Three Magical Days: Part II- First Turkey Hunt

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Turkey hunting tends to get us up early. Normally, it feels like a death march from bed to the kitchen. But not the other day. I practically sprang from bed, not having slept very soundly all night. It was my daughter’s first-ever day of turkey hunting. 

Unfortunately, due to her busy teenage schedule, it would be the only full day we would have this spring to devote to hunting. After that, the best we could expect was to piece a few hours together here and there. It felt to me like a lot of pressure to make the most of the day, not that there was any way to influence the outcome. 

But not everything was working against us. There was far more working in our favor. 

The chosen spot was in a comfy deer stand on land that has been in my mom’s family for generations. It’s in a natural funnel between a lake and a big dirt field, on a travel route for deer and turkeys. My dad had been receiving numerous trail camera pictures of various birds— single hens, groups of hens, unidentified turkeys. Plus, he picked off one jake from a group of four the previous week, leaving the other three to return at a later time.

When Dad said, “They’ve been coming through in the midday. I think you have a really good chance if you can sit there all day long,” it was a real confidence boost. Most of the time it feels like stumbling around in the dark; rarely do I have a good lead on turkeys. I tried not to reveal my excitement, lest it leave my daughter overly disappointed if she be left with an unused tag.

The morning started out warm and windy, over-60-degree breezes knocking our caps off as we stepped outside in the dark. Once in the stand, not much could be heard besides geese as they rocketed past. 

So much for hearing her first gobble. 

Already at 6:30, we had our first sighting. “Dad, there’s a turkey.”  

She was calm. I was not. 

I strained from my seat to see past the ancient oak tree out the south window. When it came into view, it was easily identified as a hen. Small. Brown. Slender, curving neck. No beard. 

We relaxed again on our seats. I urged her to watch that hen, to observe her habits and the way she moved. It was a good opportunity to point out how, even when they seem nonchalant, turkeys don’t let their guards down. 

That bird didn’t seem to find much to eat. Though she was looking intently, she didn’t peck at anything more than a couple times. This continued as she wound past us, and into and through the cemetery. I had to wonder if she would return eventually, perhaps with a bearded friend in tow.

To see a lone hen was slightly disappointing, but I took it as a good sign. My philosophy is that if hens are around, gobblers will probably be also. I resumed vigilance, feeling as though a glowing red head would appear at any moment. 

A couple hours later, the sky to the west looked rather ominous. The stiffer gusts shook our plywood house. Literally the same second I wondered about hazardous weather, my pocket buzzed. It was Mom. 

“Severe thunderstorm warning. It’s near Eagle Lake and coming toward you!”

We packed up a couple things and hightailed it back to the car. Not knowing how long it might last, we went the few miles back to my folks’ house. 

By the time I could pull up and study the radar, it was apparent the worst was over. 

Upon return, it occurred to me how extremely casual that little detour in our day was. Taking an hour out of my hunt like that would normally have eaten me up. But I didn’t mind. It didn’t matter because an air of inevitability hung over the whole day. 

My girl was going to get her bird. 

The wind continued to pummel us. One of the decoys literally spun in circles. Sleep deprivation wore us down. 

Around 3:30, a bowl of soup sounded good. Out came the isobutane stove and kettle. 

I like those gut-rot instant ramen, and just making one is a good way to break the tedium and keep the mind occupied. My deer stand usually smells like cheap chicken soup at least once a day, so why not the turkey stand?

When I had gotten the water poured and stove lit, I sat up in the chair and glanced out the north window. 

Turkey, sneaking through the woods. 

“There’s a turkey over here,” I hissed as I bent over to shut off the stove. I didn’t see if it was gobbler or hen, but rather expected it to be the early bird returning.

“No, there’s three!”

“What?!”

That’s when I knew it was happening. 

As we’d already talked about at length, I reminded her not to stick her gun out of the window too quickly, to be shrewd about her movements. 

She did well. 

