Patience and perseveranceLocal youths spend weekend learning the art of turkey hunting
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
WASCOTT — Nothing puts an ego in check faster than losing a battle of wits.
That’s especially true when the adversary is a large, keen-eyed bird with a brain the size of a walnut.
“God created the turkey to humble the hunter,” said Dan Schafter, a turkey hunter who volunteered as a mentor for the recent two-day Learn to Hunt event sponsored by the Gitchee Gumme Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.
Schafter, a mail carrier in Superior, has hunted turkeys for 17 years. He has more gadgets and gizmos than he can carry into the field, and he could talk for hours about his hunting successes and failures.
But it’s not the gear or even the years of experience that make for success in turkey hunting, Schafter said. Patience and perseverance are the key.
“Turkey hunters, we’re a different breed,” Schafter said.
More than a dozen youth hunters and their mentors spent Saturday and Sunday searching the forests and fields of Wascott and the surrounding area for turkeys. Tagging along with Schafter was Jake Huchel, a 16-year-old from Duluth.
For Huchel, Saturday was his first foray into turkey hunting. The 16-year-old is an experienced deer hunter, but tracking down and calling in turkeys was a “brand new” experience for him.
“It’s a cool experience to learn about turkey hunting,” Huchel said of the Learn to Hunt weekend. He planned to hunt in the regular spring turkey season too, so he felt no pressure to get a jake or tom during the two-day hunt. Huchel said his primary goal was just to learn.
At 4:15 a.m. Saturday, the hunters and mentors lined up for breakfast — heaping platters of scrambled eggs, sausage patties and pancakes.
Dale Nummi, president of the Gitchee Gumme Chapter of the NWTF, said the atmosphere at breakfast was as good as he’s seen in recent years. The hunters were alert, eager and ready to learn. A few even got in some practice with their slate calls between mouthfuls of pancake.
The sky was still dark when Huchel and Schafter set off for their designated plot. They’d scouted their area the night before but heard no gobbling.
Schafter wasn’t discouraged, though. Saturday marked his fifth year volunteering as a mentor, and he took a 50 percent success rate — two turkeys in four tries — into the two-day Learn to Hunt event. Statewide, Schafter said, the hunter success rate is about 30 percent, but he expected good turkey numbers for the spring season due to the mild winter.
Huchel and Schafter started their day near Snipe Lake, about five miles northwest of Wascott. Schafter had a hunch turkeys were roosting in the pine trees, so he and Schafter had set up a blind near the forest’s edge the day before.
By the glimmer of a small flashlight, they found their way down a sandy path to the blind. Daybreak was still a few minutes off, so Schafter tried an owl call to draw out the turkeys.
A few attempts yielded nothing but silence and the far-off call of a rooster.
“The time the rooster crows is when the gobblers start to go,” Schafter said. He gave a few more calls, but still there was no response.
The silence troubled Schafter. Turkeys can roam several miles in the course of a day, he said, and he was confident they weren’t nearby. It was time to hit the trails.
Just in case, Schafter gave a few more owl calls as he and Huchel started away from the blind. After two tries, an answering call echoed through the forest — not the gobble of a turkey but the distinct hoot of an owl. Schafter called again, and the owl answered, drawing nearer. Three more calls and the owl alighted directly overhead.
“I’m depressed,” Schafter said. “I can call in an owl, but I can’t call in a turkey.”
The lovelorn owl followed behind as Schafter and Huchel trekked down the trail to try a new location.
By 6:30 a.m., Schafter and Huchel had tried another site, but again they came up empty.
“So far we’ve got owls, ducks, deer, skunk … everything but turkey,” Schafter said.
For “Plan C,” Schafter hiked in to a more isolated location. He and Huchel followed a looping trail for about 2.5 miles and ran across multiple sets of tom tracks. Along the trail Huchel also found a shed antler and managed to kick up about a dozen deer, but there were no turkeys.
As the path looped back around, Schafter decided to put out a pair of decoys in a clearing crisscrossed by two sets of fairly recent tracks. Huchel and Schafter sat down and began calling at 8:05 a.m.
They didn’t hear a sound in 45 minutes, so it was off to another location; but two hours later the turkeys still hadn’t made an appearance.
“I feel so rejected,” Schafter said. “Such is the nature of turkey hunting.”
When Schafter and Huchel returned to Wascott for lunch, they’d encountered just one turkey — a hen that had darted across the road.
“At least we saw one,” Huchel said.
Other hunters met with greater success.
Josh Tomczak, 14, and his mentor, Paul Ashley, were among the two groups of hunters who bagged a turkey Saturday morning. They got their bird right away, taking the 13 pound, 14 ounce tom at 6:45 a.m.
“They were up in the trees, they were roosting,” Ashley said. “There were two toms together.”
Tomczak picked out one of the toms and dropped it with one shot.
“I was nervous,” said Tomczak, of Foxboro. “At first I was nervous when they were within 10 yards of me, when they were behind me. Then I calmed down a little for the shot.”
Ashley, who has 25 years of turkey hunting experience, said the sport is unlike any other. Hunters can prepare for months, master their calls and plan every detail, but that is no guarantee of success.
“It’s being in the right place at the right time,” Ashley.
On Sunday morning, Schafter and Huchel took a second try at getting a turkey. They went back to the same place they’d begun Saturday, but this time they had reason to be optimistic.
“Jake noticed some fresh tracks in the dirt as we reached the bottom of the hill, so when we reached the top of the hill I made another owl call,” Schafter said. “A turkey gobbled just in the pines to our left.”
It was still dark, so Schafter and Huchel set up their decoys and retreated to the blind they’d set up.
“It was very quiet so we went silent for a while since I figured it would be a good half hour or so for the turkeys to fly off the roost,” Schafter said. “I called after 15 minutes or so, and the woods exploded with gobbling.”
Schafter said Huchel’s eyes grew wide as they listened to the gobbling and picked out at least four turkeys roosted in the trees. The pair hunkered down and then began trying to call in the birds. Three jakes eventually showed up, and Huchel was able to pick one off.
Two more turkeys besides Huchel’s were taken Sunday, making for a total of six during the two-day hunt — four jakes and two toms.
“It was our best harvest year ever,” Schafter said.