Spring’s natural beauty key reason to try turkey hunting


Photo by Ross Bielema These five hens brought a little excitement to the May 11 hunt for Ross Bielema and his friend, Troy Staerkel, of Oshkosh. No toms appeared that day on their morning hunt near New London.

Spring is a beautiful time to be in the woods. Wisconsin’s stubborn winter fights mightily to retain control over the weather and landscape, but spring slowly and steadily wins the battle. The May apples and skunk cabbage are showing in the otherwise brown woods, and buds are slowly appearing on most trees.

Until I started turkey hunting in the mid-1980s, spring was simply a transition time until summer. I had bowfishing and morel mushroom hunting on the mind, but didn’t really worry about real hunting until fall.

If you have not yet tried spring turkey hunting, you are missing out not only on some recreational opportunity and exercise, but also on one of the most beautiful and invigorating times to be a part of the woods.

I was especially excited about this season because I was going to introduce another newcomer to the sport. Troy Staerkel, of Oshkosh, is officially my Little Brother, part of Big Brothers/Big Sisters (in the language of BBBS, I’m his “Big”), but he’s also a 13-year-old boy hungry for fishing, hunting and all things outdoors.

I see a little of myself at his age in Troy. I could not get enough hunting and fishing, shooting pellet guns, bringing home every critter we found and generally driving my poor mom nuts all summer. Troy completed his Wisconsin hunter safety class in Waupaca last fall, and I took him on his first pheasant hunt thanks to a well-coordinated youth hunt organized by the Oshkosh chapter of Pheasants Forever.

My only child, Kalispell, is also 13. She’s tried deer hunting a few times, but it’s become clear this is not her thing. I’m anxious to introduce new people to my favorite sport, partially because we all need to make sure this cherished pastime is handed down to the next generation. Troy’s at the age where he’s an information sponge, at least on topics he’s interested in, and he’s definitely interested in hunting.

During my first turkey season May 1-7, Troy and I spent part of a Saturday morning in a scrap-lumber deer blind on a rural New London farm. The farmer’s been good to me, letting me hunt for several seasons now. I think he realizes I will probably not hurt his turkey population one bit, and so far, that sentiment has held true.

Troy and I spent a cloudy, chilly morning watching Canada geese, wood ducks, teal, numerous sandhill cranes, several deer and even a bald eagle — almost every critter but a wild turkey. We tried a few spots on the farm, hearing two distant gobbles early and nothing after that. We headed to town for a hot lunch before taking Troy home.

Last Saturday (May 11) found us back in the same blind, determined to take down a tom. This time, Troy had a turkey license, and I was happy to let him take the first shot if a gobbler did approach within range. I’d rather see a youngster like Troy roll a big tom than shoot one myself.

This morning was a bit sunnier, less windy, but still chilly. We both talked about cold feet and Troy occasionally shivered in the early-morning sun.

Several large trees blocked most of our view on the open end of the blind. The adjacent farm had a large pasture and a natural opening to the plowed cornfield on our side of the fence.

Troy saw the birds first. He whispered, “Over there!” I realize he’d not seen many wild turkeys up close, but that’s what they were. I scanned for color or beards, but all five were hens. It seemed odd to have such a large group of hens this late in the season, especially since everyone’s been telling me that all the hens are nesting! I tend not to believe what I hear.

Troy and I tried another spot later that morning. We’d seen a few deer and plenty of waterfowl, but no more turkeys.

Around 11 a.m., it was time to try another New London restaurant. He gobbled down a big plate of spaghetti and garlic toast while I dined on the most ironic of meals: turkey and dressing.

My final day of my second license was Tuesday, so I hatched a last-ditch plan to break away from work a little early and sneak over to the blind before the turkeys roost. There are many huge oaks and other large trees near the blind, so it’s a likely roost site.

I drove the mini-van to work, carrying all my camo gear and shotgun so I wouldn’t have to drive home. I was in the blind at 6:45 p.m. and had just under 90 minutes of shooting time. The plowed cornfield had several Canada geese in it, but little else. I got my hen decoy set up and started calling with my box call.

At 7:50 p.m., the Canada geese started honking wildly and I looked around the trees toward the pasture. A low-slung coyote was approaching! Coyote season is open all year long and my 3-1/2 inch 12 gauge would certainly do the trick if he came close enough. I tried a hen call and he looked toward my decoy, but he was nervous about the setup. He approached within 80 yards or so, then slinked into the timber.

It was an exciting end to my spring turkey season.

Any time spent in the spring woods is time well-spent. If you haven’t tried spring turkey hunting yet, give it a try. You’ll see the natural world in a whole new light.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at Ross@wolfriverccw.com.