For Dave Conger, who turns 87 this month, the outdoors is his Fountain of Youth.
“I’ve hunted and fished all my life,’’ he said the other day. And he continues to do so.
“I don’t have the strength and stamina I used to, but I can still get out,’’ he said.
So last week, Conger hunkered in a portable ground blind with his son-in-law, Tom Anderson, when a huge gobbler strutted into shotgun range, enticed by Anderson’s calling. Conger, of Oak Grove in Anoka County, fired once, dropping the 23-pound long-beard.
Long-beard indeed. The whiskers measured 11.5 inches — a true trophy. Not bad, for his first gobbler ever. “I shot a jake three or four years ago,’’ said Conger, who took up turkey hunting in recent years.
“He was like a 9-year-old kid after he shot it,’’ said Anderson, of North Branch. “He had a big grin and his whole face lit up, he was so excited.’’
Said Conger: “It was very thrilling.’’
He had hunted alone for two days, without success, before enlisting Anderson.
“He’s a very good caller,’’ Conger said.
When they drove up to Conger’s blind, they immediately heard three gobblers. Soon birds appeared behind them, Anderson said. He peeked out a rear window and watched a bunch of birds hike across a field, the wrong direction. Then a hen and tom appeared, and slowly headed toward the hunters.
“I did some soft yelps and purring, just to let them know we were there,’’ Anderson said. “The tom was strutting, and the sunlight hit him; it was spectacular.’’
The tom then spotted their jake decoy and approached it, enabling Conger to see it for the first time out his window. He slipped his safety off and fired, killing the bird cleanly at 25 yards.
“It was just a privilege to be part of his hunt,’’ Anderson said. “I told him that when I’m 87, I hope I’ll be as active as him.’’
Conger plans to try again next year.
Seeking turkeys in Wisconsin
I was huddled in a ground blind in western Wisconsin in the predawn darkness Sunday, hunting turkeys on the edge of a field and woods that gradually sloped into a ravine. A loud gobble at 5:45 a.m., maybe 40 yards in the woods, signaled I was in the right place.
Or was I?
I called quietly, mimicking a hen turkey, to give the gobbler something to think about. But I soon was competing against real hens, still on the roost, yelping. Then I watched two hens fly down to the ravine, and heard others do the same, presumably including that gobbler.
The hens were as vocal as I’ve ever heard, calling incessantly. So I matched them aggressively, hoping they might come to me, bringing along that tom. The gobbler seemed to enjoy the attention, sounding off repeatedly.
Then the woods went quiet. They had ambled off. But the show wasn’t over. A half-hour later, two gobblers and who-knows-how-many hens returned to the ravine and gave me an audio performance the likes of which I’ve never heard in nearly 20 years of turkey hunting.
The hens sounded a chorus of yelps, purrs and clucks, while the two gobblers occasionally chimed in, creating an amazing cacophony that echoed through the woods. It sounded like 10 turkey-calling CDs playing simultaneously.
My calling seemed only to inspire them. After about a half-hour, the show was over. The woods fell silent. One hen crept up the hill and 12 feet from my blind, looked suspiciously at my two decoys, then retreated back into the woods.
I heard other gobbles that morning but never saw another bird. Eventually I hiked down into the ravine, and, of course, it was empty. With the temperature approaching 75 degrees, I packed up and headed home. Some might say my morning was a failure — I hadn’t bagged a bird, nor even saw a gobbler.
But I’ll long remember that morning, when the woods were pulsating with turkeys celebrating spring.
April weather hinders hunters
A cold and snowy April has hurt Minnesota’s spring turkey harvest. Hunters killed 5,254 birds through Sunday, down 17 percent from the 6,363 they bagged during the same time last year.
But it had been far worse. After the first five-day season, harvest was down 45 percent. And after the second five-day season, which ended Friday, harvest still was down 30 percent. But since the weather has warmed, hunters have done much better.
“The turkeys are probably more in a breeding mood and are easier to call,’’ said Steve Merchant, Department of Natural Resources wildlife program manager.
“And when the weather is nice, people stay in the woods longer.’’
The bad weather the first 10 days caused some hunters to stay home, Merchant said. While harvest has picked up recently, Merchant said he still expects total season harvest to be down from last year. And now more snow is forecast.
Doug Smith firstname.lastname@example.org