Over the years turkey hunting has taught me many lessons, but none greater than the wisdom I garnered on Tuesday, April 19th, 1994. You might ask why do I remember a particular day almost 16 years later? Simple. What I experienced that sunny morning in the rolling hills of southeastern Minnesota has forever changed the way I hunt and think about spring turkeys.
The day started out much like any other morning in the turkey woods. I got out there early and set up along a field edge with a pair of active gobblers roosted about 80 yards just over a small hill. As the morning sun began to fill the eastern sky, I soon heard the tell-tale sound of beating wings bringing these lumbering birds down to my ground level from their roosts.
As most turkey hunters will tell you, a bird on the ground is definitely “game on” for the hunter. Personally, the only time I call to birds in the roost is when I hear other birds (hens usually) already on the ground. On this particular morning, however, it appeared to be just me against these two anxious toms.
The calling ensued with some soft yelps from my diaphragm call. The toms acknowledged with a raucous gobble indicating their accepting response. Even though I could not visualize the birds quite yet, I could sense they were inching closer as this springtime game of seduction proceeded. I would let out more soft yelps…the birds would respond in kind. In due time, the two mature gobblers inched closer, but never quite within my shotgun range.
Then it happened.
After nearly 90 minutes of playing the part of the seductress hen, with my heart racing with adrenaline, what I experienced next made me gasp in horror. Suddenly, a flock of about 10 hens appeared and predictably diverted the attention of my big boys. I didn’t get up at 4 a.m. for this experience to end on such a sour note. Yet, it appeared all my earlier hunting efforts to sway these toms closer to me were about to become futile as the "kings of the woods" were now being escorted away by their entourage.
I sat there fumbling through my hunting vest hoping for an answer. I tried a box call…nothing. I tried another boat paddle call…again, nothing. I reached into another vest pocket for a different mouth call. Still, no response. During this entire time I could see these hens moving in the opposite direction of me taking with my two hopes for a successful turkey hunting morning.
I was growing desperate. I reached into one last pocket and removed a slate call I had not practiced with all spring. With the turkeys now 125 yards away from me and heading in another direction, I viewed my use of this call as the equivalent to a Hail Mary pass in football—it was my last ditch effort to salvage the game.
I gently scratch a series of “C”s using the striker peg and immediately something quite magical and mysterious occurred. Within 15 seconds those hens I accused of dragging my toms away were now suddenly on top of me looking for the source of that sound. I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure what I said in turkey-speak, but it made those hens angry, or at least, very curious with me. So much so, in fact, it brought them in too close for me to utter any additional turkey sounds.
Of course, by this point no additional calling was necessary. Along with the angry entourage of hens were my two nice toms now standing only about 25 yards from my seated location. Talk about a roller coaster of emotions that morning. I went from high hopes…to seeing my hopes disappear before my eyes…to then finally living the intense, heart-pounding action of scoring on a nice tom turkey. All of this done in just a matter of a few hours.
Indeed, on that day I learned to NEVER GIVE UP!! Turkeys can be fickle, unpredictable birds that will often times leave you scratching your head trying to figure them out. Oh, sure, I’d like to claim it was my superb calling skill back during that 1994 morning which allowed me to bag my third Minnesota gobbler. Truth is, it was more my stubbornness to accept defeat that eventually paid the turkey hunt dividends.