A turkey in MN… and more!

May 10, 2012

Faith Outdoors

After hunting hard in Wisconsin for five days, it was time to get out in the woods in Minnesota. The hunting in Wisconsin was tough, and I managed to shoot a young male, called a jake. I took a shot at a mature tom at 30 yards, but missed.

Time after time, birds would hang up and not come all the way in, so frankly, I was expecting more of the same in Minnesota. I was prepared for difficult conditions, but also ready to try some new tactics to go after birds that might hang up.

My friend and expert turkey hunter, Steve Huettl, general manager of Gamehide, has spent a lot of time teaching me effective ways to hunt. He said if you can set up on a gobbler within 75 yards before you start calling, your odds of getting the bird to come within shotgun range (40 yards or less) dramatically increase.

With that in mind, I decided to hike a long ridge and try to find an active bird. I began my walk about 5:30 a.m. and started moving along the ridge, hoping to hear a gobble.

Sounding off

Unfortunately, I started hearing birds gobbling across the road. I had permission to hunt there, but figured I would strike up a bird on this ridge. I was hoping I wouldn’t regret my decision. At this point, it was too late to change. Before long, I heard a gobble in the distance on my side, and quickly began walking toward it. Steve has taught me to stop and listen every time I hear a crow call, and that’s exactly what I did when I heard this familiar sound.

To my surprise, right after the crow called, a tom sounded off very close. In fact, I already was even with the bird. I just slipped through some small trees and grass and got near the edge of the woods.

The turkey continued to gobble, and I eventually did some soft hen calls. He fired right back with an eager gobble, then added a few more. Thinking he was coming in, I got ready to shoot

But, he stayed put. Once again, I was faced with a hung-up bird. I thought about moving closer, than decided against it for fear of spooking the bird.

Good thing I did. Turns out he was still roosted in the tree. About 10 or 15 minutes after I sat down, I heard a ruckus in the trees and saw a black shape drop down to the ground.

Game on!

OK, I thought. Now, it’s show time. He gobbled a few times, then started swinging around to the right and toward me. There was a small clearing straight ahead of me, and I got into a shooting position.

It didn’t take long. In just a few minutes, I saw a head bobbing through the brush. Only a second or two later, I fired.

Things went still, and I briefly wondered if I had hit the bird. Then, I walked over and found him. The shot was only 21 yards. It was a beautiful bird, weighing about 22 pounds with a 9-inch beard. I was absolutely thrilled. It was one of my favorite hunts of all time. Added to my Wisconsin bird, it pushed my career total to 21 birds, with 20 of them coming in the spring and one in the fall.

Back to Wisconsin

With one tag and one day left in my turkey season in Wisconsin, I decided to try one last time for a bird across the border. I visited several properties in my last-ditch effort. I saw a tom in a field, stalked in and called, but no answer. I visited another property and didn’t hear or see a thing. Finally, I went to the last place on my list. I had shot my nicest bird there last year, and hoped it would produce again this year. I saw two hens, and called both in close, but the boyfriend was nowhere in sight.

Finally, at about 5:30 p.m., I went to the far end of the property, where I had heard one gobble on Day 1. At a corner where a mowed path reaches a clover field, I spotted something brown in the grass. Walking up, it appeared to be a mushroom of some sort. But, it wasn’t flat like those I had seen before. Then, it hit me: Could this be a morel?

I called my brother-in-law immediately, and he asked me to take a picture and send it to his phone. I did, but it didn’t work. So, I decided to just pick them anyway, figuring I could discard them later if they weren’t morels.

In only about 20 to 30 minutes, I picked at least 100, filling the back pouch of my turkey vest. They were bigger than I thought morels grew (some were at least 6 inches long), and far more numerous than I imagined. I only searched a very small area.

Paydirt!

When I got home, I called a nearby morel expert, Chris Thompson, academic dean at the St. Paul Seminary. He came over right away and confirmed that they were, indeed, morels. In fact, when he arrived at my doorstep, he looked down, saw my vest and stared into it for five minutes before he rang the doorbell. He was absolutely stunned at my harvest. He said he had been hard at it all spring and only had found one small one.

His look of shock turned to joy when I said I would be happy to share some with him. He took them home to clean them off, then invited me over for fried mushrooms. He pan fried them in butter, then made an omelette with them. Both were delicious. The good news is, there are plenty more left, so there will be more good eating to come.

The day ended at midnight, which was especially long given that I awoke at 3:30 a.m. But, I am not complaining. I started the day with one of my most exciting turkey hunts ever, and ended it with a dinner of fresh morel mushrooms.

I couldn’t ask for more. As my father-in-law likes to say: God surprised me with his blessings! Thanks be to Him.

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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