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Working Out the Kinks

Posted by Brian Lovett, Contributing Editor

An old turkey hunting cliché tells us that every day is opening day. Yeah, I know that’s pretty lame. But there’s also a lot of truth there.

I was reminded of that this past week, when I joined co-workers Craig Netzer and Dustin Reid for an opening-week Wisconsin hunt. The pair had been seeing wads of gobblers at a nearby property, much of which consisted of open fields and pastures. We planned to set up in a fence-line blind and try to lure the birds across a field and into range — something they had been doing on their own, anyway.

craig dustin 08.jpgOf course, nothing went as planned. “Our” turkeys were roosted in a swamp across the field, and they tore it up that morning.

Unfortunately, they pitched down the other way and pretty much disappeared. Meanwhile, a bird that was roosted to the north sailed into the pasture and landed 75 steps behind us, catching me flat-footed. As we slowly turned to face the gobbler, a hen joined him in the pasture, and he began strutting and gobbling for her. After a few minutes, the disinterested hen flew over the pasture fence and walked directly behind us in the field. I figured the gobbler would follow at any minute … but no. Instead, he dropped out of strut and slowly walked away over the rise.

It was 5:45 a.m., and our morning was pretty much finished.

Lacking a better plan, we returned to the pasture blind the next day, and things took a turn for the worse. First, two hunters walked directly under the turkeys on the neighboring property — while wearing headlamps — and then climbed into a tree stand about two trees over from where the birds were roosted. Then, they began cutting and yelping incessantly. Believe it or not, the birds gobbled once or twice at it. But as you probably guessed, they flew down the other way and clammed up.

Meanwhile, there was nothing gobbling at our place. Figuring we’d wait 15 minutes and then hit another area, I called a bit and then set my slate call down. That’s when I saw it.

“Dustin, is that a turkey on top of the hill?” I whispered.

Sure enough. Within minutes, three jakes made a beeline for our decoys.

Dustin eased slowly to his right, got the gun into position and then made a great shot on the lead bird.

Sweet. A seemingly rotten morning was suddenly a day to remember.
Of course, Craig still had a tag, so we went to another spot and immediately heard a bird gobble on its own. Slipping into a small pine grove bordered by a hayfield, Craig set up, and I called again to get a fix on the turkeys. They were several hundred yards away, past another thick pine stand.

For a while, the gobblers — I figured there were two, maybe three — hit every call. Then, they gobbled intermittently, sometimes at calling but also at crows, a garbage truck and seemingly nothing at all. And they never moved.
Figuring the setup was hopeless, Dustin and I had never gotten into position. In fact, we were kneeling at the field edge about 10 steps behind Craig. I was about to suggest that we leave when a gobble erupted 200 yards in front of us. Holy smokes — it was from the field edge. However, that was followed by a half-gobble and raucous jake yelping, so I pretty much disregarded the first gobble.

And minutes later, when I saw a turkey slipping toward us through the pines, I expected a jake to appear. Imagine my surprise when I glimpsed golden-brown feathers and heard the prettiest little hen yelp in the world.

That’s when I heard the drumming. Great. The hen had brought along a strutter. No wait — two strutters. Better, the birds were over the rise and out of sight from Craig, headed straight toward me and Dustin, who were kneeling like altar boys in the open. There was no doubt that we’d be busted shortly.

Within seconds, two hens and the strutters popped into the field behind us. One gobbler must have seen us move, because he rubber-necked it across the field into some hardwoods. Still, the hens and remaining longbeard slowly circled around behind us and to the left.

Dustin and I frantically hissed at Craig to crawl up toward us so he could shoot the turkey. Meanwhile, the birds were slowly moving out of range, so I called once. The gobbler responded, actually turned away from the hen and began walking toward us.

As Craig slithered to get into position, I alternately glimpsed the bird’s fan and head as he angled toward us, strutting just below the lip of the hill. When the gun went off, I jumped up, saw the flopping turkey and breathed a huge sigh of relief. Somehow, we’d pulled it off.

The moral of the story? Maybe every day really is opening day. Or maybe you’d better be ready to accept good fortune when it falls in your lap.

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