Boy's first turkey hunt bags bird
You might recall a short time ago my mention of a first-ever wild turkey hunt - an adventure where my 14 year-old son and I were to participate in a hunt in which volunteer mentors, the National Wild Turkey Federation and Minnesota DNR - work together to introduce kids to the excitement of wild turkey hunting. Dubbed "Teens Meet Toms," the event was everything I knew it would be, and then some.
The evening before the hunt, April 16, my son Didu and I drove to Ottertail City, a small town in west central Minnesota near the northeast shore of Otter Tail Lake, to meet for the first time our volunteer mentor and veteran turkey hunter, Dave Hawes. Dave works as a rural mail carrier in the lake country of Ottertail County. He greeted us enthusiastically when we arrived at his hunting shack nestled amongst towering bur and red oak trees on his rural homestead.
The three of us were soon bouncing along inside his pickup truck on our way to nearby oak-filled woodlands to scout for turkeys, set up a hunting blind and check the site where we would be hunting the following morning.
A beautiful woods, the property was perfect turkey and deer habitat - diverse with small fields, food plots, mast producing oaks and shrubs, aspen, small groves of pine and abundant wetlands and lakes.
Dave had previously erected a large, camouflaged blind underneath the boughs of 25-year-old pine trees along the edge of a small forest opening. Shaped like a bowl, the grassy glade was ringed with other randomly spaced pines, hardwood trees and understory of herbaceous plants and shrubs. Our position was on the edge of the bowl, with a complete view of the opening, the adjacent oak ridge and portions of another opening to our right.
After finishing our scouting, we took a short drive in the Otter Tail County countryside to see if we could find any turkeys feeding in the nearby fields. It wasn't long until we encountered a flock of the giant game birds, at least a dozen or so, all hens and jakes. A short time later we were back at the shack, made arrangements for the next day's hunt and said our goodbyes. We all were excited about our prospects.
Didu and I spent the night an hour away at my parents' house in Eagle Bend. Rising the next morning at 3:15 a.m., I quickly brewed a pot of coffee; we ate a quick breakfast, visited with Dad for a bit and were on our way to Ottertail at 4:15. At 5:20 a.m., we arrived at the wooded road where Dave instructed us to meet him at 5:30 sharp.
The morning was perfectly calm; no hint of a breeze. Temperature was about 31 degrees. And the stars shone brightly despite the eastern sky beginning to glow with promises of a warm and sunny day ahead.
Didu and I whispered to one another about how nice it felt to be outdoors so early in the morning. We heard Canada geese calling from a distant wetland, the hoots of a great horned owl and songs of American robins.
Just before 5:30 a.m., Dave arrived. We gathered beside my truck, whispered good mornings to each other, and soon were following Dave on the trail to our hunting blind. Didu, carrying my old Remington model 870 12-gauge shotgun, walked beside me. None of us said a word as we hiked quietly through the woodland.
Ten minutes later, after Dave placed a hen turkey decoy about 20 yards in front of the blind on the grassy opening, the three of us were sitting comfortably inside the blind.
Perhaps - along with the decoy, an assortment of turkey calls, and a little luck - we would see a gobbler, maybe even bring one home.
It wasn't even six o'clock when we heard our first tom turkey gobbling from somewhere on a distant ridge. A few minutes later, we heard another. Both birds were several hundred yards from our blind, but that didn't stop Dave from talking back at the gobblers with a series of soft "putts and clucks" that he produced from his friction turkey call. The "hen talk" would hopefully entice a lovesick tom to within range, or at least within our sight.
As the sun slowly rose, other birds, coming to life, including blue jays, mourning doves, chickadees, drumming ruffed grouse, loons and geese, provided the musical backdrop to the crisp April woodland. Along with these avian vocalizations, hen turkeys joined in as well.
One of the talkative hens passed by our blind on the adjacent ridge. She eventually joined another clucking hen that was a couple of hundred yards behind us. Dave talked to them as well, trying to lure the hens, and hopefully a tom, to our opening.
We were thrilled to not only hear wild turkeys, but we had just observed the lonesome and chatty hen.
But the morning was not quite over with. Minutes later we heard a short, but very loud gobble. A few minutes following the gobble, two hens stepped onto the opening to our right and were both heading in our direction. And following closely behind them, seen first by Didu, was an impressive looking tom turkey in full strutting splendor.
The men in the blind were spellbound, each of us excitedly whispering instructions to Didu. The boy, well, he was the picture of quiet calmness, sure of his position, sure of himself. And seconds into it all, he waited for his turkey to approach within range, took careful aim and followed through the adrenaline-charged moment to harvest his first wild turkey right before our eyes.
Hearty congratulations, two dozen photographs later and many thanks to our mentor Dave Hawes, I watched a boy carry his first wild turkey slung proudly over his shoulder through the springtime woodland.
Indeed, it was a day of days that we enjoyed, together, in the great outdoors.
Blane Klemek is the Bemidji area assistant wildlife manager, DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org