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The spring turkey hunting begins Wednesday in Minnesota. Photo by Brian Hansel

Calling toms will be on the program for Minnesota hunters this week as the spring turkey hunting season kicks off.

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The deciduous trees and the farm fields which make up the landscape around Wadena can be dynamite for turkey hunting. It is no trick to see turkeys strutting around in the spring right next to the city limits.

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Minnesota’s turkey hunting range now extends over three-quarters of the state. Only in the rugged, coniferous forests of northeastern Minnesota is there no season. Despite the proliferation of wild turkeys, only one-quarter of the hunters who covered the biggest share of the state bagged turkeys last spring. DNR figures show 11,325 birds were taken and 42,817 permits were issued. The total bag of turkeys was up 13 percent from 2011.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources deserves a big share of the credit for the hunting opportunities that now exist but the National Wild Turkey Federation also rates kudos. The strategy once followed by these organizations of transplanting birds in different areas and letting them fill the gaps between their flocks has worked well. Turkeys move around a lot and if the habitat is there they really have no problem adding to their numbers.

Turkey hunting has been compared with deer hunting, but much, much more challenging. As someone who has been fortunate enough to bag a couple birds I can safely say it can be a real rush.

My son and I were hunting on a farm south of Battle Lake a few years ago on a cloudy spring morning. He was not able to hunt the early morning spot he had picked for himself because another turkey hunter was there first. All I heard in my early morning spot were some raucous Canada geese on a nearby pond. After meeting for a short strategy session, we headed for a new spot. Suddenly, we heard a tom gobbling in the woods straight ahead of us. He was close but still out of sight. We quickly set up three turkey decoys in a clearing and took cover behind some trees. My son’s calling was convincing because the tom kept talking back to him. We could tell the bird was moving in on us. Then it suddenly got dead quiet. The time for talk was over. I slowly lifted my head and there was the tom, puffed up all big and bad, about 40 feet away.

I was using a Remington 870 12 gauge pump with a full choke and some extra heavy load. I aimed for the head and neck area because of those heavy feathers. The bird weighed 23 pounds and sported an eight-inch beard.

It does not always go so well. Turkey hunting can take a lot of patience. You can find yourself moving from spot to spot if the toms are not talking in your vicinity. The big tom I was after last spring talked back to me for an hour. I had seen him the previous evening on a piece of ground I had no permission to hunt. He was a real trophy tom. I tried every calling trick I knew but he refused to give me a crack at him.

Turkey hunting might be the most dangerous sport of them all. A friend of mine came close to being the victim of a terrible accident while turkey hunting in Missouri. He was in heavy cover, calling away, when a shotgun roared and pellets passed over his head. The hunter who fired the shot never saw him. Luckily, his shooting was a bad as his judgment.

Unlike deer hunters who dress in camo and sit in trees, turkey hunters are usually armed with shotguns and hunt on the ground. Turkey hunters go big-time into camouflage and they can practically vanish in the right kind of cover.

Then you have the call itself. There are calls on the market that sound more like turkeys than turkeys. You hear a tom gobbling to the sound of your own call and it can be deceiving. You might be talking to another turkey hunter. You get excited and you might forget to identify your target by sight. More than one turkey hunter has been shot and killed by another who forgot this basic rule of gun safety.

There is a bonus to spring turkey hunting that may not occur to someone who has not tried the sport. It is the satisfaction of being back in nature, matching wits with a smart and wary opponent, after several months of Minnesota winter. The weather is warmer, the trees are budding out, you can smell the earth and you are in the midst of a world that is coming alive. 

Brian Hansel, Wadena Pioneer Journal

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