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DAVIS COLUMN: Turkey season quizzes outdoors skillsets

DAVIS COLUMN: Turkey season quizzes outdoors skillsets

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Wisconsin’s spring turkey season, beginning April 21 with Period A, and ending June 1 with period F’s closure, is no longer the same old hunt.

A two-day youth turkey hunt is open April 17-18.

Idle time expanded, many more Wisconsinites and friends from near and afar, look toward Wisconsin for a destination spring turkey experience.

Just as camping, hiking, park visitations, and fishing have seen increased interest and participation, so have spring turkey gatherings.

While most turkey gatherings are hunting the bird, others find encounters observing, photographing, and calling but not taking a bird into possession is enough. Bird watching, it might be called, with some or all of the hunting equipment except a bow or gun.

Doug Williams, of Portage, says things like taking out a first time turkey hunter, showing them the ropes, can be a lot of fun.

“Just get them out to experience the woods, hunting or not,” he said.

Dealing with a pandemic has impacted spring turkey season beginning with limited sports shows, few product events to introduce new equipment, and shortages of ammunition and other gear can create tense times.

Has anyone tried purchasing an old fashioned face mask which has uses well beyond turkey hunting, including birding, simple face protection from the wind, viewing wildlife from a vehicle or from inside a home?

Wildlife do not generally like human faces, particularly pale faces, so cover them up.

“Some of the few COVID face guards might work, too,” Williams said. “Check sports shops. Not everything has to be complicated, though.

“We’ve always had calls for beginners,” added Chris Kirby, of Quaker Boy Game Calls in New York. “Since we started 46 years ago, we’ve made the easy yelper and basic diaphragm calls a person new to the activity can learn in a matter of seconds.”

Some hunters never went beyond these basics; they worked.

Kirby admits there have been massive changes in calls, particularly during the 1980s and 1990s, but now it’s more new materials but usually with old school technology.

“We continue to think of our Grand Old Master box call as one of the first and still one of the best, even bringing renewed interest a couple years ago by reacquainting people with it,” he said.

Without many opportunities to listen to an experienced turkey hunter in a seminar room, preparation can be the key to learning to get close to a tom for the first time hunter or photographer.

“I’ll always take the best woodsman and then add a call to their arsenal so they are more effective,” Kirby said.

Turkeys are one of the most conversational animals Kirby chases, but don’t be afraid to sit and wait out a turkey, he says.

“Be patient, it’s more likely a hunter bumps a turkey by moving than calling too much, using the wrong call. Wait them out, too,” he added.

Wayne Smith, an all-around Lafayette County outdoorsman, says 45 minutes of waiting has been key for him on a stubborn bird.

“Sometimes I try to move up on them, if the cover is right,” he said. “Remember, in nature the hen goes to the tom; we’re trying work it the other way.”

Dennis Woodall, Wisconsin’s first Wisconsin turkey calling champion, no longer presents his knowledge in one of dozens of seminars, but now uses that time to scout birds.

“I still use many of the old standby calls and methods,” he said. “But scouting is the key.”

A great learning experience, the DNR’s Learn to Hunt Turkeys program, has been shelved for the time being, too.

Want to get someone hooked on turkeys? Help them get in a position to experience, photograph, or just hear a gobbler “drum and spit” from a few yards away.

There are still authorizations remaining for the last two hunting periods in some of the hunting zones, Don Martin, of Monroe said.

“It’s still early and the turkeys are moving from place to place,” he said.

Don’t forget the common essentials like a bottle of water, a few hand warmers, and a tiny pruning clipper to cut brambles, according to Williams. Smith concurs.

Many trees and shrubs are now flowering, which will provide fall food for turkeys and others later this year, during next winter, and even on into spring. Learn to recognize nut trees and shrubs from their spring flowers.

Without much hard mast production last year, turkeys may be feeding in other habitat this spring, including farm fields, lowlands, but still displaying in woodland regions where they seem most comfortable.

Learn to recognize tree species, a dead elm or apple tree (morels), and some early spring ephemerals, plants that flower now and seem to disappear when the trees leaf out.

Turkey hunting encompasses a plethora of outdoors adventures; include these to keep things interesting. Sometimes hunters have photographs, a bag of mushrooms, or learned s new plant, any of which may account for a smile after the hunt.

Contact Jerry Davis, a freelance writer, at or 608-924-1112.

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