There I was on the edge of the woods along a ridge in Wisconsin Tuesday, the last day of the spring turkey season.
It had been a very tough spring. I did manage to shoot a young tom, called a jake, during Season D, but my other bonus tags went unfilled. The gobbling was way down this year, but I decided to try one last time on the last day of Season F.
I had gone to one property and called a hen in to my decoy, but no toms showed. So, I decided to pack up my gear and my shotgun to head to another property.
Actually, I went there to work on trimming shooting lanes for one of my deer stands. It was about 2 in the afternoon and getting hot and humid. Not exactly prime conditions for getting turkeys active, not to mention that the peak of breeding was long past and most toms were losing interest in trying to find a hen to breed.
So, I was quite shocked to hear a gobble right as I got out of the car. A nice little surprise, but I figured it was a fluke. Plenty of times in prior outings, I would hear a bird gobble once, maybe twice, then shut up and never gobble again.
I thought this was going to happen yet again.
I was wrong. He gobbled a few more times, then a hen started clucking and cutting (fast and louder clucking) in response. I was between the gobbler and the hen, which is the perfect scenario.
There was only one problem. I was on land where gun hunting was not allowed by the landowner, and I did not have either my compound bow nor my crossbow, both of which are legal in Wisconsin.
Too bad. Out of desperation, I called the landowner to see if he might be willing to make an exception and let me use a shotgun just this one time.
No dice. He was concerned about his neighbors and the risk that they would get upset if a gun went off. I certainly understand and respect his desire to be sensitive to his neighbors. Actually, I think that’s a noble thing on his part.
So, I decided to slip into the woods and try to call the tom in. I thought if I got lucky, maybe I could get some footage of him with my iPhone.
I also realized it would be a good exercise in trying to work a bird into shooting range. I was all for that, as it had been all too rare this spring for me.
Because I had become so familiar with the property, I knew the bird was on a flat bench downhill from the top of the ridge. I also knew where there was an open spot in the thick cover that I could go to and see down to the bench.
I toyed with the bird and did some calling on the edge of the woods. He gobbled feverishly, then a second tom joined in. They gobbled to every soft cluck and purr I did, and would even double, triple and quadruple.
This was the most fired up bird I had heard the entire spring, in Minnesota or Wisconsin. Who’d have thought I would encounter such a gobbler on the last day of the season, when most toms supposedly were losing interest in breeding, and during the heat of the day, when toms often shut down and hang out in the shade?
These birds apparently didn’t read the script about what they were “supposed to do.” In fact, they proved a statement made many times by my turkey hunting mentor, Steve Huettl, who helps run Gamehide clothing. He says that the only thing that you can predict about turkeys is that they are unpredictable.
That is precisely why I didn’t thing to pack my crossbow for possible use. I thought there was no way I would find active birds in the afternoon this late in the season.
Well, not only were these birds active, but they also were quite eager to come over and investigate the hen calls they were hearing. They gobbled often as they worked their way down the ridge toward me. I had a perfect vantage point in some bushes overlooking the bench.
Sure enough, one of the toms showed. I didn’t have my facemask on, so he saw my face and spooked. But, had I been hunting this bird, I would have been well concealed. He was about 25 yards away, which was a very makable shot with my crossbow. In fact, less than a week earlier, I had sighted it in and hit the bullseye at 40 yards.
Oh well. I know that if I had been able to use my shotgun, I would have taken this bird. That is consolation enough. I have killed about 25 turkeys over the years, including two this year, one in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin (both jakes). So, it wasn’t a huge disappointment not to get this one.
The important thing is, I learned a valuable lesson for next year. I definitely plan to hunt this property with my crossbow. The birds tend to move along the ridge, and I know how to set up on them now. That bodes well for next spring. Plus, there is very little hunting pressure in this area. There is one guy who came out to bow hunt earlier in the spring, but that’s it.
I can’t wait to go after them. I also am excited about the other properties I hunt in Wisconsin. I spent lots of time to try and learn where and how the birds move, plus I gained access to some new properties. So, I will have plenty of places to go next year.
As I get ready to put my gear into storage, I have a few observations about items that I used. I would like to name and comment on some of the best products I used this year:
- Dave Smith Decoy. My brother Joe has been using them for three years and swears by them. He has been bugging me to get one. But, they’re spendy, costing $120 each. After seeing his, I decided to buy one when I found a sale price of $107 online at Scheels. I set it up Tuesday morning and called a hen right to the decoy. She circled it for several minutes and eventually started pecking at it. I think the realism of the decoy is what caused her to do this. Can’t wait until a tom sees it next year! My brother has taken several toms with this decoy, and says it holds up very well to multiple uses.
- Tom Teaser Dominant Hen box call. This short, compact box call is a real beauty, and I used it many times this year. It produces such great sounds, the best of any box call I have ever owned. I get great high and low tones that you like to produce on yelps, which is how real hens sound. I have two of them, and I probably will not buy another box call as long as I have these.
- Dead End Game Calls double-reed batwing mouth diaphragm call. This call is designed primarily for soft calls, like clucks and purrs. I used this call to lure the tom in Wisconsin into view. If I had had my crossbow, I think it would have been lights out for this bird. The company also makes a ghost cut call that works for soft calls and also the kee kee run that turkeys do in the fall.
- Woodhaven Red Wasp mouth call and Cluck ‘N Purr pot friction call. The Red Wasp make raspy yelps and cuts, and the pot call makes the softest clucks and purrs you will ever hear. These two calls cover both ends of the spectrum, and I know I will be using them for years.
- Quaker Boy push button calls. I have used one of them for years and finished off many birds with soft clucks and purrs. They recently came up with a newer version in which the rod on which the striker plate is mounted does not extend beyond the call box. This means it will never accidentally get bumped in your vest and make a squeak when you don’t want it to. It makes beautiful soft calls and I had it in my vest this spring. I will use it next year, but I can’t get myself to stop using my older one, as it has called in many birds and given me great confidence in it.
- Winchester Long Beard ammo. This stuff is phenomenal. It produces the tightest patterns of any ammo I have ever tried, and made 60-yard shots possible. That could come in handy in certain situations, so I will be sure to have it with me next year.