Tag Archives: turkey

Friend’s first spring turkey hunt: three birds, two shots

April 24, 2015

0 Comments

I was excited when I climbed out of bed at 4 a.m. today. The plan was to take my friend Mike out for a wild turkey hunt. We had set up the blind a few days ago, on the first day of Minnesota’s B Season, later in the afternoon. We hunted and did some calling, but Mike had to go after only about half an hour.

This time, we were going there at dawn to try and hear some toms gobbling on the roost. We got there nice and early, just as it was starting to get light. I had set up my blind on the edge of a picked corn field, where turkeys, deer and other wildlife like to hang out and feed.

We heard nary a gobble, but deer started filtering out into the corn field shortly after sunrise. A group of five got to within about 25 yards. Mike used his cell phone to shoot some video, which was fun.

But, no gobbles and no turkeys. Some different birds — geese — landed in the corn field and were making quite a racket with their honking.

That went on for at least an hour or so, with me doing some hen calls about every 15 minutes to try and lure in some gobblers. We were going to stay in the blind until 8, then get out and do some walking around and calling.

Before we reached the deadline, Mike spotted some movement about 100 yards away in some tall grass. Eventually, several turkey heads came into view. Three birds walked out into the field, but I couldn’t tell if they were males (legal in the spring) or females (not legal until fall).

I was kicking myself for not remembering to bring my binoculars. Just in case any of them were toms, I started doing some soft calling to lure them to our decoys.

It worked. The birds slowly started moving in our direction. Eventually, they got close enough to where I knew they were jakes. I could clearly see their red heads, and I saw a small beard on one of them. I pointed it out to Mike, and said he could shoot anytime.

He did, but the bird didn’t go down. He shot again, and the three birds went into the woods. He thought the bird he shot laid down, but we’re not sure. We got out of the blind and went over to check it out, but the birds ran off. We found blood, but the bird was gone.

We looked around for at least a half hour, but never found the bird. I was disappointed, but Mike got over it very quickly. He reminded me of all the wildlife we had seen that morning, and thus he considered the hunt a success.

I simply told him that if he enjoyed the outing and felt it was worthwhile, that was good enough for me.

It’s not always about tagging an animal, I have to remind myself. Mike takes joy in the simple pleasure of being in the outdoors. And, the best part is, he was able to bring his 8-year-old son along.

Little James got to witness some cool things, and I think we have a hunter in the making. After all, he got up at 4 to come with us. Mike said James barely slept that night.

Yes, indeed, I think James has a future in hunting. And, I hope his dad gets another chance at a tom next year!

Continue reading...

My daughter’s first turkey hunt

April 17, 2015

0 Comments

I have always said shooting a turkey is like hitting a knuckleball. A gobbler’s head dances around like the specialty pitch of Major League Baseball’s famous Niekro brothers.

How can a youth hit such a target? That was the question weighing heavily on my mind as I prepared to take my daughter Claire on her first wild turkey hunt. Opening day was Wednesday, and we hit the woods well before dawn on this beautiful spring morning. The hunt came one day after Claire’s 13th birthday.

I had done some scouting, and put up a blind in a good area. It was at the top of a ridge where a picked corn field and cow pasture meet, right on the edge of the woods. Back in the woods were some good trees for roosting.

I was hoping a lonesome tom or two would be there come Wednesday morning. I had taken Claire out to shoot the 20-gauge shotgun she would be using, and she hit the paper turkey target just like she was supposed to.

But, a real bird is a far cry from a stationary one. That was my biggest concern going into the hunt. I had a feeling she might get a shot opportunity. The question was: Would she connect?

I was about to find out. We got there extremely early, like about 5:15 a.m. because I thought birds might roost close by and I wanted to get there in the dark to avoid spooking them.

Turns out I was right on. Two gobblers were roosted no more than 50 yards away, maybe closer. They started gobbling hard, then I made some calls. They flew down pretty quickly and only had to go about 20 yards to be visible. I saw them through the trees to the left of the blind. They were going in and out of strut. I think they were between 25 ad 35 yards away. If I had been hunting, I would have dropped one of them easily.

But, Claire had trouble picking them up through the trees, and she couldn’t get a good sight picture. I thought they would keep coming our way and work toward the decoys we had set up in the corn field in front of us. Instead, they veered off and walked just inside the woods to our left. Claire got a better look, but the birds were now out of range, and they kept going away from us.

