I’ll never forget taking out a first-time turkey hunter almost 10 years ago, who upon picking up his flopping bird less than 2 hours into the first morning’s hunt, had the audacity to say – “I was kina hoping it wasn’t so short. We didn’t really get to ‘hunt’ much.” Now, after doing all the scouting on this spot, hunting it for years to understand the typical roost, feeding, and strutting patterns, and securing permission to hunt it, I’ll have to admit, I was a little raw about that comment at the time. At the same time, I understood what he was talking about. We setup, got rained on, made some calls, in comes the bird, he shoots it, and the fun is over. That said, even if you punch your tag when the hunt is but a few hours old, you remember all the nasty gobblers that you’ve tussled with over the years, the mornings with zero gobbling, and the properties devoid of turkey activity. Those “tough-go’s” are what make you rejoice in the tags that are seemingly easy to fill; because you know that even when it works out in your favor and happens quickly, it never comes “easy” or at least consistently “easy.”
So it happened for us yesterday morning, the opening morning of “B” season in MN. Like most good hunts, the work gets done before hand in the scouting, listening, and door-knocking. The area I was hunting has had a decent amount of birds, but they’ve been locked up tight in pretty big groups, seeing as many as 5 toms together with a bevy of hens. Even a group of jakes have been quite active and running with the rest of the pack. It was no surprise then, that when I set to roost some birds the previous night that they all sounded off together on the opposite ridge I was listening on. Either way, I knew that if I’d find one, I’d likely find more. These are areas I’ve hunted for years, so I knew down to the tree at least where one of the several toms was roosted. That said, I found that most of the gobbling activity was around 6:30-7:00PM, so if you’re looking to get them pinned down, I’d be listening a little earlier than usual.
The past few years in MN has been all about taking my boys out to experience the hunt. My oldest son is about ready to pull the trigger on his own tag, especially after this season, and it’s been a learning process for all of us when taking them out. Last year, I made the mistake of trying to rush a shot on a bird that I could see in plain-sight, but for whatever reason, they couldn’t see very well. We didn’t get the bird, and they didn’t see him anyway. This year, my hope was to get one to decoy well, strut in front of us and put on a show. However, with the birds being in big timber, my hand was somewhat forced. I’ve had some bad experiences with dekes in the big woods, and didn’t want toms to flee the scene after stumbling upon a decoy that they didn’t like, so I went decoy-free and relied more on my calling to bring one in and keep it in range.
Rain came through heavy in small cells early Monday morning, but don’t tell the birds, because they didn’t care. The wet woods lead to softer footsteps with boot-clad little boys, so I was able to get in tighter, set-up a blind, and still stay out of earshot. As I was organizing the blind and my youngest was dozing off, we heard our first gobble. Raindrops on the top of a blind can be louder than you’d think, and at times I was hanging my head outside a bit while trying to get calls in and the gun loaded. Despite the toms’ enthusiasm, no hens were lighting up so I played it cool at first. Upon hearing a hen fly down with no yelping however, I poured it on, anxious to make sure they heard me while I was still in a tree. The way I figure, I’ve got two main paths to follow when calling to roosted birds that have their hens. I can either try to sound like one of the flock, and not get too edgy so as to interest and/or bring-in the whole flock, or I can be the aggressive hen from the wrong side of the tracks. It’s tricky business, especially on parcels that are heavily hunted. Jenny’s that see their toms shot off all around them can make their gobblers un-killable with each passing year. Get too aggressive and she will lead your tom away almost every-time. This morning’s decision was an easy one however. With the lack of aggressive hens, and plethora of toms surrounding me (at least 3, up to 5), odds were good I could spice it up and attract at least one of the toms into range.
Enter my little 4-legged friends, the rats with hooves. I had all the birds fired up on the roost with a box call, mixing in softer yelps with a mouth call, when a doe snorted and ran right under the roosting toms. I managed to yelp and plead immediately following, hoping the toms would buy my story rather than the deer’s. Two of the more vocal toms shut down, but I had one still going pretty well. I let him gobble out, and he fired off 3 in a row, then hopped out of the tree. He flew down the ridge a bit, but was really just positioning himself to take a ravine straight up to the top where I was. I never uttered another call, as I wanted him to search me out. We first saw him quartering towards us at 60 yards, and he closed the distance quite well in plain sight with both boys watching him eagerly. Never once did he gobble or strut, he was simply on a medium-paced walk straight in. A dark woods under overcast skies inside of a dark blind makes it tough to see your sights at 6:05AM, but my first shot was true. Or was it? The bird hops up and stumbles off. In desperation I level two more shots, both misses in the timber, until I figure out what’s going on. He’s running around like a chicken with its head cut off, doing figure 8’s and running in circles. The boys thought Dances-With-Turkeys was a hilarious production, so I’m glad they had fun with that as I finally set my shotgun on the ground, preferring hand to spur combat to put the turkey down for good. But there it was, not 5 minutes after fly-down, our MN bird. A lightning hunt no doubt, though not without a good deal of planning and prep on the front-end to make it so.