A glorious day afield

April 4, 2011

Faith Outdoors

A scouting trip for wild turkeys in Wisconsin wasn’t going the way I had hoped last Thursday.

I was driving the country roads with Chris Thompson from the St. Paul Seminary. We were on a mission to find turkeys for our young boys to hunt during the Wisconsin youth turkey hunt that takes place this weekend.

The problem was, there was lots of snow still on the ground. That means the turkeys will be more concentrated, which can be good if they are concentrated on land you can hunt.

That’s what we were hoping when we pulled into the driveway of a 40-acre property owned by someone Chris knows and has given permission to us to hunt. It’s where my son, William, shot his first deer back in October.

Snowed in

My heart sank as we pulled up the driveway and saw snow everywhere. We went for a walk and encountered snow up to our ankles in places — and not one turkey track. The birds look for bare ground and food at this time of year, and this piece of land had neither.

So, I suggested we go for a ride and try to look for turkeys. Our first stop was at the land next door. It was a big piece with both a cut corn field and a nice chunk of woods. We saw a statue of Mary in the back yard and were hopeful of a positive encounter with the landowner.

But, we ended up having no encounter at all. Nobody was home. So, we continued on. We drove past a nice trout stream and Chris got out of his truck and walked over to the bank and showed me how he would fish the stream. It won’t be long until he starts casting flies he has tied himself. He’s hoping to tie a few with turkey feathers.

The trumpet sounds

A mile or two later, we noticed a waterlogged corn field to our right. First, we saw a few geese, then something that got Chris very exicted — a pair of trumpeter swans. We slowed down to take a closer look at these beautiful birds, then I pulled out my camera to photograph them (see picture). As I did so, Chris talked about how they are making a comeback here in the U.S. The band around the neck of one of the two birds indicates they are being watched and studied.

Turkeys at last

We took our time watching the swans, then continued on in our quest to find turkeys. We drove mile after mile without seeing a bird, then spotted a lone tom walking across a snow-covered field on its way to a bare spot to feed. That was nice, but I wanted to see more birds. Eventually, we came to a spot where there was a large field of harvested corn. We drove about a block or two, then Chris spotted some deer in the corn.

There were about eight or 10 of them, and I looked at them through my binoculars. Then, I saw some dark shapes among the deer — turkeys! We watched for several minutes, then saw nine hens exit the field.

Bingo! We drove to the nearest farm house to find out who owned the land. The farmer came out to talk to us, then said the land belonged to his next-door neighbor. He went on to say he had been seeing turkeys on his land, too. When we asked for permission for our two boys to hunt, he said he would have to check and see if his nephew was planning to hunt.

At least, he said maybe. But, the most valuable thing we got from that conversation was the name and location of his neighbor. We were going to drive over and talk to him.

God at  work

As we neared his driveway, I said a short prayer out loud, “Lord, help us get this land to hunt. Amen.”

I was worried he wouldn’t be at home. His neighbor told us he goes south for the winter and may not be back yet. When we pulled in, we didn’t see any evidence he was back in town. There was no vehicle in the driveway, the garage door was closed and there were no lights on inside the house.

I ran the doorbell anyway and waited. Nothing. I rang it again and stood there for a few seconds. Still nothing.

I turned to walk back to the truck, then heard some noise inside the house. I went back to the door and an older man opened it. I introduced myself and Chris, and asked about taking our boys to hunt.

He paused, shook his head and said no. Sensing the Lord bringing an opportunity, I continued the conversation. Eventually, he gave us permission to take our boys there to hunt.

Praise God! First, he answered my prayer to find turkeys, then he answered my prayer to get permission to hunt on this piece of land. I was so excited I could barely stand still. We asked if we could take a look around the property, and the man said yes.

Bad hunter behavior

Turns out he used to hunt himself. In fact, he had built an enclosed ground blind on the property and hunted it for a number of years before giving it up. What I think made him hesitant to give us permission to hunt is a bad experience he had with hunters several years ago. He gave a guy permission to hunt deer, then the guy came back with nine other guys. They did a deer drive through his woods and did lots of shooting.

The landowner didn’t like that at all. I get the feeling he has been saying no to hunters ever since. Can’t say I blame him. I think it’s awful for a hunter to ask permission for himself, then bring a gang of others back out with him. Sadly, I’ve heard stories like this before. I once had a landowner tell me he gave a guy permission to hunt and he came back with 20 other guys. Unbelievable!

I told the landowner that I don’t agree with this practice and that we will not do this. By the time we were done talking, he seemed much more comfortable with the idea of having us come out and hunt.

Final preparations

Later this week, we will go and set up a blind for Chris and his son, Pete. I gave Chris a turkey call and told him to practice with it. I also am loaning Pete a 20-gauge shotgun to use. We bought the shells and patterned the gun on Saturday.

I checked the weather forecast and it looks good for most of the week. In fact, it will get warmer later in the week. That should get the toms gobbling and in the mood to go after hens.

My prayer this week is that the hunt will be exciting for both William and Pete and that they will shoot straight when the opportunity comes!

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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