By Brian G. Schommer There is a time and place for everything, and it is high time that we talk turkey. To “talk turkey” generally means to “speak in a frank manner.” In this case, it …
By Brian G. Schommer
There is a time and place for everything, and it is high time that we talk turkey. To “talk turkey” generally means to “speak in a frank manner.” In this case, it literally means that it is time to talk turkey, as in Turkey Hunting. The 2021 Minnesota Turkey opener was Wednesday, April 14th and like last year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has simplified some regulations which may make it easier to bag a gobbler. Except for three wildlife management areas in Minnesota, the spring turkey license allows hunters the chance to go anywhere in the state. To hunt in the Mille Lacs, Carlos Avery or Whitewater wildlife management areas, a hunter needed to apply for a lottery permit prior to February 12th. The DNR saw an increase in hunter participation and significant growth in youth license sales in 2020 due to the relaxed zone limitations. As increased license revenue becomes funding for environmental, wildlife preservation and conservation projects across the State, it was a win-win situation.
Most standard regulations are still in place with the 2021 season running from April 14th through May 31st. The season is divided into six different hunting periods (A through F). Hunters holding an archery-only license may hunt the entire season statewide. Those holding a firearms-only license can hunt ONLY during their selected hunting period. The firearm periods are: Hunt A: April 14-20, Hunt B: April 21-27, Hunt C: April 28-May 4, Hunt D: May 5-11, Hunt E: May 12-18 and Hunt F: May 19-31. If a firearm hunter is unsuccessful during their hunting period, they can hunt during period F with their unused tag. Hunters cannot possess both archery and firearms turkey licenses, however licensed hunters ages 17 and younger may hunt statewide for the entire season with firearms or archery equipment. More information is available on the Minnesota DNR website (dnr.state.mn.us).
To be honest, turkey hunting had not even crossed my mind this spring. I enjoy getting out in the woods, trying to bring a long-bearded Tom into range close enough for a successful harvest. I simply was feeling that I was too busy… despite what I wrote in last week’s column. Things are busy at the office and a lot of the civic things that I am involved with are starting to ramp up. There is also the never-ending list at home that somehow keeps growing. I have not hunted turkeys for a couple years and it was not on my priority list for 2021 or even on my radar.
Then, my cellphone rings and the familiar voice of my best buddy Terry says, “Hey Bri, what do you think about heading up to Finlayson to see if we can bag a turkey or two?” Just like that, there was a ping on my radar, and it was in the shape of a big old Tom turkey with a 10+ inch beard and big old spurs. My first inclination was to decline with the “I am just too busy,” response. Then, I reminded myself the preaching I did last week about being “too busy.” I heard my mom saying, “practice what you preach young man.” If I said yes, I knew that I would have to play catch-up at work. I knew that saying yes meant getting up at 3:30am, driving to Finlayson to get out into the woods, hunt all day and then drive back home. This would translate into one tired guy named “Bri” but, it was time to practice what I preached. “That sounds like a blast,” I said.
The translations were correct as I dragged myself out of bed, loaded up the Jeep and headed up Highway 61 to pick up Terry in Cottage Grove. After a quick pitstop for coffee and a danish, we drove to his land outside of Finlayson. Along the way, we hit a pothole that more resembled a small lake. Not expecting it to be as deep as it was, we nearly bottomed out which sent Terry airborne, smacking his head on the interior roof. Public Service Announcement: Always keep your seatbelt buckled, especially on a minimally maintained dirt road. We parked the vehicle, slowly walked into the woods, and set up our pop-up blind right below the deer stand that I sit in. Almost immediately, we started noticing a lot of movement, none of which was created by turkeys. Within a short period of time, we counted upwards of 10 different deer and a black bear. We had strategically placed our “Strutting Tom” decoy closely overlooking a “sitting hen” replica and placed another hen decoy about 30 yards to the right. We made several attempts with both scratch box and mouth calls as to say, “here we are boys… come and see what we have for you.” Either there were no boys in our area, or they just were not buying our trickery. The weather was not very conducive for hunting either as it was quite cold, wet and there was a dusting of snow covering the ground from the night before. No matter the reason, the morning hunt came up empty but the conversations, although at a whisper, were what you can expect from two guys that have been friends for over 40 years. The content of the chatter is also unprintable, as we try to keep this column family friendly.
We packed things up and drove around, once again encountering deer in just about every direction. Terry’s property coincidentally butts up to land owned by his nephew John. As we turned to head towards John’s parcel, we saw what we were hunting for. There were three beautiful, fully fanned-out gobblers strutting on a field along with 4 or 5 hens within 40 yards of the road. The larger Tom was sporting a 10 to 11-inch beard while the other two were in the 8 to 9-inch category; all very respectable adult birds. Unfortunately, the birds were not on John’s land and acted as if they knew they were safe as we did not have permission to hunt that field. It was becoming painfully obvious that the luck was not tilted in our favor. We did set up on the edge of John’s acreage for the late afternoon hunt, making a gallant effort at calling but it was to no avail. As the day passed, the weather became just a bit more miserable and when the sunset, the score was one to nothing in favor of the turkeys. The day was not a total wash as memories were made including a stop at Tobie’s in Hinkley on the way home for some great food and Caramel Rolls to go.
Taking advantage of the statewide opportunity, we made another run at bagging a feathered fowl off County Road 47 near Randolph. We saw a handful of hens that allowed their attention to be drawn to the yelps of our box calls and the decoys we scattered in the field. The presence of turkeys always increases the anticipation that a Tom or two may just pop out to check out the situation. Our luck continued from the opener however and not even the curiosity of a young Jake was drawn enough to bring them to the field. “Well,” I said with a hint of frustration in my voice, “we tried.” Terry smiled, acknowledging with a bit of a nod as we walked across the field knowing that we were now down 2-0. As far as turkey hunting goes, May 19th cannot get here soon enough, and we will take advantage of the ability to hunt that last hunt through the end of May. Between now and then, there are plenty of chances to “Get Out and Enjoy the Great Outdoors.” No excuses “not to” should be accepted.