Spring turkey hunting is something that most Midwestern hunters look forward to each year. It gives us a chance to head into the field during after a long winter to chase the only game that is open. It also provides for some of the most exciting hunting you can have short of heading out West to chase some of the big game species. Don’t get me wrong, deer hunting is exciting but there is something about chasing a thunder chicken that gets my blood going. The time I spent in the field this year renewed my love for hunting turkeys.
For the second time in three years, I was unsuccessful in drawing for my spring turkey tag here in Wisconsin. So, I was relegated to purchasing over the counter tags which were limited. I was able to secure a third week tag for Zone 1 and a fifth week tag for Zone 2. For my Zone 1 tag I was going to hunt my aunt and uncles land in southwestern Wisconsin where I go most of my hunting and I wanted to find some new areas to hunt in Zone 2 near my house. There is plenty of public land, but it gets hit hard earlier in the season.
As the season opener got closer, I began to get more excited. I was traveling around the Midwest working the Deer and Turkey Expos for onXmaps, I was asked to be part of the field staff for Havoc Calls, and I was seeing birds all over the place. My first season couldn’t open soon enough. I was really hoping for a successful spring hunting season to make up for my lack of luck during the entire year of 2014. Actually, if it wasn’t for bad luck last year I wouldn’t have had any luck at all.
The first weekend of May I was hunting just outside of Prairie du Chien, WI on 100 acres of private land. In the fall birds are all over the place but in the spring it is hit or miss. The only scouting reports I got was my aunt telling me where she had heard some gobbling Tom’s. I set my bling in an area I figured I could intercept bird coming off the roost on the way to feed in the morning. That proved to be a bust but I did hear birds on a different area of the land. So, I moved my blind and was in the middle of a lot of Tom’s on the second day. My cousin missed a bird and I just couldn’t seem to get anything in close enough. And on my last day of hunting I didn’t hear a bird. Was my lack of luck going to continue in 2015?
A good friend of mine, Kevin Turner from SportingDog Adventures television show, and I have been trying to get together for a hunt for a while now. So we talked and it was finally going to work out to hit the field together on the opener of the fifth season of spring turkey in Wisconsin. Kevin was able to secure a new piece of land the day before the hunt and managed to see a nice Tom the evening before we were set to hunt. Kevin told me to be at his house by 4am but earlier would be better. The only problem with that is that I live two hours away so I knew it was going to be an early morning.
Kevin and I were setup and in the blind by 4:30am and now it was just time for the woods to wake up and hope that something was near by. After looking at a map on the drive to the land, we agreed on a location to setup the blind and decoys. We figured it was near a roosting location and right where the birds like to eat and strut. As the sun starting coming up, the anticipation level was increasing. We were both waiting to hear that first bird fire off from the tree. The time started ticking by and were hadn’t heard a thing. Where did that Tom go that Kevin saw the night before? Did we spook the birds off the roost while we were setting up?
Just as we were beginning to come up with a backup plan, a Tom let out a thunderous gobble that would make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. We figured that bird was roosted in a tree no more than 80 yards behind our blind. As luck would have it, there was a big pile of brush behind us so that bird couldn’t see us setting up that morning. Kevin and I talked about how we wanted to approach calling the bird. I am a guy that usually calls too much and Kevin calls very little. After about 20 minutes, I let out a few soft yelps on my Havoc Calls Glass Pot Call to let him know we were there. We anticipated the bird to shut his beak shortly after getting on the ground, and boy were we wrong.
A short while later, we could tell the bird was out of the tree and most likely strutting for some hens as his gobbles sounded a little different. I called a few more times again to let the bird know we were setup in the field. Now we could hear his hens talking. So again Kevin and I talked about what we wanted to do as far as calling. My strategy is usually to piss off the boss hen so that she comes to see what is going on and in turn bringing the Tom with her. Kevin didn’t want to spook her so we didn’t call anymore. We could hear the hens getting closer and calling more and more searching for us. All of a sudden we heard the distinct sound of turkey wings flapping and we figured that the birds spooked somehow even though we were out of sight.
Seconds later the lead hen landed about 40 yards in front of our blind and began milling around. And then the second hen landed a little closer to us. Both hens were working their way towards our blind and the decoys. I figured that the Tom wouldn’t be far behind. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the Tom strutting to our left about 40 yards away. He was talking back and forth showing off for his ladies but he was making his way closer to our setup. As the hens started getting closer to the blind, the first hen started to get a little wary of our blind. We knew that I had to act fast so the barrel of the shotgun went out of the blind and waited for my chance to pull the trigger. Just as the Tom stuck his neck out to gobble, he got 3 1/2″ of #5 shot from my Remington at 6:05am where dropped and didn’t flinch.
After a few seconds of fist pumps and hooting and hollering, Kevin headed out of the blind first to check on the bird. As I was grabbing everything I needed to tag the bird, Kevin asked me to bring some binoculars with me as he thought he saw something far off in the distance. I grabbed my Zeiss Victory HT’s and he was able to spot a lone gobbler about 1/4 of a mile away in another field. So, I tagged my bird and we decided it was time to take a chance at that bird. We only took a few essentials with us and headed to the other edge of the property in which we had permission to hunt. After looking on my onXmaps mobile app, we verified the border property and setup my Zink Avian X decoys. We figured that Tom was about 250 yards away so we had our work cut out for us to get him to come to us.
Kevin setup about 30 yards down the hill from me where he was tucked in the woods. I sat just on the edge concealed in my Sitka Gear so that I could see bird as I tried to call him in. We expected the Tom to come out into the open where he could get a clear shot. I had my Havoc calls with me and let out some loud yelps to get the Tom’s attention. He gobbled each time and was getting closer and closer. I then did a string of soft yelps and purrs to entice him into the open. Right after that I could see his tail fan down at the bottom of the hill not far from where Kevin was setup. The whole time I wondered why he hadn’t shot the bird yet. Little did I know he couldn’t see him just yet.
The Tom started working his way up the hill strutting the entire time. After a few seconds I heard the distinct sound of the safety coming off of the shotgun and then “click.” It was the same click you would hear if you dry fired a gun. At this point the bird was within 10 feet of Kevin. He turned from strutter to runner in no time. Kevin racked the action and put one round into the bird and he dropped. There was a round in the gun on the first attempt but the firing pin didn’t strike hard enough make the shell go off. By 6:40am, we had two mature Tom’s on the ground and a close to our season just as fast as it started.
I like to think of spring turkey hunting as a poor man’s elk hunt. With the strategy, calling, and in your face action they are very similar. I look forward to chasing strutting Tom’s each and every spring and am already thinking about 2016. Even though my first tag wasn’t punched, my 2015 has already been more successful than my entire 2014 spent in the field. I’m hoping to continue this good fortune for the rest of the year.
Stats for the birds:
Ed’s bird 20.6 pounds, 10.5″ beard, and 1″ spurs
Kevin’s bird 20.5 pounds, 11″ beard, and 1 1/4″ spurs