Learning How to Hunt Wild Turkeys – My First Wild Turkey Hunt
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
After spending the fall of 2019 learning to deer hunt, I was extremely excited to try my hand in the turkey woods. I spent all winter watching YouTube videos, reading articles, and strategizing. In Wisconsin, they have multiple periods and the first period usually starts around the second week of April. I had drawn the opening period and happened to have the opening day off work. With all the preparation during the winter and the time I spent in the woods last fall, I really felt I had a good chance of harvesting my first turkey.
Once March arrived, it was time to start scouting. A buddy and I had gone on public land and found a few places that had the potential for opening day. Around this time COVID-19 was really sweeping the nation and especially for me in the healthcare field. Luckily, days off were still honored, and hunting was considered an already socially distant activity. We got into one of the pockets on this public piece and crossed two small creeks headed towards a big wood ridge. Adjacent to the creeks and at the foot of the ridge was a cornfield, and across from that was CRP. We crossed the creeks and headed towards the wood ridge. Just as we gained some elevation, we noticed a flock of turkeys in the cornfield. The time was between 07:00 am and 08:00 am, which pretty much solidified this spot as a great starting point for the morning of opening day.
On opening day, we got to the parking lot at 04:30 am, but there was already a truck parked in the two or three-car parking area. We decided to try hunting a backup spot that I had noticed turkey sign last fall while deer hunting. We hiked in and got our decoys set up (bedded hen and quartering jake) on the ground on a field edge right in front of another big timber ridge. We called a few times just before the sun rose (right around the time I was expecting to hear gobbles), but we did not hear anything. About thirty minutes after sunrise we heard a shotgun shot that came from the direction of the spot we wanted to hunt. We waited for another hour or two but still no sounds in our area except a squirrel which seems to weave its way into almost every hunt.
We decided to pack up the decoys and go mobile on this big public piece and just call every so often as we carefully explored some new ground. After another hour or so it was now mid-morning and we had not heard or seen any turkeys. We discussed the possibility that the one-shot we heard was maybe that single truck in our first spot and they tagged out and left. So, we decided to take the chance and go back to the first spot.
As soon as we pulled up to the small parking lot, we noticed two things. First, the parking lot was empty and that truck that beat us to the lot this morning was gone. Second, there was a clear group of turkeys and what appeared to be a strutting tom in the field that we could see with binoculars from the road. This was the same cornfield where we saw the turkeys on our scouting trip. Now my blood was pumping, and I could feel the excitement. We had a real chance to spot and stalk this area and because of the scouting trip, we knew where we needed to get to and how we were going to get there.
After carefully crossing the creeks, we started slowly and deliberately climbing the timber ridge heading straight for an opening we found while scouting. The opening was on the backside of the wood-ridge directly above the cornfield where the tom was strutting. As we crested the ridge we walked very slowly and quietly until we got to the big blown down tree that seemed to signal, we reached the area. There was a second large old tree still standing right next to the blowdown and I decided to lean back against the blowdown on the ground and in the shadow of the still-standing tree. My buddy sat a little bit behind me in a second part of the blowdown, and after getting settled he started a call sequence. Not more than five minutes after he called, I saw movement about twenty yards straight in front of me as something was coming out from behind a pine tree. It was a turkey. My heart started to race. Luckily despite the heat of the moment, I remembered to look for a beard. A beard is a legal qualification to harvest a spring turkey in the state of Wisconsin.
I was in luck and the turkey that had popped out had a beard and its head was sticking out into the opening of a small game trail. I aimed where I had patterned my shot, and gently started to squeeze the trigger. As the gun discharged, I saw a second turkey's head pop out from behind the same pine tree simultaneously. That second head ended up being only 12-15 inches away from the turkey I had attempted to shoot. What seems fractioned in the writing was all actually less than a second of fast action and the turkey I shot went down and then stumbled back towards a tree on the other side of the game trail. The second bird had spooked into the grass out of sight. As my buddy leaped up from behind the tree to see what had just happened he saw the bird extending its neck and looking like it might fly off so he wisely yelled at me to shoot it again. After that shot, the bird was done. As we stood over the bird in disbelief of the absolute brevity of what just transpired, we just stood amazed. My buddy had no idea why I shot and assumed it was anything but a turkey since it was five minutes after we had just hiked in and sat down on public land at 10:00 am.
I harvested my first turkey and I did not stop smiling for days. I was hooked and I knew I was spoiled with not only getting my first bird on opening day (of my first season) but also after five minutes of sitting down after a spot and stalk. The bird ended up being a jake (young male turkey) with a five-inch beard.
But you better believe I mounted the tail fan, and more importantly, ate all the meat and saved the feathers for fly tying or fletching arrows. Ethical and local meat harvest was my driving force, and it was an absolute bonus that my entire family loved the meals I cooked with my wild turkey. I learned so much in that one morning hunt that I carried it with me for the next month hunting other periods. I did not harvest another bird, but I was able to use decoys, set up blinds, and practice calling which will certainly come in handy for next year’s season.