Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A bird for Bob

My father-in-law, Bob Guditis, came from his home in Great Falls, Mont. to Minnesota last week to visit his daughters who live here. When he first told me about his trip a couple of months ago, I suggested he buy a Wisconsin turkey license so he could hunt while he was here.

He gladly agreed and bought the tag online. The good news was, he was able to free up some time for turkey hunting. The bad news was, he didn't have much time to spend in the woods -- Thursday afternoon and Friday morning and that was it. Anyone who hunts turkeys long enough knows it can often take several days to pattern birds and get one to come in close enough for a shot.

We wouldn't have that luxury. Not only that, he has limited mobility, so I would have to pick out a good spot and hope a bird would come in.

I chose a small farm that we hadn't hunted yet this year and, to the best of my knowledge, neither had anyone else. So, that was a plus. I chose a spot along the edge of an alfalfa field Thursday afternoon and we waited until almost sundown for a bird to show. No birds came. We heard a hen yelping back in the woods and that was it.

But, we did see two nice whitetail bucks walk out into the field. Already, they had started some decent antler growth, which got Bob and I to thinking how fun it would be to come back in the fall.

We repositioned the blind before we left and hoped and prayed there would be some action Friday morning. We crawled into the blind at about 5:10 the next morning and waited for the turkeys to gobble on the roost. We heard one that was pretty far off, then another one that seemed closer. I felt it was close enough to hear my calling, so I shot out a few hen yelps.

The bird didn't answer, but I didn't lose hope. Sometimes, for reasons I may never understand, toms will come in to your calls without gobbling first. So, I held fast to my belief that a bird might appear.

About a half hour later, that's exactly what happened. A yearling tom, called a jake, came walking out into the freshly planted crop field adjacent to the alfalfa field where we were set up. He was about 100 yards away at that point and didn't appear interested in our decoys. So, I did some calling to try and change his mood.

It worked. He turned and came walking toward us and our decoys. I figured he might stop when he got to the edge of the alfalfa, which was about 50 yards away. That's what he did, but then he kept on coming. When I thought he was about 40 yards away, I asked Bob how far the bird was from us. He said he thought it was 36 yards, so I told him to go ahead and shoot. He dropped the bird and we went out and paced the distance from the blind to the bird -- 37 yards.

Bob is a civil engineer and he's very good at judging distances. After snapping a few photos of his bird, I offered an invitation to come over for dinner on Sunday afternoon with his wife, Sharon. I said I would prepare his turkey using one of my top recipes -- wild turkey/wild rice casserole. He agreed and we had a wonderful dinner that day.

I don't think a lot of people know how delicious wild turkey can be. Older birds can be tough, but cooking them in a crock pot works for any kind of bird you have. The wild turkey/wild rice casserole never fails to be good and I never worry about the turkey being tough. One key thing is to use only the breast meat. The leg and thigh meat is tougher and might not work as well in the casserole. However, you can make soup stock from it, which a couple of my friends do. I was able to donate turkey legs to them.

All in all, it was a great spring for turkey hunting this year. I just read that Minnesota set another harvest record this year and it looks like the turkey population is in great shape. I tip my hat to the DNR in both Minnesota and Wisconsin for the great work they do in managing their respective flocks. Hunters like me have benefited greatly from their efforts. Can't wait to get out in the woods again next year!

Next, I go to Lake of the Woods for a fishing trip this week. I've heard the fishing has been great up there so far and am hoping it will continue this week. The weather is supposed to be nice, so that will be a plus. Stay tuned for a fishing report!

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Day 2 of my Wisconsin turkey season on May 14 found me sitting in a blind with my 87-year-old father, Ray. It was windy and the birds were silent. So, at 8 a.m., I got out of the blind and walked around the property we were hunting to see if I could strike up a bird. Nothing.

I went back and asked my dad if he would mind if I went back to the property I had hunted the day before. He agreed and off I went. I got there about 9 a.m. and promptly dosed off in the blind I had set up there. At about 9:45, I woke up and did some calling. Minutes later, I heard a short gobble back in the woods. Then, another.

I waited and soon saw the red head of a gobbler bobbing through the trees. It stopped to take a look, then ran its head up in classic turkey fashion at about 35-40 yards. I shot and the bird started running. I missed for the second day in a row!

This time, instead of just watching the bird escape, I quickly drew a bead on it and took a second shot. To my surprise, he went down and stayed down. It seemed like a long shot and my measurement from where he was back to the blind confirmed it -- 58 paces.

I was ecstatic and very thankful I was able to make the shot. It was a nice bird with a 10-inch beard that weighed 20 pounds. Not as big as my son's bird, but I was happy nonetheless. Later, I realized that the reason I had missed the first shot was because a tree happened to be right in the path of my pellets and it absorbed most of them.

It didn't bother me in the least that Joe's bird ended up being the biggest of our spring hunt. I'm very happy that Joe got this bird because he had gone the last two seasons without getting one. He was starting to get down on turkey hunting, but this trophy gobbler got him very pumped up about it again.

