Monday, April 27, 2009

Imperfect timing

I had to make a difficult and painful phone call on Friday. I was scheduled to go turkey hunting in Missouri this  week with Bishop Joe Charron and his friend, Joe Lane, a Minnesota native who lives in Des Moines, Iowa, and invites Bishop Charron down to his 220-acre piece of property nearly every spring to hunt  turkeys.

All week, I had been feeling like the timing wasn't right for this trip, for several reasons, including a heavy workload and a persistent chest cold that wasn't going away. So, on Friday, I called Bishop Charron to say I wouldn't be able to come down. I was really looking forward to going, but I felt staying home was the right thing to do. Bishop Charron agreed and we talked about rescheduling for next year.

However, that does not mean I had nothing to do with turkey hunting over the weekend. On the contrary, I went down to Goodhue County on Saturday to do some preseason scouting for my Minnesota hunt, which begins May 10. I took my brother, Paul, who has hunted this property several times and got a bird each time, including last spring.

We pulled in and were preparing to walk up the hill to his favorite spot when we heard two toms gobbling at the top of the hill. When we reached  the top, one of the gobblers was out in the field and ran off when he saw us. We heard the other one gobbling in the woods and I'm pretty sure I spotted him as well. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. The first day of my hunt is on a Sunday and Paul might join me. That would be fun.

Then, when we got back, we had a wild game cookout at my house, featuring grilled wild turkey and elk burgers. I had half a breast left from my Wisconsin gobbler that I shot last year and it tasted delicious. The elk came courtesy of a friend of ours who had shot one a year-and-a-half ago. Both the turkey and the elk were delicious. Then, yesterday, I used another portion of the wild turkey breast to make our family's favorite recipe -- wild turkey/wild rice casserole. It was fabulous, as usual. I'm hoping to put more turkey in the freezer this spring so we can make the casserole again.

The birds appear to be very active this spring in Minnesota and I'm optimistic about my hunt in two weeks. Just three days after my Minnesota season opens, I go to Wisconsin for a hunt there with my oldest son, Joe, and my Dad. It should be a fun week!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Young turkey hunters enjoy success

A special youth turkey hunt was held over the weekend in various locations throughout the state. More than 300 first-time turkey hunters from 12-17 were drawn in a special lottery and went on guided hunts with volunteers who are local members of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

When I read about the hunt, I made some phone calls to friends with sons who qualified. Two dads ended up sending in applications for their sons and all three of their boys got picked. I went to high school with both fathers -- Bernie Schwab and Marty Willard -- and we graduated from Totino-Grace High School in 1979. Bernie's son, Dan, hunted near Red Wing and Marty's two sons, Jonathan and Simeon, went to Belle Plaine.

The first to connect on a gobbler was Jonathan, hunting with guide Dan Townsend, who attends Our Lady of the Prairie in Belle Plaine. Two big gobblers came in at about 6:20 a.m. and Jonathan shot one of them. Not too far away, Simeon had a close encounter with a tom later that morning, but the bird would not come up over a small rise to give him a shot.

Meanwhile, Dan Schwab had to wait until the next day. He was out of town on a mission trip and did not get back until Saturday afternoon, leaving him just one day to get his bird. The time factor, plus some rainy weather on Sunday, gave him and his guide a sense of urgency.

They moved around quite a bit to find some active birds and finally struck up a gobbler at about 9 a.m. The bird came to within 30 yards and Dan made the shot. His bird weighed 23 1/4 pounds. He used my 12-gauge, which we had sighted in a few weeks before the trip. I have killed birds all the way out to 55 yards, so I was confident the gun would work well for Dan, and it did.

At about the same time Dan killed his bird, Simeon and his guide, Chad Selnow, were trying to call in a group of toms, seven jakes and one mature gobbler. All eight birds ended up coming in and Simeon was going to try to take the mature bird, but it was so close to another jake that he couldn't shoot for fear of killing both birds. So, he looked and saw a jake separated from the others and he took it.

I couldn't be happier for the boys. And, I'm very grateful to the guides who worked hard to give the boys such a great experience in the woods. Many of the guides are landowners who allow the youth to hunt on their land. I think that's very generous, considering that this is land that they themselves hunt. My hats off to all who were involved in this special hunt. I hope to be a part of it someday. Next year, my son, William, will be 12 and eligible for this hunt. I would love for him to have this opportunity.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Wild turkeys in Venezuela?

One week ago today, on Good Friday, I participated in the longest and most unique religious service of my life. It's called "Via Cruces Grande" and it took place in the City of San Felix, Venezuela, home of the archdiocesan mission parish, Jesucristo Resucitado.

Starting at the church, a group of about 300, myself included, walked in procession through all 11 neighborhoods -- or barrios -- of the parish. It lasted five and a half hours and covered several miles. It would have been hard enough in moderate climate, but was all the more difficult in the tropical heat, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees.

About halfway through the event, I was jolted by the sight of a wild turkey in someone's yard. Actually, I use the term "yard" loosely because there is very little grass in front of many of the houses, this one included. Yet, there was the large tom, in full strut and gobbling at us as we walked by.

Naturally, that got me to thinking about the upcoming turkey hunting season. Minnesota's opening day was Wednesday, with my five-day season beginning May 10. However, I will start turkey hunting on Monday, April 27 in Missouri with Bishop Joe Charron of the Diocese of Des Moines. I met him last spring when I came down with one of our reporters, Maria Wiering, to do a story on the diocese before Bishop Richard Pates was ordained its new bishop.

Bishop Charron and I discovered a mutual interest in turkey hunting and he invited me to join him for a hunt in Missouri this spring. I will drive down to Des Moines on Sunday, April 26 and then we will go from there to a farm owned by a friend of his south of Kansas City. I'm not sure what to expect. The turkey reproduction has been down in Missouri the last few years, but there are still plenty of birds around. I hope to have a face-to-face encounter with one of them.

Meanwhile, I'm continuing to sort through all of the pictures I shot down in Venezuela. I probably shot about 1,500 to 2,000 photos total and have had a chance to go through them this week. Three from Holy Week appear in this week's edition of The Catholic Spirit, plus I have put more into a photo gallery.

I have two more things planned in terms of coverage of my trip. First, I will write my upcoming monthly outdoors column on a fishing trip on the Caroni River. Second, I will put together a feature on the mission in Venezuela, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2010. Stay tuned!