Eventually, they crossed the cow pasture and came into the corn field. They started working toward us, and then I heard a hen. She would whistle and then yelp. It was an odd sound. Then we saw more hens. I mimicked this hen, which I think was the boss, and she started coming toward me. Eventually, six more hens appeared and they all came into the decoys, which were only about 10 yards in front of us.

Perfect! The toms hung back, but eventually worked closer. I thought they were about 20-25 yards away, so I got Claire set up for the shot. One of the birds stopped and ran his head up. I asked Claire if she had a good sight picture and she said yes. So, I told her to shoot, and she did.

But, she missed and the birds took off. Later, we got out of the blind and I went to where I thought the birds were standing. I think it was more like 30 yards. That’s makable with the 20-gauge, but not an easy shot. I think the real problem was Claire was nervous and wasn’t holding the gun steady, even with the shooting sticks she was using. She said she felt pressure and was struggling with the shot. I told her it’s no big deal that she missed. At first, she thought I was disappointed with her, but I said I wasn’t at all.

We went over to an adjoining property after that and set up in a spot I thought would be good. Just after we set the decoys up, we heard gobbling close, and hustled to sit down. It went quiet for a while, then I yelped on my box call about 10 a.m. A bird gobbled right away farther away than the first ones.

Then, I heard what I’m pretty sure was a jake (young tom) yelping. It got closer, then we saw two birds step into the field. We had some brush in front of us, so I had trouble identifying them. One was a hen and I think the other was a jake. I also think there may have been more birds in the woods that didn’t come out. These birds milled around for about 20-30 minutes and never came close enough for a shot. Then, they went back into the woods. Claire wanted to be done at that point. She didn’t want to sit any more.

All in all, it was a great morning as far as action goes. I’m hoping I can talk Claire into going out one more time, but as of right now, she doesn’t think she wants to. She wanted to try it, but doesn’t seem to have interest in continuing to go out. We’ll see.

Of course, I wanted Claire to be able to get a bird, but in the end, I know turkey hunting is very hard and it’s common for young hunters to miss their first shot at a bird. I sure hope she’ll try again. I think if she sticks with it, she can hit a bird eventually. The nice thing is Minnesota changed the rules for youth, and now kids under 18 can hunt the entire season across the entire state. They no longer have to pick a five-day season and specific zone to hunt.

That opens up a lot more opportunities. I support this because it’s important to be able to have good opportunities to introduce youth to hunting. Stats suggest fewer kids are doing it, so we need to do what we can to get them out there.

It’s a tougher sell, as hunting competes with things like sports and video games. And, it’s much harder than things like that. My knuckleball theory was proved true once again on Wednesday.

And, that’s what keeps me coming back for more!

Continue reading...

A girl’s first turkey hunt

March 31, 2015

0 Comments

Part of the commitment to going on a hunt is taking concrete steps to prepare. For my 12-year-old daughter Claire, that meant shooting the gun she will hunt with — for the first time.

Pulling out the 20-gauge shotgun on Sunday afternoon and holding it in her hands was a big deal to her. Even more so was putting her finger on the trigger and pulling it.

That’s why I was slow and deliberate about getting her ready for the shot. We talked about recoil, and I explained how to hold the gun to minimize the impact from the shot. She understood, but still was reluctant to ignite the gunpowder with her finger stroke.

The obvious question any child her age would ask is: Is this going to hurt?

Thankfully, the recoil from a 20-gauge is considerably less than a 12, so I was able to tell her truthfully that the recoil is not a big deal.

The good news is, after firing the gun, she agreed with me.

What’s more, she also drilled the turkey target in the head and neck, just like she was supposed to. There’s nothing like success to bring a smile to the face of a youngster. I think I was more pumped about her good shot than she was.

Yet, I fully understand that hitting a target and hitting a live turkey are two very different things. However, confidence plays a huge role in being able to execute a shot at a real bird. Succeeding in practice, especially right away, really helps once they go out into the field.

The truth is, hitting a real turkey can be easy. I say CAN be because it can also be tremendously difficult and nearly impossible at times. I like to say shooting a turkey can be like hitting a knuckleball with a baseball bat. The unpredictable nature of the bird, especially a tom, can really put a lot of stress on a hunter.

