Magic and misfortune are no strangers in turkey blinds.
The wizardry sometimes involves wildlife encounters: Bald eagles swooping at plastic turkey decoys or even carrying them away. Coyotes or bobcats stalking those fake turkeys. Or long-beards gobbling and strutting in all their glory.
As for bad luck, consider that 70% of Minnesota spring turkey hunters go home empty-handed. Most have tales of opportunities missed, mistakes made.
But it was pure magic that 93-year-old Dave Conger, and his son-in-law, Tom Anderson, experienced while turkey hunting in Isanti County earlier this month.
Conger, of St. Francis, is a lifelong avid hunter and angler who took up turkey hunting late in life. Anderson, 67, of North Branch, is a veteran hunter and proficient caller who joined Conger on a rainy May morning.
“I need help getting me and my gear to the blind,” Conger said. “Luckily I have good friends to take me out and do all the heavy lifting, because I can’t do it anymore.”
He had been hunting a private parcel of pretty woods and fields with a friend for three days.
“We never even heard a gobble,” he said.
On the fourth morning Anderson joined them. He, Conger and his friend hiked out in the darkness and immediately flushed a tom out of the tree straight above Conger’s tent-like blind.
The friend drove to his blind 300 yards away while Conger and Anderson put out a single hen decoy and hunkered down hoping for some action.
By late morning, with the sun now shining, the hunt appeared to be a bust.
“I was demonstrating some aggressive calls with my diaphragm and slate calls when Dave tapped my knee and pointed to a hen that came out of the woods about 150 yards away,” Anderson said.
Then they spotted two tom turkeys in the woods behind the hen.
“The hen came right to the decoy,” Anderson said. But the toms, as they are wont to do, stayed about 45 yards away.
“I thought it was a borderline shot,” Conger said, so he held his fire.
“They immediately turned and started going down the field away from us,” he said. “At that point, I had given up.”
It was nearly noon, the time they had agreed to quit.
But Anderson had a new trick up his sleeve. This spring, he mounted the fanned tail feathers from a tom turkey he had shot to some black cardboard. Then, he attached a stake to it so he could place it in the ground as a decoy.
“I cut out some peep holes so I could look through it,” he said.
Anderson slipped out the blind and crept off to the right with the turkey fan. The pair of gobblers were in the distance to the left of the blind.
“I figured we had nothing to lose,” Anderson said. “I raised the tail like a protester sign, and twisted it slowly like a strutting tom and let out a couple loud gobbles with my mouth call.”
“I peeked through the eye hole and was surprised to see the two gobblers running towards me,” he said. “I put the stake in the ground and just froze there.”
Conger described what happened next:
“They kept coming and coming until they were maybe 25 yards away. I had to wait until they separated so I didn’t shoot them both. I fired and luckily got him.”
The other tom then jumped on the fallen bird before ambling away.
It was noon. Conger had bagged just his second-ever tom.
Anderson is quick to note that he was safely clear from Conger’s line of fire. He said he decided to try the unusual approach only because they were hunting private land and he knew other hunters weren’t around to mistake him for a bird.
“I would never do that in a public area,” he said. “My dad taught gun safety and I’ve always taken great pride in my safety. I purposely put myself at an angle so the birds, if they came, would cross in front of Dave.”
And that’s what they did.
“It was a first for us and super exciting,” Anderson said. “I wish I had video of it. Dave was tickled; he looked like a kid.”
Said Conger: “I’m 93 years old. It’s just a joy to be out there. People who hunt and fish — that’s what we do. It’s my life. I really enjoy it. I’ll do it as long as I can.”
Doug Smith is a former Star Tribune outdoors reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.