Turkeys: Predictably Unpredictable

We begin by admitting that any words here can and probably will be turned 360 degrees at some time in the next few months!  

We’re creeping closer to spring, and with that, thoughts turn to open water crappies, budding trees, lilacs, morels, quacking mallards, warm nights and Turkeys. Last week, in the afternoon of a windy day, a group of turkeys caught my eye while driving, causing a double take. The birds aren’t really unusual since they winter in the area, but the fact that 4 were in full strut in the midst of 12-15 birds was! Still early February but enough to set me off with thoughts of a favorite spring activity: Hunting turkeys! 

I do love all hunting including deer, geese, ducks, grouse and pheasants, but there’s something uniquely special about pursuing these big birds on a spring morning. Not sure if it’s the season change, crisp damp mornings, birds singing, the land waking again from her winter sleep, or the fact that I can again carry a shotgun, but whatever it is, the interaction with a tom, the chase, the planning and decisions, the calling followed by a returning gobble or this and everything above makes turkey hunting one of my favorite spring activities.  I am a Minnesota turkey hunter, beginning as a young adult having zero knowledge.

Thirsty for getting better, I read, listened to “experts,” watched tv shows - which was simply entertainment - had some friendly lessons and struggled for success. I found some, but honestly, it was more of a blind squirrel and a nut kind of thing. So what I’ll share, simply add to your memory banks and make your own decisions as situations present themselves on your hunts. 

I have run-and-gun, which is listen and try to cut off the bird as he travels looking for you, a perceived hen by your calling.  The problem is that I usually get busted by Mr. Tom!  I’ve hunted from a blind and if you ask Chad, my son, he’ll tell you I snatched his bird years ago. Truth is I didn’t think he was gonna shoot.  

I’ve busted birds on roost by misjudging their location. Very humbling! I’ve scouted and set up early where I thought they were, only to have them not be there! I’ve spent days pre-scouting, looking and attempting to pattern, with one day, birds being vocal and the next, silent. I’ve thought there were no birds in an area, only to have Erik and Danielle each shoot giant birds the next day. So hopefully each of these scenarios will support the title above, but each time I’ve come away having experienced a valuable lesson.  

Last spring it was learning to hunt in the moment, making decisions as they present themselves. Opening day I parked on a WMA in the pre-dawn darkness and, with a cup of coffee in hand, leaned on the truck and listened. It wasn’t long before a bird gobbled, then another, and yet a third, seemingly back and forth to each other. That was my cue. Strap on the vest, tuck a couple decoys in the pouch, grab a sandwich and Coke, a handful of Snickers, the short-legged chair, my semi-auto A5, my facemask and head to the south in a brisk walk. After creeping as close as I thought possible to where a couple decoys were placed, the birds continued to gobble. Some quiet yelps were answered by gobbles. Breaths came quick and my mind already had the Tom lying dead by the deke, but to my chagrin, down they flew and to the west they walked gobbling away, probably already with hens. Bummed, the wait continued and repositioned about 50 yards away, calling from time to time on my favorite slate call. After 10-15 minutes another gobble to the east. My call was answered and obviously closer. Call, gobble, call, gobble! Once again my pulse quickened and adrenaline returned. Then, just as suddenly a hen yelped, a real hen, and his attention left me, kind of a bird in the bush type of thing. But here now is the lesson worth stashing - about 10 minutes later another gobble to the northeast and coming my way. 

Calling on the slate was returned with a gobble. Back-and-forth for a couple minutes until movement caught my eye in the brush across a drainage ditch. Poking my head a bit higher, I saw him, in full strut just on the other side parading back and forth showing off for the hen; or so he thought. The ditch bank was a few inches higher than my seat so if I could close the distance 5-10 yards the shot would be excellent. Crawling on my belly the barrel was slid through the grass and the bead landed on his stretched out head. The safety quietly came off and the trigger was squeezed. What followed was an expectation of the bird jumping up and running, but there was only flopping then silence. My tag was filled.

Now I don’t know for sure, but I remembered my mentor telling me a long time ago that when a tom gobbles back at you he knows exactly where you are and will probably return looking for her later.  It certainly seemed to be proven true, and the only difficult part left was carrying that tom back a half mile or so. But of course if you listen often to the Fan you already know that part.  A most memorable hunt over only 3 hours into opening day!

Just a suggestion, but maybe worth tucking these thoughts away for future reference. Just remember, sometimes the birds haven’t read these blogs or listened to Fan Outdoors!

Fan Outdoors can be heard on KFAN 100.3 FM Thursday nights at 7pm and Saturday mornings at 6am.

Till next time, good luck, have fun, be safe and we’ll see YOU on Fan Outdoors!


P.S.  Snap and Belle are not turkey hunting fans and are giving me the evil eye right now!

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