Prior to last weekend, recent conversations with my 17-year-old middle boy focused on his swim team and plans for college in 2020. Driving home from southeastern Minnesota last weekend, the topic took a perhaps-not-unexpected hard left: “Hey Dad, tell me about this wild turkey grand slam.”
Yeah, Alec Drieslein connected on a fine Winona County wild turkey specimen (see photo to the right and Page 1 of the May 10 issue of Minnesota Outdoor News) on Sunday, a 21-pounder with a 9-inch beard, and the turkey hunting addiction that has afflicted so many Outdoor Newsreaders had captured the boy, too. When I texted an image of Alec and his first tom to a hardcore gobbler-chasing friend and co-worker, he quipped: “Nice bird. His life is ruined.”
Via a youth tag, the lad hunted my parents’ place in Winona County over Easter weekend. My dad called for Alec, and they had some action but no shots fired. The lad had hunted deer and turkeys before, but the gobbling activity he encountered this spring increased the sport’s credibility with him tremendously. One morning, they had a spirited jake strutting madly before them, but the quirky juvenile sported no beard. We headed home disappointed, but Alec’s hunting juices were flowing. En route home, he asked if we could stop and purchase a couple turkey mouth calls.
My wife’s steady demand to “Stop messing with those turkey calls and put your retainer back in!” has reverberated across my home in the three weeks since. (Actually, I’m not sure if she’s worried about our son’s teeth, or if she simply wants the high-decibel yelps and purrs to end.)
With prom this Saturday night, the pressure was on last weekend to waylay a bird. In the days leading up to his next trip afield, I encouraged Alec to read as much as he could about turkey hunting, including Tony Peterson’s latest blog on the Outdoor News website.
On Saturday, Alec tried working his new calls afield. My dad has killed dozens of turkeys across several states, and he gave Alec the thumbs-up to test his developing skills. On Saturday morning, a couple hens checked out his setup, but surprisingly, no gobblers followed. The duo tried putting a gobbler to bed on nearby state forest land Saturday night but no dice.
Sunday morning, my dad suggested he cut-and-yelp for Alec with his well-worn slate calls. He thought Alec sounded a little loud on his mouth calls the previous day, so he suggested they err on the side of subtlety. Good plan. Alec’s tom gobbled loudly behind them around 7 a.m., and by 7:15 – after one quick dance in front of their decoy – a single load of copper-plated No. 6s from an 11-87 took care of business.
Watching his grandson kill a boss tom on the home place meant a lot to my dad, and I think he enjoyed recounting the hunting story as much as Alec. They cleaned the bird together, and we’ve enjoyed several wild turkey dinners this week – including the always popular fried turkey fingers.
We write a lot about the wild turkey success story, but practically speaking, we’re dang lucky to have them. They’re fun to hunt, reasonably accessible, and they’re a gateway species to big game. I know people who were borderline anti-hunters who now regularly pursue whitetails after first catching the hunting bug via turkeys. Most people eat them, and sensible folks figure a humane turkey death via shotgun after living a life in Minnesota’s great out-of-doors ain’t a bad way to go.
By the way, parents who haven’t taken advantage of the state’s $5 youth turkey license are missing an incredible deal. We regularly hear how athletics and other activities distract youth from taking up hunting and fishing, and as a father of four, I’ve watched my own family struggle with this reality. The youth turkey license allows kids under the age of 18 to hunt anywhere and for the entire season, and it’s cheap (free for kids age 12 and younger.) Even the busiest kid can scratch together a few days afield from April 17 through the end of May.
My son did lament that as an 18-year-old next year, he’ll be restricted to seven days of turkey hunting. (Yeah, well, welcome to the adulthood party, young man.)
Driving home, Alec pressed me on other hunting opportunities beyond deer and turkeys. “Well, with the bugling and calling, my old boss, Mike Strandlund, said he always considered elk 900-pound turkeys,” I said.
“I like the sound of that,” the lad replied.
Maybe we’ll get a couple more Easterns and that turkey slam out of the way first.