before I even reached my spot near the corner of the meadow on the highest part of the property, I heard a tom gobbling on the neighbor’s field. The bird was probably about 250 to 300 yards away, but it was gobbling hard and I decided to try and call this bird.

I also knew that there might be birds closer that could fire up at the sound of my hen calls. That’s exactly what happened. One bird gobbled less than 100 yards away, then sounded off again a minute or two later. He was coming!

As I shifted my attention to this bird, another bird gobbled in the meadow. I felt this second bird was a little farther off, so I continued to focus on the first one.

But, the second one close the gap faster. It created a dilemma — two birds coming hot from different directions. Doesn’t happen often, but it requires some quick decision making.

The bird in the meadow gobbled again even closer, and I looked out of the corner of my eye to see if I could see him in the meadow. I was fully expecting to spot him, then I would have to figure out a way to turn toward him and get a shot off.

Surprisingly, the bird was not in view. He was just beyond a little dip that kept him from view. Quickly, I turned my body and gun toward him, knowing I had very little time to readjust my position.

I don’t think it was even a minute later that I saw a red head and neck pop up. It was him! I knew he was a little far, but I also knew my gun was good out to 50 yards. He definitely was not that far. I lined up my Hi-Viz fiber optic sights and pulled the trigger.

The bird disappeared behind the rise, but I knew I got him. I got out of my chair and scrambled over the dip. The bird was flapping, and I saw a full tail fan, meaning it was a mature tom.

In closing

These are the beards from three gobblers harvested this spring.

These are the beards from three gobblers harvested this spring.

With this bird, my 2014 spring turkey hunting season came to an end. I felt a little sad as I loaded this final gobbler into my vest and walked back to my car. I ended this hunt the way I end every successful hunt — I kneel down beside my bird, put a hand on it, and say a prayer of thanksgiving to God.

I got to do that three times this season, and that part NEVER gets old. It was a fantastic year, and I have not only some nice breast meat from the three birds, but a trio of beards as souvenirs. Things came together nicely this year, and I’m grateful for the exciting hunts I had.

Lastly, I want to extend sincere thanks to all of the landowners who let me hunt on their land. None of this would have been possible without them and their great generosity. May God richly bless them and their families.

And, may God grant me the privilege of a return visit next spring!

Note: I can’t end this post without tipping my cap to Gamehide and its Elimitick line of camo clothing. Steve first got me a set of Elimitick pants and shirt in 2010, and it’s still going strong. I did not pick up a single tick this season, which proves once again how effective this clothing is. Exactly once in five seasons have I picked up a tick while wearing this clothing. Who knows how many were successfully repelled? Hundreds? Thousands?

I absolutely HATE ticks, so I plan on wearing Elimitick every spring for turkey hunting. And, special thanks to Steve for putting Elimitick in my hands — and for many, many turkey hunting tips that have helped me improve dramatically as a turkey hunter!

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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