Once a rare sight among Minnesota hunters, women are increasingly commonplace in the state's woods and fields during fall grouse, pheasant, waterfowl and deer seasons.
Their greater participation in the field sports is also noted in spring during Minnesota's April and May turkey hunting seasons. Increasingly, women are also taking leadership roles in the state's conservation and environment groups, including the National Wild Turkey Federation.
Below are profiles of four Minnesota women who will chase gobblers this spring.
Nikki Harrington, 43, Shoreview
Growing up in a family that hunted, Harrington was familiar with fall pursuits for pheasants and deer. But she had never hunted turkeys. Then, in 2007, a good friend, Lorraine Edwards, introduced her to the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) and, through the organization, to turkey hunting.
Though Harrington hadn't yet hunted turkeys, in January 2008 she and Edwards attended the state NWTF convention in northern Minnesota.
It was there that Harrington's nascent interest in turkey hunting caught the eye of another gobbler hunter, Todd Harrington, who would become her husband.
"That spring, in 2008, was the first year I hunted turkeys, and Lorraine and I were on her grandfather's property in Le Sueur County,'' Nikki Harrington said. "It was a great hunt. I got a nice tom, a 21-pounder. We had seen it running and ended up stalking it before eventually sitting down against a tree. Lorraine did the calling. The bird came in and I shot it when it was about 25 yards away.''
Harrington is now a volunteer with the North Metro Longbeards Chapter of NWTF and is especially interested in getting youth involved in hunting, whether for turkeys or other game species.
"Since that first turkey hunt of mine in 2008, I now hunt turkeys in both spring and fall,'' she said. "In the spring I hunt with Lorraine, and in the fall I hunt with my husband.''
Being in the woods in spring is rewarding, Harrington said. "When you hear the first gobble it's thrilling,'' she said. "And if you have two toms gobble back and forth, it's unbelievable how exciting it is,'' she said, adding:
"Getting women and kids and other nontraditional hunters involved in hunting is really important. Last year my nieces and nephews hunted deer for the first time, and it was rewarding for them and for me.''
Shar Goihl, 65, Grey Eagle
On Wednesday, the first day of the state's 2022 spring turkey hunting season, Goihl was in her blind, by herself, her slate call in one hand and a crossbow at the ready.
When she first taught herself to hunt turkeys in 2003, she hunted with a 12-gauge. Then she used a bow. Shoulder problems prompted her to switch to the crossbow a few years back.
"When I got into my blind Wednesday morning, I started calling but I didn't get any responses. So I called again, and still nothing,'' she said. "It was cold, so I was about to start my portable heater. That's when I heard a gobble from my right.''
Soon Goihl was inundated with action.
"The tom came toward my decoys from the right, while a hen came toward the decoys from the left,'' she said. "I kept telling myself, 'Take your time. Take your time.' ''
The adrenaline rush Goihl experiences in these situations is part of what keeps her involved in turkey hunting. Her husband hunts deer, she said, but "is too hyper'' to sit in a blind waiting for a tom to come to a call.
"He helps me put out my blind,'' she said. "But, except when I'm mentoring youth hunters, which I enjoy, I hunt on my own.''
Active in the Sauk Valley Gobblers NWTF chapter, Goihl helped organize the group's recent gun bingo event, attended by more than 200 supporters.
"I started mentoring youth hunters about 10 years ago,'' she said. "I really like it. I love going out with the kids and seeing them get excited about hunting.''
Wednesday morning, Goihl wished for a moment she had taken time to place her diaphragm call in her mouth. That way, if necessary, she could call the approaching tom while also holding her crossbow.
Turns out it wasn't necessary.
"The hen did all the calling for me,'' she said. "I took the turkey when he was about 20 yards out.''
Colleen Grant, 61, Eden Prairie
Planning to combine camping with turkey hunting, Grant headed to Iowa last week, where she will chase gobblers with her son, Taylor, 30.
This was after she spent Wednesday's Minnesota turkey hunting opener in Otter Tail County with her husband, Mike, the Eden Prairie High School football coach, while he tried to bag a tom.
"I come from a large family — I have seven brothers and one sister,'' she said. "My dad hunted pheasants and fished, and he always included us when he went.''
Grant's first exposure to turkey hunting was in the 1970s while fly fishing in southeast Minnesota with her dad.
"We ran into some turkey hunters and I thought, 'I wonder what this is all about,' " she said. "But I didn't actually get into it until Mike and I bought our property up north.''
A teacher, Colleen Grant retired in 2018, freeing her even more to hunt and fish. Her hunt with Taylor this weekend in Iowa will be on public land, and they might move around a bit to find birds. She has rigged up sleeping quarters in the back of her pickup, so mobility from campground to campground will be easy.
"While we're in Iowa, Mike and our other son, Ryan, will be hunting together on our property and on our friends' land,'' she said. "I'll come back there to hunt next week with my youngest brother, who's from Hecla, South Dakota. My final turkey hunt this spring will be in the Black Hills, again with Taylor. That will be on public land, also.''
Rare sights and beautiful sunrises are among reasons Grant enjoys hunting turkeys.
"When you're out that early in the morning in spring, you see things you otherwise wouldn't see,'' she said. "We've had coyotes come into our decoys. One year we had a fox. Then there are the birds themselves. It's thrilling when you call and get a response from a gobbler.
"People who don't hunt perhaps don't understand the enjoyment that brings.''
Nancy McLaughlin, 55, Becker
Having never hunted, McLaughlin proved a quick study when introduced to turkey hunting by her late husband about 20 years ago. He had been active in the Sand Dunes NWTF Chapter, and now these many years later McLaughlin is the outfit's president.
"When my husband passed away, our daughter was only 7, and I would take her to my hunting blind with a sleeping bag,'' McLaughlin said. "When she'd wake up, she'd be in the woods. That's how I got her involved in it.''
McLaughlin has since remarried and introduced her husband to turkey hunting.
"I was fortunate in that I got a turkey the first year I hunted,'' she said. "My husband and I were together, and two toms came in. He said, 'I'll take the one on the left, you take the one on the right.' He said he'd count to three and we'd shoot. But he shot on 'two.' He got his bird, but mine flew away. Fortunately, I got one later that morning.''
McLaughlin's support of turkey hunting and other outdoor pastimes occurs nearly year-round. In addition to her work leading her NWTF chapter, she's on the organization's state board and is chair of its Women in the Outdoors program.
She's also been a mentor at the annual Camp Ripley turkey hunt for disabled veterans, and this year is coordinating a pilot program at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge linking first-time youth turkey hunters with mentors.
Preparing for a turkey hunt is part of the fun, she said.
"Getting your equipment ready, signing your license, remembering the string to attach the site tag to the bird, scouting, setting up your blind, it's all part of it,'' she said.
"Then, when you're in the woods before daybreak, the fresh air makes you feel alive. You see the sunrise, the birds. It's very exciting. But at the same time it's very peaceful. You're in the moment.''