Of Turkey Hunts Loved And Lost

By Chris Larsen

Buying a turkey tag is sort of like getting married. We don’t buy them with the expectation of it ending badly. Still, the statistics show that is what is most likely to happen. In fact, turkey hunting is so tough you have a better chance of having a successful marriage than a successful turkey hunt. Of course, unsuccessful turkey hunts are pretty cheap in comparison.

Looking Back At Turkey Season's Past Is the Key To Turkey Season FutureAfter a great year of turkey hunting in 2009, I was confident this season would deliver results. I scouted our property, put together a plan, and knew where the roosting areas were. It sounds like a winning formula. Unfortunately, with three potential tags, we came home with one jake. What went wrong? Several factors led to our failures. Some self-inflicted, some no fault of our own. The key is to learn and improve from them. I wrote a column back in January about keeping a log book to track results and observations for deer hunting. Many of the elements of that story apply to turkey hunting as well.

Read Keeping A Log Of Your Past Hunts By Chris Larsen

Weather affected our hunt in more ways than one. Spring temperatures in Wisconsin are well above normal. Farmers in our area had crops in the ground in mid-April. That is incredibly rare. The warm temperatures also led to trees budding and ground cover leafing well ahead of schedule. Last season’s toms would run through the woods to get to our calls. This year they hit the brakes at the edge of the woods. With so much cover for potential predators, turkeys seemed reluctant to chase down a hen they couldn’t see.

Our hunting grounds are notorious for high winds. In the three turkey seasons I have hunted this property, I have witnessed turkeys favoring certain areas based on wind conditions. Frankly, I feel like I was not flexible enough to take advantages of the conditions. Sometimes having a plan can hurt. For example, the night before our last hunting day, we made a decision on where we would set up in the morning. We stepped out of the cabin and into a very pleasant early morning. About an hour after sunrise, it was evident that we chose a bad place to set up. The day was calm and on most calm mornings, the turkeys gravitate to a certain cornfield on the west side of our property. Predictably, that field was full of turkeys that had no desire to come to our location. Making an adjustment the moment we stepped out of the cabin, would have led to plucking feathers instead of pulling what’s left of our hair out.

The dynamics of the flock was also a factor. In 2008, heavy rains washed out many nests and poult survival was low. In contrast, 2009 was a banner year for nesting turkeys in Southwest Wisconsin. The result is fewer adult toms(the 2008 class would be sporting their first full beards this season) and an abundance of jakes. The good news is the 2009 class will be targeted birds next year. Fierce competition between so many toms should be a blast!

We also spotted a few coyotes while hunting. During my pre-season scouting I found a pair of turkey carcasses that no doubt fell victim to coyotes. Raccoons were also on the prowl for turkey eggs. Three times in three days we had raccoons come within 10 yards of us. Predator control is clearly a priority in 2010.

One of the biggest lessons I take from this season is to be on the “X”. In other words, be where the turkeys want to be. As hunters, we get caught up in our calls and fancy decoys. We think we can make turkeys go where we want them to go. Under perfect conditions, you can. It is incredibly rewarding when it does happen. However, being where the birds want to go will consistently put birds in the bag. The turkeys were not responsive to calling and I believe we should have shifted to fall tactics.

This may sound like a story filled with a bunch of excuses. If I just used them as excuses that is exactly what it would be. Learning from the mistakes and observations made during this season will equate to success in the future. I didn’t tag a bird this spring, but the season was still successful.

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