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First-time turkey hunters brave blustery weather

By Kevin Feind

For the Superior Telegram

The Gitchee Gumme Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) held its 11th annual Learn to Hunt Turkey program April 1-3. The event drew 11 first-time hunters.

The three-day program began at 5 p.m. Friday when mentors, hunters and facilitators met to pattern shotguns, attend a mandatory classroom program and have supper. After a 4:30 a.m. breakfast Saturday morning, hunters and mentors went to their designated hunting areas.

Participants were met with blustery winter conditions. Winds up to 30 mph and 2 to 4 inches of snow made hunting very difficult. Visibility was less than a quarter of a mile at times.

Saturday evening, Wascott area businesses treated the group with pizza they donated, facilitated by John Meteraud of Crystal Lake Resort. After eating the hunters competed in the annual calling contest.

All participants were given a custom laser-engraved slate call by the Gitchee Gumme Chapter, and the new hunters demonstrated cutting, cluck and purr, and yelping on their slate calls. A blind panel of three judges scored the attempts and awarded prizes. Blaise Strom won first prize.

No turkeys were harvested Saturday, but some mentors found birds late in the day to hunt Sunday morning.

Sunday morning’s weather was better, and change paid off for Strom and his mentor, Paul Ashley.

According to Ashley, he and Strom arrived at their hunting area at about 5:45 a.m. and headed for a blind Ashley put up at a likely spot. After quietly getting in the blind, they waited for daylight to arrive.

Ashley used a mouth diaphragm and a slate call to do some light tree yelps. A gobbler responded from about 100 yards away, and Strom got excited. Strom then heard a second gobbler farther away. He tried his calling and the second turkey gobbled from a roost about 200 yards away.

Time went by, but the two toms seemed to be walking away. At about 6:45 a.m., frustration started to set in as the two gobblers continued to drift away.

Suddenly, another turkey started gobbling about three-fourths of a mile on the other side of the road where they had parked. Hens started yelping behind them, too, but couldn’t be seen.

The distant turkey continued to gobble, so Strom and Ashley decided to go after him. Shortly after leaving the blind, they came upon the three hens they’d been hearing.

The gobbler was still gobbling hot when they got to the truck, and it appeared he was on the back side of a large cut-over area. Ashley drove Strom around to the opposite side of the section so they could cut some distance by going through a stand of pines. The bird continued to gobble as they approached on foot.

The two found turkey tracks in the fresh snow, and discovering the bird was out in a clear-cut, they decided to stay at the edge of the pines and call it from there.

 Ashley put out one hen decoy and used both a slate call and diaphragm mouth call. The bird gobbled back.

Eventually, mentor and hunter could see the gobbler strutting at 80 yards. They were convinced the bird could see the hen decoy, but it didn’t want to come any closer.

At about 9:40 a.m., a new gobbler showed up, walking towards them quietly. Strom followed him with his shotgun’s sights, remembering what he’d learned in Friday’s classroom seminar. The bird extended his head, and Ashley told Strom he could shoot.

The bird collapsed, and Strom retrieved his trophy. The two-year-old gobbler weighed about 21 pounds, had a beard over 8 inches and sported 11/16-inch spurs.

Strom’s bird was the only one harvested this year, but the NWFT Gitchee Gumme Chapter offers the program every year.

First-time turkey hunters interested in participating next year can stop by the Douglas County Fish and Game Sport show and visit the NWTF booth. The Gitchee Gumme Chapter can also be contacted on its Facebook page.