Eric Morken: Adjusting to poor weather conditions for an opening-weekend turkey
Freezing temperatures and strong winds were hardly ideal conditions for the first week of the Minnesota spring turkey hunting season, but finding out-of-the-wind locations and hunting mid-day were key during a bow hunt on April 16.
Rain, snow, morning temperatures well below freezing and winds gusting past 40 miles-per hour at times. Not ideal conditions for the first week of the Minnesota spring turkey hunting season.
I would suspect license sales for the ‘A’ firearms season will be down this year due to those conditions, but the ability to hunt all season with an archery license meant I had my tag already purchased leading up to the April 13 opener.
My 9-year-old daughter, Aubree, is hunting with me for the first time this season as a shooter. Getting her an opportunity at a bird is my primary focus, which left me with a decision to make on Saturday afternoon with my bow.
Aubree toughed it out in real-feel temperatures of about 10 degrees on Saturday morning in a ground blind I set up on Friday evening. The blind is on a field edge down low with oak ridges all around us. We could hear the winds howling up high as light slowly came over the black field through the clouds. A lone gobble was all we had heard by 7 a.m.
Aubree was getting cold and a little restless in the blind as she warmed her hands over the small propane heater. At about 7:15, a gobble to our left broke the silence.
“That’s not that far away,” I told her.
I let out a few soft yelps on my mouth call to let him know where we were. Multiple hens started answering back, followed by back-to-back gobbles.
This was obviously a flock of birds with at least two toms. The hens and I talked back and forth with each other after I positioned Aubree’s 20-gauge on the tripod and had her get ready.
It felt like this was about to happen. My heart was racing like I was in Aubree’s position again as a young hunter as I anticipated a tom strutting into our decoy spread.
The hens and toms talked back and forth with me for a couple minutes, but they never did show.
In hindsight, I wish I would have been more aggressive. My experience with calling henned-up toms is that you usually have to get the hens to commit to your setup. I tried to pique their curiosity with yelps and clucks, thinking that might be enough. I should have tried more aggressive cutting to trigger their instinct to fight.
Aubree’s feet had had enough of the cold by 8:30, so we picked up our decoys and drove to my parents’ house with her younger sister. By noon, I was back in the woods again with my bow looking to fill my tag.
The winds were gusting to 30 miles-per hour, but the sun was shining. High winds are not ideal turkey-hunting conditions, but if you have low ground to hunt, you can use it to your advantage because it concentrates the birds in areas out of the wind.
I dropped down a ravine into the riverbottom to try to find a setup. Bowhunting turkeys without a blind is incredibly fun and challenging, but it often takes an ideal tree to set up against. I finally found that perfect tree — a trunk big enough to blend in with, located in the shade with dead timber in front of it to give me more protection from the fantastic eyesight that turkeys possess.
I set up a quarter-strut jake decoy with a lay-down hen about 15 yards from me in the sun, got out my box call and made a series of high-pitched yelps to cut through the wind. I popped my mouth call in and sat back against the tree.
A couple of minutes had passed when I heard something walking through the leaves to my left. A tom was slowly paralleling my setup and looking for the source of those yelps about 70 yards away. I let him get behind a tree and let out a few soft clucks.
He threw his head up and seemed to catch sight of my jake decoy. Nothing. The bird’s body language was pretty nervous, which has been my experience using decoys, especially jake decoys. Toms will either run in to fight or steer clear.
I was not going to let him go by being passive again, so I got more aggressive with my calling. Yelps, cuts and clucks caused him to sound off with back-to-back gobbles.
It was about this time that I saw he wasn’t alone. A group of four jakes hopped over some dead timber in their way to get a good look at my setup. They committed, as the most aggressive jake quickly made his way over to my lay-down hen and proceeded to try to breed her.
The entire group was about 12 yards away, clucking and half-strutting as I sat motionless with my hand on the grip of my bow and my release on the d-loop. For over a minute, I watched as the tom kept his distance. He got to a high point in the terrain about 60 yards away, gave a look at the jakes and then walked away.
I had a decision to make. All four jakes were legal birds with visible beards. I have passed up opportunities to take jakes with my bow in prior years, but I was just focused on my own hunts at that point. I typically don't want my season to end.
The fact that I get a chance to call for Aubree now helped me make a different decision in this instance. Three of the jakes followed the tom out of sight. With the bird facing straight away from me, I drew back, anchored in and settled my pin before releasing a perfectly-placed arrow.
No biological reason to not shoot jakes
I will get out in front of this topic because you see online debates of whether or not hunters should shoot jakes.
The National Wild Turkey Federation is clear on this — there is no biological reason to not shoot a jake.
Greg Wagner of Nebraska Game and Parks wrote a great piece on this republished in May of 2020 where he talked with wildlife biologist, ecologist and biometrician Dr. Jeffrey Lusk with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
"Mother Nature creates a surplus of male wild turkeys," Lusk said in Wagner's story. "Also, the jakes are ineffective at breeding because they often get outcompeted for breeding rights by older toms. Research further shows that jakes can only rarely be successful at breeding a hen and fertilizing a clutch. Additionally, turkeys move around a great deal and natural mortality takes more jakes than hunters do. From a biological standpoint, if we thought that spring wild turkey hunters should be restricted from shooting young male wild turkeys during the spring season, we would do so, but that is not case.”
Simply put, it's a personal decision in states like Minnesota where it's legal.
Mid-day hunts produce
This is the second time I have shot a bird with my bow after taking Aubree out with me at first light, and she was quick to remind me of that. It happened in a very similar situation in 2018.
Most of my best turkey hunts have been during mid-morning to early afternoon. You will hear more birds at first light, but they can be much more receptive to calling later in the day when the hens have broken away from toms.
I talked with Aubree about this, and she agrees that it’s time to get out of the blind and go after the birds like I did here. That’s our plan. One turkey in the freezer. Hopefully another yet to come.