"That's Why They Call It Hunting" Fall Turkeys in Minnesota

Getting an adrenalin rush from a bull was a first, or more specifically, a large Shorthorn Durham bull. We had turkey hunted this cattle pasture the day before, and while scouting it two days prior, this same dominant bull had assumed a threatening posture as we passed. We respectfully deferred to his prowess, and crept away in the opposite direction. This morning the air was still, my turkey decoys were poised and I was ready for action. I was positioned in a ground stand of large fallen timbers at the edge of a grazing field. Oaks and walnut trees were gracefully shedding their leaves with an occasional walnut dropping as the sun rose. A cold yet idyllic morning. A doe had come up in perfect shooting range earlier and I passed up the shot just before she winded me, so when I again heard the sound of an approaching large animal, I figured it to be another whitetail. From my peripheral vision, I could see it instead was several cows and a bull. I froze. The moment they caught sight of my turkey decoys, they spooked.... all except the bull. He began his posturing again, eyes flashing as he stalked the decoys with aggressive disdain. I couldn't help but crack a smile. Several cows followed tentatively behind him. My decoys were 15 yards from me, and the cattle looked huge from my low and hidden seated position. The bull nudged, nose rubbed and stamped my Featherlight decoys until the plastic pole on one of them broke. He chewed the beard on the jake decoy, and after determining these imposters to be harmless, began to walk toward me. My lips snapped shut over my previous toothy grin, and the humor of the situation was replaced by a hot flash of fear. I figured he could not see me because I was so well hidden, but in my mind was the de je vous of getting mentally bullied by this critter two days earlier. My heart was racing as if I had a thirty point buck in my sites. Suddenly, my buddy Dale did a series of yelp calls from his own blind across the large field. Every last cow went on red alert...backing away step by step and in turn, galloping off in fright. I laughed quietly and thought to myself "Thanks old buddy". Mentally, I had planned on climbing the nearest tree if the bull decided to charge. I later found that Dale's calling was not to save my sorry hide but was pure happenstance. He could not even see the cattle because the large knoll in the center of the field blocked his view of my predicament.

I had heard that Fall turkeys were unpredictable birds, and archery hunting them made it even more of a challenge. I had killed my first gobbler the previous Spring and thought I had them figured out. But with no mating rituals, no gobbling and no predictable travel patterns, it seemed like Fall turkey hunting was kind of a crap shoot. Minnesota had snapped from a hot endless summer, to early winter conditions and no Fall to speak of this year. Temps ranged from 26-45 degrees with howling winds up to 35 mph for all but one of our hunting days. It was an endurance test to hunt longer than 4-5 hours at a time. The first night at camp, it was 26 degrees, but thanks to a good tent and tent heater, I didn't freeze. We were in a primitive campground with no water or electric, and one outhouse for everyone. I was weaned on this kind of hunting and I like it. We had obtained permission by advance calling and by door knocking, to hunt 3 different farms in the area.

Day 1 had been slow, but Dale had seen a flock of birds out of range so our hopes were high. Day 2 was the decoy mauling incident in the morning, but in the evening we hunted a different farm where I saw a flock of turkeys over 100 yards away at 4:45pm. Day 3 it was pouring rain and I felt like a bum for sleeping in as I heard everyone else in camp leaving for the morning hunt, but sometimes a person just has to be a bum. The evening of Day 3, I decided to set up a stand where I saw the turkey flock. I arrived at 2pm in hopes of getting settled for when they came through after four o'clock. True to their unpredictable ways, I no sooner started to trim out twigs for a ground stand, than I saw the same flock appear out of nowhere a hundred yards away. They could not see me because I was hidden in a wooded swale, and with the high winds, I was just another moving blob in the distance. However, my bow and gear were at distant tree 15 yards away. I dropped and crawled through the brush and vines to go get my bow, nock an arrow, and crawl back to my trimmed tree. I figured the birds would round the point I was on as they had done the day before, so I crawled through waist high tangled brush to the edge of the point. The vines grabbed at my face mask, hat, and bow, sort of like those bad dreams we have as kids. I slowly raised up to spot the turkeys. They had been milling around and were now headed in the opposite direction. Dang ! I dropped back down and crawled down the swale, slipping up periodically to keep an eye on their travel. My plan was to hunker down and creep through the center of the swale to get ahead of the birds, and hopefully get a shot. After 50 yards, I rose again but the flock had now ducked into the standing corn to feed. I could hear them vocalizing to each other as they went away from me. "Oh well, there went my big chance" I thought. I slunk back to my gear and trimmed out a second stand location. Scanning the filed, I suddenly noticed four gobblers feeding within twenty yards of the stand I had been in the night before, but 110 yards from me now. Of course. However, if I crept down the swale, and belly crawled through the high grass, I could get within shooting range. With the wind wildly tossing the trees and grasses, I would never be discovered. I just needed to get close enough to stand and shoot. I followed the myriad deer trails through the tall grass. After crawling each twenty yards, I would ooze up so only my eyes could see the birds. They were completely unaware of my approach. I slowing inched to what I estimated would be 40 yards from the gobblers, and raised slowly to see the last bird sauntering casually into the woods. Hmmph. Foiled again, but this time because my approach was too slow. I would never have guessed that a hunter could spot and stalk turkeys, but if I had known this farm better, my effort would have met with success. The swale I had initially crept through continued on well past the bird travel route, and I could have gotten ahead of them had I known the area better. Maybe next year. Dale was shooting a recurve and had a 25 yard shot but passed that evening in another section of the farm. We had earlier practiced flinging arrows in between morning and evening hunts, and while he was sure of a first arrow at 15 yards, 25 yards was iffy. I always admire someone who passes the temptation to make a questionable shot.

