While most of the world is cooped up at home or limited to local parks while social distancing is in place, Wisconsin’s sportsmen and women had the opportunity to get out in the woods and fields to execute their scheduled spring turkey hunting season.
Last year about 38,000 birds were harvested in Wisconsin according to the Department of Natural Resources, but this year may be an interesting one to watch the numbers.
Hunters who missed the application deadline may decide fairly last minute to hunt the final week with a bonus tag just to get outside during the stay-at-home order. This year's hunt opened April 15 and will close May 26. For people who love the outdoors, it’s a relief to know there is an escape from this new norm of being mostly shut-in.
But not only may the virus affect hunters’ behaviors this season, the turkeys could affect the harvest rate as well. Reading on my hunting Facebook pages, many hunters said birds were notably quiet this year with few early morning gobbles and many sneak-ins to the decoys.
The running joke in my hunting group was that this years’ birds were also adhering to the social distancing protocols.
Although my dad and I both experienced only one “gobble war” morning, neither of us tagged out this year after hunting two different weeks. However, there were still plenty of reasons to be grateful for the opportunity in my small neck of the woods.
One reason was the chance to get someone else hooked on the sport.
About a week before Wisconsin schools were shut down and the virus was spreading from the coasts, I met a guy, Joel, and we started exclusively seeing each other. He happened to be a waterfowl and grouse hunter who was interested in expanding his hunting experiences, so I decided to invite him along on my turkey season.
If you were to ever have a first day experiencing turkey hunting, the day I took him was the ultimate.
Our morning was slow and quiet, save one close encounter with a small deer in a grassy patch of the woods which spotted our decoys. Having a deer that close was a first for Joel.
Around 7:30 a.m., we moved to a larger field to catch some sun where birds would come out of the pines to shine their feathers.
Moments after arriving in the empty field, we heard a gobble to our right, down the hill. Joel heard it first and immediately started scheming with me about where we should sit.
We decided to cross the large field at the bottom of the hill and wait it out.
The tom never showed. After hours of nothing, we finally had a hen step out. And not long after she came and went, Joel watched a coyote spook two deer across the field and then trot over near us.
With a little bit of action under his belt now, he decided to take a cat nap while I kept watch.
Lo and behold, eight little black specks came meandering over a hill about 180 yards from us. A flock of turkeys. They were finally responding to my calling.
“Rach, there’s a turkey over here!” Joel whispered.
A big turkey. As soon as the bird turned, I spotted the beard waving in the wind like a flag, it was so long. At least, in my mind it was.
“Joel, that’s a tom!” I nearly screamed. “If we would have stayed up on that other hill, he would be dead by now!”
It was killing me that we didn’t wait it out in our original entrance point of the field. That tom was undeniably the one gobbling we heard this morning, we just heard him in the wrong spot.
Even after running stealthily back up the hill and getting our decoys out near where the tom had disappeared into another section of woods, we never saw him or the flock of birds again that day. We discovered the strong wind was keeping them from moving further into the fields — more or less, they were definitely social distancing themselves.
But despite the fact my shotgun was still full of shells at the end of my season, the day with Joel reminded me how awesome it was to have a state that recognized the value of this year’s turkey hunt amidst a whirlwind of a worldwide pandemic.
As a result, there will be one more hunter in the Wisconsin woods: Joel is interested in turkey hunting this fall with his own tag.