But, there is a way to help combat that — use decoys. Another is to hunt from a blind, as turkeys seem oblivious to movement inside a blind.

Finally, the last piece is to hunt unpressured birds. You can do that one of two ways: 1. Hunt property that hasn’t had other hunters on it, or 2. Hunt the very first season, before other hunters can pressure the birds.

I’m opting for No. 2. Fortunately, the DNR has structured the hunt to allow youth hunters to pick any season they wish without having to enter the lottery. Naturally, I chose the first season, which is April 15-19. I got landowner permission for two of my favorite properties, which are near Red Wing. So, we’re good to go.

What I’m hoping for is to draw a bird into the decoys, then have it stick around and display in front of them, as gobblers often will do. Sometimes, they shy away from decoys and don’t come in. But, usually, if they do, they’ll stick around for a while. And, with us being in the blind, Claire will be able to move all she wants inside of it to prepare for the shot. Plus, I’ll be able to whisper to her and help her prepare to shoot.

Once she’s ready, I’ll simply do some excited calls from within the blind, which generally freezes the bird and gets it to lift its head up. Hopefully, she then will do exactly what she did in practice.

One other thing I will do is have her watch some turkey videos on TV and practice aiming the gun at them. Someone suggested this to me years ago. This will give her practice at acquiring the sight picture and picking the right moment to shoot.

This is fun stuff, and I can’t wait to take Claire out. The weather is looking good, and if it stays warm, the birds will break up their winter flocks and spread out more. That is very helpful for hunting. I have hunted early seasons before, and always seem to get more action when it’s a warmer and earlier spring versus a colder and later one.

This one looks a bit warmer and earlier, but probably closer to normal, which we haven’t had in a while. I’m optimistic about the hunt, but hoping we have some nice, warm weather during Claire’s season. If we get that, I think we’re in business.

Continue reading...

Sportshow time!

March 27, 2015

0 Comments

Hopefully, a turkey like this will come into range when it comes time to hunt this spring.

Hopefully, a turkey like this will come into range when it comes time to hunt this spring.

Later today, I will be heading to the Minneapolis Convention Center for the annual Progressive Northwest Sportshow. It’s on my don’t-miss list, and it runs through Sunday.

For hunting and fishing enthusiasts like me, it has a little bit of everything. I always look for booths and products related to my two greatest outdoor passions — bow hunting and turkey hunting. It’s nice to get a nice “fix” of the outdoors as we make the transition from winter to spring. Today being the first official day of spring, it’s the perfect time to go!

There’s lots to cover, and one nice thing is the exercise I get walking from one end of the exhibition hall to the other. Hopefully, that will help get me in shape for the time when I will chase down gobblers this spring. I am hunting in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, plus I will be taking out three other hunters and trying to help them get birds.

One of them is my daughter Claire. We are going to shoot the 20-gauge shotgun she will be using Sunday afternoon, and I am going to buy sights to put on it before we go. She is worried about the recoil, but I hope she won’t be too bothered by it. I’ll be sure to bring some padding for her shoulder. I have taken her three older brothers turkey hunting, and I’m thrilled her time has come. This should be a fun weekend!

Continue reading...

Gorgeous weather triggers big ideas

March 16, 2015

0 Comments

Something happens when the thermometer rises into the 50s in March. My entire outlook seems to improve. In short, it puts a smile on my face.

And, a few ideas in my head. I acted on one of them last week. For several years, I have been wanting to do some deer scouting and stand placement in the spring. I have read about it, thought about it, dreamed about it. Finally, this year, I did something about it.

I went to the property I bow hunt in Wisconsin and set up two ladder stands, one on either side of a major trail that goes along a ridge and through some thick cover. It is the narrowest funnel on the property, and there is only one trail going through it. So, putting a stand on either side means I can hunt it in any wind. In bow hunting, that’s huge. I did some trimming of shooting lanes, too. I am not quite finished, but will go back in the next few weeks to complete the job. Then, I will be ready to bow hunt this fall.

I have more work to do, and hope to get out again this week. The job was made more difficult by the fact that I lost permission to hunt on a great metro property after two guys with a lot of money leased it for the year. I may get back on again someday, but for now, I am required to go out and remove my three stands. I did that, and put two of those stands up in Wisconsin.

