By Ben Gruber
By the time you read this, the opening day of turkey hunting will be less than two weeks away. Hens will yelp their staccato, and the toms will respond with a thundering gobble as they get set to perpetuate their species. The boys will work hard to impress the ladies by displaying their great fans and strutting with their wingtips.
Wild turkeys kind of fly under the radar these days, a victim of their own success. Our first modern wild turkey hunting season occurred in 1983, just nine years after trading ruffed grouse with Missouri for some breeding stock.
It is pretty amazing to think that 43 years ago, there was no such thing as a wild turkey in the entire state. Now, 40,000-50,000 turkeys are harvested during Wisconsin’s spring and fall hunting seasons. Though it seems counterintuitive, modern hunters really are great conservationists, following in the footsteps of greats like Teddy Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold, and Fred Bear.
For those not familiar with turkey hunting in Wisconsin, our spring turkey hunting is split into six seasons, each a week long. Tags are allocated in a drawing with applications due on Dec. 10 each year.
If you did not apply back in December, do not despair as there are usually a plethora of leftover tags available for the last two or three seasons. They can be bought online or at DNR license agents.
Interested in turkey hunting but do not know how? The DNR sponsors learn-to-hunt events across the state with local partners who will teach you and pair you with a mentor that takes you hunting. It is a great way to get into hunting, easy to get started and magically addicting.
Those of us who have experienced it are all too aware of the adrenaline rush of a tom turkey gobble thundering through the dark frosty woods.
You can see your breath in the dusk, and you shiver a little and regret not wearing a heavier jacket. The forest goes silent for a brief time as the sun breaks over the tree tops. You wonder what happened to that tom that was gobbling like crazy a few minutes ago. A few more yelps on your old box call, and suddenly he erupts with a double gobble, 30 yards away.
You turn your head and see him there, directly to your right. If only you were a left-handed shooter, he would be yours. Instead, you have to watch him in full strut, wingtips dragging through the leaves, as he slowly yet regally makes his way towards your hen decoy with one thing on his mind. As he passes behind a big maple, you reach for your gun carefully, remembering that turkeys are very wary and have extremely good vision.
You will have to get out and create your own ending to that story because I am leaving you hanging right there. I have to go find my gear and dust off my calls.
I shot my first turkey at the age of 15 and was hooked. My wife shot a memorable one three years ago that we call her “Princess Tom.” I was out mushroom hunting in the woods at my parents’, and there was a tom gobbling that just would not stop. I hiked back and interrupted my wife, who was nursing a newborn and writing her thesis, and dragged her up the hill.
We plopped down behind a tree and scratched out a few clucks on a slate call, and he trotted in to about 20 yards. She made a perfect shot and tagged a nice tom turkey. I joked with her that it was her “Princess Turkey” since she spent an entire 14 minutes in the woods hunting him, although it was good to get back before the baby even realized we were gone. I guess sometimes it pays to be married to a woodsman, even if she will never admit it.
Ben Gruber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.