On Day 4, I hunted from my Double Bull blind on another farm, but didn't see any birds. That evening I tried the corn field area again, this time setting up a blind six rows back in the corn itself, since I kept seeing all the birds duck in there to feed. I saw nary a turkey however. Instead, my excitement for the evening was having a toilet emergency among the corn stalks that required the hasty digging of a hole in the hard ground with a corn cob and then discovering that corn husks and grass are not very efficient or comfortable for personal hygiene. I guess there is a first for everything.

There is not a day that goes by when hunting, that I don't learn something new, and this trip was no exception. I learned that Fall turkeys are totally different animals than Spring turkeys. And who'd have thought a bull could give a person buck fever? I learned I could spot and stalk turkeys and get as much thrill from that as actually taking and placing a shot. And, I learned that I can endure the harshest weather in more primitive conditions as long as I have the right gear. I suffered through my first deer firearms season with all the wrong gear many years ago, and vowed "never again". I have shared my gear list at the end of this article. I was kidded that my tent and all my 'stuff' were like the Taj Mahal, but unless I am well equipped for comfort when I hunt, I am miserable. I am willing to bet that many women, and men alike, have quit hunting or have not even tried it, because they lacked the proper gear to make hunting comfortable and enjoyable. It has taken me many years, but I finally have the gear I need to hunt in comfort. And finally, I learned that 'power lounging' and skipping a hunt is okay. The birds will still be there later, after all.

As I nestled in my warm truck for the drive home and snacked out of a cooler, I mentally savored each element of the hunt. As I have written before, the thrill of the kill is greatly overrated and the real thrill is in the pursuit. I recently got an e-mail from a novice hunter in England asking me to explain the 'thrill of the kill'. I explained that the thrill of the kill is a tiny part of the hunt, otherwise they would call it 'killing' and not 'hunting'. On this turkey hunt, when I lamented a bit about not getting a shot at a turkey, my hunting buddy came back with his usual fatherly response saying "That's why they call it hunting." I must admit, I suppress the primal urge to sock him in the arm, but how very true it is. That's why they call it hunting.

CAMPING GEAR:

 

  • Cabelas 6 man expedition tent in camo
  • Tent floor liner
  • Coleman zero degree zip sleeping bag (cotton duck, flannel interior) Fleet Farm
  • Second bag rated at 25 degrees
  • Fleece blanket (to put around your neck so cold air does not get into bag)
  • Cabelas 4 inch foam bedroll
  • Slumberjack folding cot
  • Cot caddy for hanging gear
  • Cabelas canvas cot accessory holder
  • Slumberjack folding camo camp chair
  • Coleman Powercat tent heater (and at least one dozen 16 oz. propane tanks)
  • Coleman mini-propane lantern
  • Coleman 5 gal hard side plastic water containers with spigot
  • Cabelas Folding aluminum table
  • Tent spike puller & whisk broom for tent floor
  • 35 gal. Rubbermaid containers for gear stowage

OUTER WEAR ( I layer combinations of these):

  • Browning insulated hyrdofleece with scent control
  • bibs and quad jacket (men's size small)
  • Cabelas insulated women's rain wear (women's medium)
  • Scentblocker Under Guard underwear (mens' small)
  • Cabelas non-insulted MT-050 rainwear (men's small)
  • Gander Mountain women's heavy flannel camo BDU's pants, shirt and jacket (size small)
  • Bass Pro womens jacket/zip liner, BDU pants and shirt


UNDERWEAR:

  • SmartWool brand, ( I wear two layers for cold weather, sometimes three)
  • light, mid and heavy weight sox (change with each hunt)
  • Women's pointelle wool underwear, tops and bottoms
  • Women's regular Smartwool underwear, crew and zip neck
  • glove liners and sock liners in Smartwool
  • Smartwool Undervests
  • Patagonia expedition weight tops with zip neck, and bottoms
  • North Face brand 350 weight zip front fleece vest
  • Cabelas womens Windstopper lined wool sweater

FOOTWEAR

  • 500 gram thinsulate Rocky Buckstalker rubber boots (men size 7)
  • 600 gram Rocky stalkers/gortex (wms size 9)
  • 500 gram Wolverine/gortex (men's size 8, for thick sox)
  • 400 gram Lacrosse camo cordura/gortex
  • 1000 gram Rocky extreme pack boots (rated 120 below, men's size 9)

OTHER

  • Insulated Gloves by Arctic Shield
  • Scentblocker 3D Leafy Lite Suit
  • Face Masks - 3/4 in both mesh, and cloth
  • Bow Sling by Balcom (for hands free carry and holding on stand)
  • Double Bull ground blinds
  • Polar Fleece neck gator
© October 2002