I also have been thinking and planning for turkey hunting this spring. I will be taking my daughter Claire during the first season, and I am very excited about that. It will be her very first hunt. She told me a few weeks ago she wants to go, but still isn’t sure she will be able to pull the trigger on a bird. That’s fine with me. I just look forward to the opportunity to take her out into the woods.

I will hunt Season E in Minnesota (May 5-9), then the D Season in Wisconsin, which begins May 6. That has been a great time period to hunt, and I hope it will be again this year.

Sure would be nice to do some fishing, too. I met someone who lives on Big Stone Lake, which lies on the border of Minnesota and South Dakota. That lake is open year round, so I could go out there any time after the ice melts. I may get in touch with him to see if that will work. I also know that the Bishop’s Charity Fishing Tournament for the Diocese of Sioux Falls will be in June, so I could go out there for that event. I’m sure I could both fish the tournament and cover it. That would be fun, plus I could take home some walleyes for a fish fry.

The biggest challenge, as always, is time. Life gets very busy in May, so it could get tough to squeeze in some outdoor outings. But, June is looking pretty good right now. I would like to get out on the water at some point. Big Stone is about a 3-hour drive, which isn’t too bad. If there is a boat waiting for me there to go out in, it will be hard to pass up.

For now, I’ll work on the deer stands and start looking for strutting toms as I drive around. The mild winter should mean plenty of birds this spring. Even after our harsh winter last year, I still saw quite a few, and was able to harvest three mature gobblers. I plan to have three tags again this year, maybe four. Plus, I may try to get a bird with my bow this year. I’m going back and forth on that one. I will do some more checking into that. Sure would be fun to take a tom with my bow.

What’s fun right now is letting the warm weather fuel my dreams!

Continue reading...

Winter: A time for preparation

January 14, 2015

0 Comments

Unless you like to go ice fishing or coyote hunting, winter is the off season for outdoor pursuits. But, that doesn’t mean your only option is to sit idle and dream about the big fish you’ll catch once the ice thaws, or the big tom you’ll harvest after the snow melts.

Far from it. This can be an important time for getting ready for upcoming fishing and hunting seasons. Just today, I took an important step toward what I hope will be a productive bow hunting season in the fall. I went to A1 Archery in Hudson, Wis. to have the guys there do some work on my bow. I am having a new string put on, plus a new sight.

This is a great time of year for that. First, most shops aren’t so busy, and thus have the time to help you and get the work done right. Second, it gives you plenty of time after getting the bow back to make sure it’s functioning properly. With archery, so many little things can go wrong, and almost any of them can cost you a deer in the fall. Now’s the time to get on top of equipment issues.

This is also a time to do research on new gear you’re interested in trying. Thankfully, I did my research two years ago on strings, and settled on Vapor Trail. Actually, the guys at A1 highly recommended this string, and the research I did online confirmed that this is a great product. I had one put on my bow at A1 two years ago and it has worked great for me. I have harvested three deer with this string, and I am very happy with the results.

One good thing about an archery shop like A1 is that they know good products and feel confident recommending them. The guys who work there are bow hunters, plus they talk to many bow hunters who come through the doors. If a product isn’t good, they’ll find out about it and will not recommend it to people like me.

That’s why I quickly took their advice in November and got Beaman arrows and NAP Killzone broadheads. I didn’t regret it. The very next day, I shot a doe with one of them, taking a steep quartering away shot that hit the mark and caused the doe to fall at less than 100 yards. A week later, I took another doe with a perfect double-lung pass through at 15 yards. She went only about 60 yards, and I saw her fall. I’m sold on them and plan to use them next year.

With all of these great experiences under my belt, I was confident when the guys at A1 recommended a one-pin sight by HHA Sports. After using a four-pin sight since buying my bow, I decided a one-pin was the way to go, primarily because almost all of the shots I take are less than 30 yards. My friend and bow hunting mentor, Steve Huettl, has shot several trophy bucks, all of them at 30 yards or less. He says he likes to keep his shots short because lots of things can go wrong on longer shots. The way I figure, if a guy like him who’s a much better shot than me doesn’t take long shots, I shouldn’t, either.

