I always say that turkey hunting is NEVER easy. Sure, I have had hunts where the birds did what I was hoping they would do. And, hunts that ended quickly, like less than an hour.
But, so much work goes into making a hunt successful that I refuse to ever use the word easy to describe any of my hunts — even the best ones.
That is why a hunt like I had last week in Minnesota will be described as going smoothly rather than easily. I did my homework prior to opening day of Season A, which was April 13. I talked to the landowner of a farm near Red Wing, and he noted that he had been seeing a large flock of birds using a picked corn field regularly.
So, I set up my blind in the far corner of that field, with help from the landowner’s cousin. When we got to the spot, we looked out the window of his pickup truck and saw a flock of 25-30 birds feeding in the picked corn field. There were several adult toms strutting for more than a dozen hens. Needless to say, I was excited.
At the far end of the field where I set up was a finger of woods that went back in quite a ways. I saw some large oak trees that looked good for roosting, so I was optimistic about opening day.
I climbed into my blind well before dawn, and let things quiet down. Then, as it started getting light, birds began to sound off. There were hens yelping and toms gobbling. There also was the sound of juvenile toms trying to gobble. More than 30 years of turkey hunting have helped me learn and identify the range of sounds made by turkeys. There was at least one first-year tom, called a jake, roosted within about 50 yards of my blind.
The trick to getting close to roosted birds is to come in well before sunrise — like an hour before — to take advantage of their poor night vision. I got there plenty early and was hopeful birds would show up in the field in front of my blind.
It didn’t take long. Two hens sauntered out of the woods to my left and began feeding in the field. I knew more birds, including toms, would soon follow. Actually, it took longer than I expected.
Finally, about a half hour after the hens came out, I heard a gobble in the field to my right just over a small rise in the terrain. I gave some soft calls — clucks and purrs — and got my gun ready.
Eventually, I saw a red head pop up over the rise. A gobbler was coming in! I waited for him to come over the rise so I could see his full body. When he did, I realized he was a jake. In a matter of seconds, three more jakes joined him.
It was a very cool sight, but I wanted to wait for a mature tom with a long beard to come in. So, I passed on the jakes. The hung around for a bit, then turned and went back the way they had come. They continued to gobble, and proved to me that sometimes jakes can gobble like mature toms.
A little while later, a longbeard came out into the field and walked across, but he was too far away. My calls got him to stop, but he did not alter his travel route. Eventually, he got to the other side and disappeared into the woods.
Maybe a half hour later, a fifth jake appeared and walked out into the field and toward my decoy spread. I could have shot him, but I let him walk. With this much bird activity, I figured it was just a matter of time before a longbeard came within range.
Things got quiet for a while, then my phone buzzed. It was my brother Pat from Colorado, and I decided to take the call. He could hear me whisper, so we talked for about 10 minutes.
As I was hanging up, I heard a loud racket to right of my blind and behind me slightly. I recognized a sound I don’t hear very often — fighting purrs. Males does this throughout the breeding season when they are fighting for dominance in the flock — and breeding rights.
I grabbed my gun quickly and peeked out the right side of the blind. A longbeard stepped into a small shooting lane I had made in the brush and stood there looking toward my decoys. I had a jake decoy with a real tail fan, plus two hens.
The longbeard seemed hesitant, then turned to his right and headed back into some brush. I got nervous about missing my chance, but then another bird stepped into the same shooting lane. I saw a red head and knew he was a male, and I assumed he was a longbeard like the first one.
I lined up my fiber optic sights on the bird and fired. He dropped where he stood, and the other birds scattered.
When I walked up to the bird, I was surprised to discover that he was a jake. The telltale short, stumpy beard greeted me when I turned the bird over.
I was a tad disappointed, as I like to shoot a longbeard when I can. But, that’s the way it goes. I have shot plenty of birds over the years, both adult toms and jakes, so I’m happy with whatever I am able to get. I always make sure to thank the Lord for whatever I am able to harvest.
One benefit of a young bird is the meat is more tender. Older birds can be tough, which won’t be a problem in this case.
And, I have big plans for this bird. I am going to make wild turkey/wild rice casserole for a group of college students tomorrow night, along with venison cheeseburger on a stick. We are gathering for a special Saturday night tradition called Lord’s Day. It features praise and worship, special prayers and dinner.
Some of the students have had wild game. In fact, two of them have shot wild turkeys. For some, this will be their first meal of wild game.
I am super excited to prepare this feast!