Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Photo of man and boy hunters with turkey © DNR Files

Make the time to introduce someone to a new outdoor experience.
© DNR File Photo

April 2011

Savor the hunt and share the experience

A spring turkey hunt is even more exciting when seen through the eyes of a new hunter.

Jordan Marsh

We remember when something good happens whether it occurred years ago or relatively recently. We also remember the people who make time to introduce us to those great experiences.

To encourage more of those special occasions, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources annually sets aside designated weekends for free camping, fishing and several special hunts to introduce girls, boys and inexperienced adults to new outdoor activities. Last April I was pleased to again act as a mentor during such a youth turkey season. Anyone age 10-15 can participate in these spring hunts as long as they have a valid turkey license, a turkey stamp and are accompanied by a mentor at least 18 years old. Here at Marsh Outdoors, we annually gather a small group of mentors to accompany youth, teach by example about hunting ethics, share hunting techniques and skills, find a quality place to practice those skills, and try our luck hunting.

That spring, I introduced Brett Tyler to turkey hunting. We started by taking Brett to a shooting range to practice handling a shotgun safely. We also wanted to help him pattern the gun he was going to be using so he would have a sense of how many pellets would likely hit his target at a given distance. Range time gives new hunters of all ages a chance to get used to handling guns, allows time to practice aiming and firing a firearm, and gives them the confidence they will need to feel comfortable when the turkey is in front of them.

After our range time, Brett and I headed out to some local farms to do some scouting and judge where we would want to be sitting the following morning. We put on several miles looking for the elusive turkeys that seemed to be hanging tight in the woods. As we pulled onto a farmstead, I talked with Brett about the importance of asking for permission before entering any private property. We introduced ourselves to the farmer with a firm handshake and kept good eye-to-eye contact while explaining what we were after. The farmer graciously granted us permission to hunt in hopes that he could also give this youngster a chance to harvest his first turkey. Brett and I talked over where we'd like to try our luck the next morning. We walked the field and woods in the area. Then we shared our plan with the landowner so we'd know where to park our vehicle and alert him to which part of the property we'd like to hunt. We headed home after the turkeys had gone back into the woods. We had high hopes that the morning would bring good results.

I picked up Brett the next morning before dawn at 4:30 a.m. He was bright-eyed, dressed and ready to go. You could sense the excitement in his eyes as we anticipated setting up for the hunt and sitting in the woods to watch the world wake up. We drove about 10 minutes to the farm just northwest of Rice Lake, parked the truck and prepared for the short walk to our spot. We headed into the woods at 4:50 a.m. It was still pitch black. We knew where turkeys were roosting and wanted to get as close as possible without spooking them from their trees. The darkness and a very windy morning made it possible to sneak close to the birds. The whistling wind covered up any minor noises we were making. We sat down after picking two solid trees to sit against, and then waited for the first morning gobble and sunrise from the east. Legal shooting hours started at 5:59 a.m., so we were plenty early and ready. We waited.

All of a sudden the big ol' toms decided to wake up and let out an early morning earth-shaking gobble! Both Brett and I heard it about 75 yards behind us, a little farther back in the woods than I had anticipated. We had set up on the very edge of the woods and the field line, the exact location where we had seen the turkeys the night before. Gobbles continued furiously behind us as all three toms thundered in the crisp morning air. Then I looked up and whispered to Brett, "Don't move an inch."

Just to our right side only 10 yards or so away a hen turkey was still roosted in a tree. As far as I could tell she was still sleeping, but we could not take any chances. Brett did a great job of sitting completely motionless for as long as he needed to. After about 15 minutes of not moving, we saw several hens and the first couple of them flew down from the trees behind us. There were about eight to 10 hens in all and naturally the one above us was the last to leave the tree. She still had no clue we were around. She flew down about 80 yards away and joined the other hens in the field.

The toms were more hesitant to show themselves, but one great big gobbler slowly made his way to the group of hens pecking at the field in front of us. We had set up a decoy at about 20 yards in hopes of drawing attention from some of the birds. We did minimal calling as the turkeys could clearly see the decoy, and we did not want to try to compete with so many hens. The turkeys did not pay any attention to us for 10 minutes, but once the first hen headed our way to see what the fuss was about, it was like watching little goslings chasing a mother goose. They followed in a perfect line and headed right for us! I told Brett to get ready for the big tom who was strutting his stuff for all of the beautiful ladies around him. Eleven of the 12 hens directly in front of us walked right up to the decoy in perfect placement, the exact spot we needed the tom to walk to. The only problem was the very last hen wouldn't follow the pack. She decided to hang out on the hilltop and that big tom decided to stay with that lone hen 60 yards away instead of following the other 11 ladies. The hens right in front of us were absolutely care-free, feeding on the ground and having a grand time just doing what they do every morning.

I looked over at Brett for a moment and he was shaking like a leaf. If you have ever seen the excitement of a young hunter, you know exactly what I am talking about. He was so excited that he would place the shotgun on his knee and within seconds it would shake off to the side. It was a miracle that the turkeys did not see that movement. I smiled and recalled my own times sitting, shaking and waiting for that moment to pull the trigger.

After about five minutes, the hen with the lone tom started heading in the opposite direction, and the tom slowly followed her. Then the hens in front of us slowly turned and headed off in the same direction, proceeding to the east. And that was it. They never came back! We sat and called every 15 minutes or so to try to get a response from another tom or jake but had no response.

Around 9 a.m. I received a phone call from another mentor who was just two miles down the road. His young partner had just dropped a good mature tom. I asked Brett if he wanted to stay seated in hope of getting a bird, or if he wanted to see that big bird. He wanted to see the gobbler.

We headed down the road and met the other pair. The young hunter had shot the big tom with a 10-inch beard at just over 20 yards.

Though Brett and I hadn't fired a shot, we considered our whole morning a big success. We had sure seen plenty of turkeys at close range. Though only one of these two youthful hunters got to put a bird in the crosshairs, both had enjoyed every minute of their experience. And I have to say that sharing the morning with Brett and seeing a sparkle in his eye from the minute I picked him up until I dropped him off was great. He was pumped, and seeing that gun shake so hard on his knee was priceless.

On the ride home Brett said, "Jordan you are fearless. I would have never walked in the woods that early in the morning without you. Thanks for taking me out this morning."

That really gave me a feeling of accomplishment. I could tell that Brett had a great time and I had thoroughly enjoyed it too. So the next opportunity you get, make the time to introduce someone new to a new outdoor experience. They will appreciate it for a lifetime and you might just make yourself a memory too.

Jordan Marsh is a recent Universtiy of Wisconsin – Stevens Point graduate who majored in fisheries and biology. He also produces an outdoor TV show, Marsh Outdoors, that has aired in Stevens Point and Rice Lake. Take a look at Marsh Outdoors to see some show segments of past hunting and fishing trips.