Thus, only one sight pin would be needed if I decide to keep my shots under 30 yards. There’s very little difference in point of impact from 5 to 25 yards, no more an 2 inches. So, only one pin is needed to shoot in that distance range. Having this sight will keep my sight picture uncluttered and simplify the process — I will never accidentally use the wrong pin.

The nice thing about A1 is the guys in the shop will install the new string and cables, mount the new sight and paper tune my bow. All I’ll have to do is sight it in, which I will be able to do in their indoor range. Then, I’ll have several months of shooting until the next hunting opportunity — spring turkey season. I have an opportunity to bow hunt a property in Wisconsin where I bow hunted for deer this fall. Not sure if I’ll do it, as a turkey is a much smaller target than a deer. But, I might give it a try. These will be unpressured birds, so I may have a better chance at luring them in close. I would want a bird to be no farther than 20 yards away, with 10 being much prefered. I’ll admit, it sure would be a great achivement to get a gobbler with a bow. We’ll see what I think come May.

More tips

Speaking of turkey hunting, here’s another thing you can do this winter — get landowner permission to hunt. In some cases, it’s merely a matter of picking up the phone and calling people who have let you hunt in past years. In other cases, it may be calling someone for the first time. In that case, I like to get on the phone as early as possible. Waiting runs the risk of somebody beating you to it. Plus, landowners may well be friendlier during one of the first calls they get from a hunter. Some landowners get lots of calls every year, and I wonder if they get tired of them after a while. Right about now is when I get on the phone, and the results have been great over the years.

It’s looking like I may be taking my 12-year-old daughter Claire out turkey hunting for the first time. She has expressed interest, and insists that she will go if I offer to take her. However, she is reluctant to miss school, and reluctant to get up early. Rising well before dawn is a fact of life for turkey hunters, as the most gobbling of the day starts right before sunrise. It’s a nice treat for any turkey hunter, but especially beginners. Maybe I can talk Claire into getting up early just once. But, like her mother, she is NOT a morning person. So, we’ll see.

Continue reading...

Wild turkey hunt is awesome!

May 14, 2014

0 Comments

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!

Continue reading...

It’s turkey time!

May 2, 2014

0 Comments

Strutting gobblers like these are what every turkey hunter longs to see.

Strutting gobblers like these are what every turkey hunter longs to see.

My turkey hunting seasons are just around the corner, and I can’t wait! I am super pumped, as it looks like the weather will improve next week. My Minnesota season begins on Tuesday, May 6, and it looks like we will be in the 60s, even 70s for all five days of it.

The next day, Wednesday, May 7, my Wisconsin seasons begins. There’s an overlap between the two seasons, but I plan on driving back and forth, if need be, to fill my tags.

Obviously, the best scenario would be to get my bird in Minnesota on the first day, then just concentrate on Wisconsin after that. But, with the cold, wet weather we’ve had, I don’t know what the birds will be doing next week. The good weather should get them active.

There’s no doubt that weather plays a key role in turkey hunting. Nicer weather does seem to correlate to increased activity by birds, but that doesn’t guarantee a bird will come in. Conversely, bad weather doesn’t shut down breeding activity entirely. Yet, the 15-inch snowfall last May 2 did, in fact, keep the birds roosted for almost two days.

Thank the Lord there is no snow in the forecast for next week. I do think we’ve turned the corner on that. Now, it’s just a matter of figuring out where the birds are and what they’re doing. I’m hunting properties I have been on for the last six or eight years, so I have some idea where the turkeys might be.

What I’m really hoping is that they’ll be vocal, both in the roost at dawn and, especially, when they’re on the ground. I’m hoping to be able to slip in close to some loud-mouth toms and convince them I’m their next girlfriend.

Stay tuned for a full report on my week in the woods!

Continue reading...

Thinking ahead to spring

February 10, 2014

0 Comments

Only minutes into taking my dog for a walk yesterday, I knew it was a mistake. It was really cold, and the winds started biting into my face right away. I went ahead with the full 3 miles, but the last mile was brutal.

I needed a dose of spring after that, and I simply turned my thoughts to the upcoming turkey season. No doubt there are people who are worried about turkeys freezing to death in these sub-zero temperatures, but 30-plus years of turkey hunting have shown me that these birds are tough!

I have hunted after some of the worst winters we’ve had, and the birds always seem to be present in good numbers come spring. I once talked a wild turkey biologist, and he assured me the birds can withstand the coldest weather we face, as long as they can find food.

