Mark Strand has chased turkeys throughout the U.S. and Mexico. A Twin Cities outdoors writer, photographer and videographer, Strand, 55, began hunting turkeys in the late 1970s.
“My dad was one of the only people to get a Minnesota turkey hunting permit in 1978, the first year the state had a season in recent times,’’ Strand said. “I got interested in turkeys at the same time, and in 1979 my dad, my uncle, a friend and I began hunting them wherever we could get permits.’’
The Strand turkey hunting tradition involves camping. Sometimes the locale is Minnesota, other times South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa or even Florida — stories of which Strand (www.markstrandoutdoors.com) has captured in a recent e-book, “Turkey Camp … and Other Turkey Hunting Stories.’’
Additionally, on a recent trip to Mexico, Strand took an Ocellated turkey, the sixth species in his “World Slam’’ that also includes the Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Osceola and Gould’s subspecies.
“When I first started turkey hunting I promised I wasn’t going to do anything with writing or photography involving turkeys, that this was going to be the one thing I did just for myself,’’ Strand said.
“It didn’t turn out that way. Now, turkey hunting is the only thing I think about every day, all year.’’
Q: What fascinates you about turkey hunting?
A: I’m amazed at their size and beauty and fascinated by the many ways you can call them and bring them close to you.
Q: Of all places you’ve hunted, which do you prefer?
A: Nebraska. Anywhere I can keep going and there are no fences, that’s what I like. Also, as a nonresident Nebraska turkey hunter, you can buy up to three licenses.
Q: What’s the weirdest turkey species you’ve hunted?
A: The Ocellated, which I hunted in Mexico. The males don’t gobble, they “sing,’’ which starts out just like a ruffed grouse drumming. I went down there thinking I would do it only once. But I ended up wanting to go back every year.
Q: Would you rather hunt with a bow or gun?
A: Gun. I have a bad back, and my neck is getting worse all the time. So I can’t draw a regular bow anymore; I have to use a crossbow. Still, I’d rather hunt with a gun. It’s easier to put a bird down for good.
Q: If you could have only one type of call, what would it be?
A: A mouth call. You can do things with a mouth call you can’t with other calls. It’s easier to sound just like a turkey. Turkeys in the wild don’t sound like most turkey calls. In fact, if you egg them on when calling them and get them excited, they’ll say things they otherwise never would. They can almost sound like two donkeys fighting. You can imitate that with a mouth call. You can’t with other types of calls.
Q: Is there a brand of call you prefer?
A: I make my own mouth calls. Ray Eye, who lives in Missouri, taught me how. I purchase various thicknesses of latex and frames and hand-stretch the latex to precisely the tension that works for me. Because the call is handmade, you can make calls you otherwise couldn’t. Ray really knows turkeys. As a teenager he followed them through the woods two or three days at a time.
Q: Handicap other call types.
A: I primarily use a slate call and a mouth call. A lot of days I’ll hunt with just those two. Other days I’ll also use a box call. Also, push-button calls are realistic sounding, and they take 30 seconds to learn how to use. Whatever you bring into the woods, make sure you sound like a turkey. If you don’t sound good on a mouth call, for instance, leave it home.
Q: What is a turkey’s tolerance for call quality?
A: Perhaps 80 percent of the time, turkeys have zero tolerance for you not sounding like a turkey. There are exceptions on certain days, when toms come running regardless. But most days, if you don’t sound real, they won’t come to you.
Q: Does that vary day to day?
A: It can vary hour to hour, depending on weather and other factors. I was in the Black Hills once when response from toms to calling was terrific. That night, it snowed. The next day the birds totally shut down.
Q: Do you call more as a hen, or a tom?
A: Probably half and half. But I can get toms more excited about coming to me when I sound like a hen. Also, if I make a mistake by moving or something, I think toms called to as if I were a hen are more forgiving. Also, when they’re coming to you, I believe in calling them all the way in, rather than going quiet, as some people suggest.
Q: What do you think of blinds?
A: I invented a blind that weighs just 5 pounds, which works well. For most purposes, I think they’re fabulous, like when you set up super close to a roost — something you’d typically do the day before. They’re also great for taking inexperienced hunters with you. And they’re fantastic for photography and video. But in the past five years, the use of a ground blind has become “what you do,’’ which in some instances can work against you. Sometimes you need to get up and move to find a tom. If you let it, a blind can become an anchor.
Q: What are your decoy preferences?
A: I don’t use decoys often. When I do, I like a hen in a relaxed body posture. A lot of hen decoys are too upright, and that body posture among turkeys can signal trouble. I like relaxed body posture hen decoys with the eyes situated such that a tom can’t look into their eyes until they get into bow or gun range. As for a jake decoy, I like it to have a defiant body posture, facing the direction a tom is likely to come from.
Q: What’s your preference in shotgun loads?
A: I love No. 5 shot. But I’ve also used No. 7 HeavyWeight turkey shot by Federal, an absolute great load.
Q: Of all factors involved in hunting a wild turkey, what’s fundamental, upon which the other variables depend?
A: Knowing where turkeys are and something about their tendencies during the day is crucial. Knowing where they roost, and exactly the spot the fly up from, into trees, and where they fly down, is equally important. It’s not enough to say from 300 yards away that you put a turkey to bed. Roosting a turkey and knowing something about where they tend to go down is crucial. Next you have to hold still, which is its own type of extreme sport. If you don’t hold still, turkeys will leave. Then, in the end, calling is the difference-maker.