Nothing could have prepared us for this. 19°F is what my phone read at 4:45 AM. A quick glance out the window showed a layer of snow from the night before. It was April 9th and we were getting ready for our first Wisconsin turkey hunt of the spring, and oh what lovely conditions we were greeted with . . . Had it been my tag, I probably would have elected to stay in bed, but thankfully the decision wasn’t up to me. It was up to Isaac and nothing was going to get in the way of his first ever turkey hunt.
Isaac is my wife’s little cousin and he had never been hunting before. He had expressed his interest in wanting to hunt during several family get-togethers and we finally made it happen. He got his spring turkey application in before the December deadline and we waited for the results. In the meantime, Isaac completed the hunter safety course.
The results came in and he drew the second time slot. He also could participate in the youth hunt, since he was under the age of 16. So here we are, it’s the first morning of the youth turkey season and snow covers the ground on a crisp 20° morning. Out the door we headed.
We came across this large flock of turkeys while scouting during a snow storm the day before.
The day prior was spent scouting and I was able to locate a large group of birds just off the highway on one of the farms we had permission to hunt. A flock of 40 or so were on one side of the road and a lonesome 3 were on the other. I knew exactly where we needed to get a blind up, but didn’t think it could be done without bumping the birds off the field. I returned to the field a couple hours later to set up the blind with hope that the birds had moved on . . . they didn’t, and now instead of 3 birds, there was roughly 20 in the field. With snow moving in, I made the executive decision to go ahead and bust the birds so I could get the blind set up. Hopefully it would give them enough time to work back towards the field before roosting.
Here’s the turkey blind all brushed in. It would be covered with snow by the morning.
On the day of the hunt, during the early morning drive to the property, I knew Isaac was excited. He was loaded with the same questions and curiosity that I remember having as a young hunter. As we eased towards the blind along the creek bank, we froze in our tracks when multiple gobblers broke the morning silence. I turned to Isaac and said, “It’s going to be a good morning!” He smiled and we quickly made our way to the blind. Due to the snow, daylight seemed to be coming fast and these birds could be flying down at any time.
We got the Montana Decoys situated out in front of the blind – a hen decoy accompanied by a full strut tom. The waiting game was on and we could only hope that they would fly down on our side of the creek. We opened some hand warmers and waited patiently in the snow covered blind. Luckily for us, “boring” was not an adjective suited to describe this hunt. Four or five gobblers were hammering to our calls all morning long. It was only a matter of time before they would emerge from the woodlot.
Isaac with his first turkey.
An hour passed and it seemed like the birds hadn’t moved at all. With them being in their winter flocks, I was afraid this could happen. Still, they kept us engaged. I didn’t hit the call much early on because I knew they were all flocked up and with hens. They’d answer to every call, but never advance. Without being able to see them, our options were limited. Our hands were getting cold and Isaac’s toes were starting to get that tingly feeling every cold-weather hunter knows all too well.
Not knowing how much longer we’d be able to last, I decided to amp up the calling with the hopes of firing up the hens. Armed with diaphragm call in my mouth and a box call in hand, I started calling as if there were two hens and a gobbler out in the field. Just as I had hoped, the hens in the group started firing back and the gobblers were responding. Our eyes were peeled to the wood line, surely something was going to appear.
More ramped up calling and more responses, but still no visual. Then, during a quiet period, we heard a sound I’m very familiar with coming from directly behind us. I knew exactly what I was going to see when I peeked out the back window of the blind – a tom in full strut! Not one, but two! Their wings were popping off the crusty snow and the strutting gobblers were less than 5 yards away!
Mayhem broke out in the blind as I shuffled to get the camera out of Isaac’s way and he readied for the shot. You can’t really walk a first time hunter through the steps of aiming and breathing when a hunt takes a turn like this. These birds came out of nowhere! To make matters even trickier, the birds came from our back left and Isaac being a lefty needed to completely shift his body for the shot. Amazingly, he got the gun out the window as I sat back with the camera.
Isaac preparing to take the shot on the strutting tom.
The birds were walking by at about 25 yards when Isaac finally got a bead on the moving gobbler’s head. As he steadied his aim, you could hear the nervous and excited breaths that overtake a hunters’ body every time a shot is about to be taken.
The gobbler folded in its tracks from a perfectly placed shot. Like a couple of little school girls, we giggled, high-fived, and celebrated an unbelievable turkey hunt. We honestly could not believe what had just happened. Isaac was tagged out with a whopping 27.5-pound longbeard!
On his very first turkey hunt, with less than ideal conditions, Isaac had shot a bird bigger than anything I’ve ever shot over the course of 14 previous turkey seasons! What a bird and what an accomplishment! More than anything, I’m glad I was there to be part of something that he will never forget.
Yup, this world just gained another lifelong hunter and I encourage anybody who is willing and able to do the same and take a kid hunting. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.