All in all, it has been a great spring for turkey hunting. I came close to filling my bonus tag on Friday. I had a big gobbler strutting out in a field at about 50 yards for a group of six hens that came within 15 yards of my blind. When the hens started walking away, I figured they would pull the tom away from me, so I took the shot. The bird went down, but got back up and ran into the woods.

Oh well. That's the way it goes. I'm happy about the birds I was able to harvest, but the season isn't finished yet. My son, Andy, goes out at the end of this week for Wisconsin's final season, as does his Grandpa Bob Guditis. Once again, I will serve as guide and be honored to do so. Fishing will have to wait one more week.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Turkey time!

I have been chomping at the bit for weeks -- actually, months -- to go turkey hunting and the day finally arrived on Sunday, May 10. The opening day of my Minnesota season was on Mother's Day, and it could have produced some tension, except I celebrated the day with my wife, Julie, on Friday when we went out for dinner. So, that left Sunday morning free.

I went down to Goodhue County with my brother, Paul, that day. We heard gobbles and saw a hen, but no toms. Monday was more of the same, until about 5:45 p.m., when I had three gobblers come in. One swung around to my right and I didn't see him until after he saw me move and gave an alarm putt. Too bad. He was only about 20 yards away. I wasn't able to get a shot off before he escaped.

No matter. About 5 to 10 minutes later, up popped another one about 40 yards in front of me. This time, I was able to get a shot off and bring the bird down. It was a thrill.

This morning, I took my son, Joe, out for our opening day in Wisconsin. Even though it was cloudy and windy, the birds were active. He hunted one farm and I hunted another a few miles away. I took a shot at 6:45 a.m. and missed. He did the same about 8 a.m. Then, just minutes after he missed, another bird came in and he made the shot this time. It was a beautiful bird, with a thick, 10-inch beard, and it weighed 25 pounds.

I wish I had gotten a second chance. I had other birds come in, but not close enough for a shot. Tomorrow, I'm taking my Dad, Ray, out to the spot where Joe got his bird. I hope things work out as well for Dad as they did for Joe. Stay tuned for the next report!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Going green

I have spent a lot of time in the last week or so watching the trees. The barren-looking treelines of winter are slowing changing color. The bright green of new leaves is emerging.

That is one thing that makes spring so enjoyable for me. Lots of people like the warmer temperatures and the ability to do things outside again. As for me, I like the greening of the landscape.

The flowers will bloom eventually, adding even more color. But, I am perfectly content with the bright green of the leaves. In my unscientific opinion, the greens of May are the brightest and most vibrant of the year.

That's certainly true in drought years, when the leaves lose their luster and can even turn brown in late July and early August. Once that happens, the colors usually stay faded until the leaves fall.

So, now's the time to take a drive out of the cities and get a look at the fresh colors of spring. Once the buds start popping, the leaves push their way out pretty fast. By this weekend, we should have full foliage just about everywhere, especially if we get the rains that are predicted  to come in  the next few days.

And, don't forget to bring your camera.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The bearded lady

During the first part of the week, I was thinking a lot about Bishop Joe Charron of Des Moines and his wild turkey hunt. He had invited me to go down to Missouri and hunt with he and his friend, Joe Lane.

Unfortunately, I had to decline at the last minute, but I kept wondering how things were going in the woods for them. As it turned out, Bishop Charron scored on the first day (Monday), shooting a bird with an 8-inch beard.

Here's the strange part -- that bird was a female, or hen. Normally, only  the males (toms) have beards, which is why the laws in many states, including Missouri, allow only the shooting of turkeys with visible beards.

Bishop Charron and Lane walked up to the bird and thought it looked funny. Further investigation revealed the female gender of the turkey. Some people want to shoot only the males, but Bishop Charron was happy with his bird, which he was in the process of preparing when I called him on Wednesday. As it turned out, it was the only bird either of them saw during the trip. They were supposed to hunt for three days, but left after two due to low bird sightings and bad weather predicted for Wednesday.

Missouri is going through a tough time for turkeys. The state has had poor bird hatches the last two years and may have another this year. The problem has been rain and cold during the critical period after the turkeys hatch in May. Ask any wildlife biologist and he or she will tell you that this is the single most important factor in turkey survival.

Up here in Minnesota, we always equate turkey survival with the severity of winter, but it's not as significant a factor as people think. Most of the time, turkeys do fine in winter, provided there's enough food and the birds can get to it. In a lengthy conversation last year with a biologist, he told me the birds can handle the cold as long as they can get to food. It's heavy, deep snow cover that can cause problems. Even then, they can make trails through the snow to get to food.

Bottom line -- turkeys are doing just fine in Minnesota, especially in the southeast portion. That's great news for me because that's where I hunt. I have to wait just over a week before my season opens on May 10. I'm getting very antsy, thinking about my upcoming hunt while I lay in bed at night. I really enjoy walking out into the woods in the dark and hearing that first gobble at dawn.

For now, fishing will have to wait.