But just before the first two jakes reached the decoys, one became suspicious. I couldn’t tell why, but they were obscured by trunks and branches, so she couldn’t quite get a shot. They began to amble away, stiff-necked. 

My heart pounded in my ears. 

“That one on the left— when he gives you a shot, take it.”

POW! 

He hit the leaves with real conviction. We rejoiced and laughed and hugged. 

I texted my folks, who said they’d be out shortly for taking pictures and such. They probably knew they weren’t needed to take pictures, but were obviously excited and positively nothing could have convinced them to stay home. 

There were many pictures. A girl doesn’t get her first turkey every day, after all. There were standing pictures and sitting pictures. Turkey on rock, turkey on log. Turkey on another log. Turkey over shoulder. 200 exposures later, we packed up and marched out through the old cemetery one last time. 

My mom expressed how happy her grandmother would be to know her great granddaughter took a turkey from her land.

”She would really think that is something.”

By her remark I could tell she had been contemplating such a wondrous and wonderful thing, and how proud she was. I imagine she was moved by deep feelings surrounding family, connection to the land, and legacy.

I know I was. 

~

Making the most of the foraging harvest

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Well, the foraging season is behind us now and it’s safe to say this one was far from overwhelming. Each is different, of course, and not every fruit, nut, or fungus is going to give generous harvests in any one year, but this one seemed more universally disappointing. Most folks would be quick to blame the drought that defined the summer, myself included. 

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Foraging in Minnesota: Wild Grapes

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I never paid much attention to wild grapes until a couple years ago. Growing up in the Minnesota River valley, we often encountered beefy grape vines in the woods that disappeared into the tops of the tallest treees. They were sturdy enough to swing on if you could break them at the bottom. The fruit I tasted on occasion wasn’t very good compared to the green and red grapes from the store, so I wrote them off in my youth. For decades, I didn’t know what I was missing. 

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Do Something New: River Smallmouth Float Trip

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I recently took a day trip on the Mississippi to do some fishing. It’s something I hadn’t done before, but had been considering trying on the many fishable rivers in the area. 

It’s good I did, because it will probably stand as one of the highlights of the entire summer. To tell the truth, the plan was so simple, it really couldn’t fail: just me, my kayak, the river, and any smallmouth bass that were in the mood for a tussle. 

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BWCA Entry Point 25: Winter Camping and Fishing

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For years I have dreamed of camping and ice fishing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Biting cold and slush-laden lake tops have kept me home the last two winters. That was fine; I’m not one to press my luck. But the warmer-than-average weather we’ve enjoyed lately had me itching to get at it.

Entry Point 25, with walleyes in Newfound Lake and brook trout in Found Lake, was the perfect setting for my introduction into winter adventuring. Little did I know, however, that introduction would come with a sobering peek into my own psyche. Continue reading “BWCA Entry Point 25: Winter Camping and Fishing”

The Year of Untouchable Bucks

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Hanging some antlers on the wall is a dream that sparkles in every deer hunter’s eye. Unsurprisingly, big bucks dominate deer hunting marketing and media. I will admit I’m not immune to the images and hype.

But at this time in my life, my main priorities each deer season are observing tradition, pursuing new experiences, and doing all I can to secure meat for my family. My 2020 deer hunt embodied those three as much or more than any other, spread across two weeks and three distinct settings. Continue reading “The Year of Untouchable Bucks”

Do Something New: Minnesota State Park Deer Hunt

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It all started about two years ago. My deer season had almost passed without a single deer sighting. I’d spent two rainy days in a deer stand on private property, then one especially frigid day hoofing it on state forest land. If it weren’t for the good fortune of my brother and dad, we’d have been short on meat for the year.

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Trip Report: Bottomland Paddling and Sanborn Canoe

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After my incredible deer hunt in the Mississippi bottomlands of southeast Minnesota last season, I’ve been hot to find similar territory for future excursions. And since the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge contains almost limitless opportunities for somebody with more ambition than sense, it was an obvious place to start.

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