In the areas where I hunt, it’s not a problem. There’s always spilled corn and soybeans left over from the fall harvest, plus at least one landowner I know feeds the birds in the form of spreading manure on his fields. What I learned years ago is that there’s a lot of undigested corn in the manure, and the turkeys know it. In fact, one farmer I know says the birds always come running out of the woods when they see him spreading manure.

I think bird numbers will be just fine this spring. In fact, I expect a high number of mature gobblers when I get out in the field in May. The early and mild spring of 2012 put a lot of jakes in the woods last year. Those birds will be mature this year. And, the poor weather throughout the spring cut down on the hunting and resulted in fewer birds taken, which means more survivors.

So, I think it could be a very good year. Of course, it all depends on weather. I do NOT want another spring like last year, when there was cold and snow during just about every time period in Minnesota and Wisconsin. That made the hunting unbelievably tough. I managed to get a bird in Wisconsin, but struck out in Minnesota.

As long as we don’t have a nasty snowstorm in April or May, I think I’ll be fine. I have been working on securing permission to hunt my usual properties in both states, and am close to being all set. One more “yes” in Minnesota and I’m ready to go there. In Wisconsin, I’m good to go.

Sometimes, staying on good terms with landowners and getting permission year after year is a challenge. One guy I talked with brought up some bad experiences he’s had with hunters. A hunter one year asked for permission to hunt, then brought others with him to hunt. This landowner didn’t like it, and let me know that such a tactic will not work with him.

I’m grateful that he was honest in telling me about it — and was still willing to let me hunt. He’s got an excellent piece of land to hunt, and it is adjacent to another property I have permission to hunt. One of the best spots is right near the property line, so it’s good to have permission on both properties. Plus, this landowner has a great roosting area on his land. The birds roost there regularly, and now I can move in on them.

I have done a little practicing with my calls, but not much. Some years, I have practiced very intensely, which can drive my wife crazy. I’m going to back off on the practicing this year. I certainly don’t want to be rusty when I hit the woods, but I also have learned that there are many factors that determine success, and there are things every bit as important as being a good caller. In fact, if you focus too much on calling, you can end up neglecting other important factors.

My seasons in Minnesota and Wisconsin are almost exactly three months away. I cant’ wait!

 

Continue reading...

2013 Outdoors highlights

January 2, 2014

0 Comments

As I look ahead to outdoor adventures in 2014, I think it’s worthwhile to take a look back on 2013 and recall the blessings of the year. There were many highlights, and I offer this list of the best ones:

Snow bird

It might seem tough to name turkey hunting in the snow – in May! – as a highlight, but May 5 will go down as both a unique and awesome day in the turkey woods. Just days earlier, the area I hunt in Wisconsin was blanketed by 15 inches of snow. It was very strange driving out to my hunting spot and seeing snow everywhere. It looked more like December than May.

I must admit, I had to fight off feelings of despair during my hour-long drive to Ellsworth the morning of my hunt. Would the turkeys be radically affected by the snow? Would they still be interested in breeding? Would they gobble?

Turns out, the birds were quite active indeed. In fact, I had a nice 2-year-old tom on the ground in less than an hour. He gobbled very eagerly on the roost, and I coaxed him in with some aggressive hen calling followed by some soft calling at the end. The bird was standing in the snow when I shot him, and I was sitting in the snow against a tree. It was the first time in almost 30 years of turkey hunting that I had hunted in snow that actually was accumulated on the ground.

It was a very unusual hunt, and a very cool experience overall. But, I NEVER want to hunt in snow again in May. Let’s hope this is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

I did continue to hunt after that because I had bonus tags that the state offers. The hunting was extremely difficult and the toms had lots of hens around. I believe this was caused by the fact that the snow destroyed eggs the hens had laid, so they went out to breed again. Thus, I had very little success calling another bird in. I had some jakes (young toms) come in fairly close, but they ended up not being in gun range. I fired, thinking they were, but they were too far and merely ran off at the shot.

The good news is I spent a lot of time in the woods and learned the properties well. So, i should be in fine shape this year. I look for it to be a good spring season. Two years ago, the early and warm spring caused a very good hatch, and there were lots of jakes running around during the 2013 season. That means lots of mature 2-year-olds this year. I can’t wait!

Buck for the fireplace

Just weeks after finishing my turkey hunting season, I got a call from Lee’s Taxidermy in Prescott, Wis. to let me know that my whitetail buck mount was done. It was the largest buck I had ever taken and I’m not sure if I will ever top it, or even match it. I took Joe, my oldest son, to the taxidermy shop to pick it up. Then, when I got home, I put it up on the fireplace.

Joe has a nice buck mount, too, and we discussed whose was better. Lee Schommer, the taxidermist, said his scored 151, and mine about 153. He did not take exact measurements of mine, but says whenever he tries to estimate the score of a buck, he’s usually within 2 inches of the exact score. So, bottom line is that our bucks are very even. The rack on Joe’s is thicker, but my rack is wider and has taller tines. Honestly, Joe and I are not competitive when it comes to trying to get the biggest rack. It was just fun to compare our buck mounts.

Claire’s first walleye

My 11-year-old daughter Claire caught her first walleye in June on Upper Red Lake. Due to a very busy schedule, we were able to run up to Upper Red for an evening of fishing. We contacted Bear Paw Guides and hired Tyler Brasel to guide Claire, my wife Julie and I for the evening. Just days earlier, the protected slot loosened to allow the taking of fish up to 20 inches, versus 17 prior to that. So, we were very optimistic about being able to catch fish to take home.

The trip did not disappoint. We had our four-fish limit for the three of us (12 fish total) in an hour, and Claire caught lots of fish, starting with her first-ever walleye. Tyler set her up with a bobber rig and it worked beautifully for Claire. Tyler has young kids of his own, so he is very good at helping children catch fish. He did an awesome job with Claire, and it’s a trip we will never forget. Hopefully, we can get back up there again this summer.

‘Tonka bass

I went out to Lake Minnetonka on the Fourth of July with my son Joe to try for some largemouth bass. He was home for the summer and wanted to do some fishing. I wasn’t sure how it would go, as I hadn’t been on the lake in years. However, I did very well on the lake when I did fish it regularly, and wanted to hit my old spots to see if they produced.

Turns out, one spot in particular was as good as it used to be. We caught several nice bass on it, including a feisty 18-incher, and I went home very satisfied. Joe got some action, too, although he was a bit rusty at fishing with plastic worms. Near the end, he started to get the hang of it, and pulling a bass over the gunwale put a smile on his face. I would definitely like to do some bass fishing in 2014!

Breakthrough with a bow

Of course, my top highlight of the year has to be getting my first deer with a bow. Everything came together on the morning of Nov. 6. A young buck with a small eight-point rack came walking by my stand at just 10 yards, giving me a perfect broadside shot. I drew back as he stepped past me and I quickly found his vital area with my 20-yard pin. All of my practice and preparation paid off with a perfect pass-through shot. Tracking was easy in the snow and I found my buck about 100 yards from where I took the shot. It’s hard to put into words the feeling of finding my deer after the shot. I had hit about a half dozen deer previously, but didn’t find a single one, including a small doe that I hit in late September. Ask any bow hunter, and they’ll tell you that failure to find a deer that’s hit is a very sick feeling. Hopefully, I’ll be able to duplicate my success next year.

Sons come through

It was also a good deer hunting year for my two oldest sons, Joe and Andy. Joe got a small whitetail doe on the last day of our hunt in Montana over Thanksgiving week, and Andy ended up taking a doe in Montana plus a doe in Minnesota. So, our freezer is full, plus we were able to give venison away. Our family has been feasting on venison in the last few weeks, and I’m sure our supply of meat will last into the spring and summer. There’s nothing like venison steaks on the grill!

One intriguing possibility for 2014 would be taking Claire turkey hunting. She has expressed interest, and I have said I will take her if she wants to go. She turns 12 in April, and that would be very fun to chase gobblers with her. She’s not sure if she actually could pull the trigger on an animal. But if we go out and call a bird in, and she decides not to shoot, that’s fine with me. I like going out into the woods, especially in the spring, so she won’t disappoint me if she decides to hold off on the shot. We’ll see what she says as we get closer to the turkey season.

The next thing I’ll do is contact landowners after the Wisconsin turkey lottery. I have been blessed to have several landowners who continue to let me hunt, and I can’t wait to get after those birds in 2014!

Continue reading...