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col Snow, wind, mud and a mouthful of feathers

Turkey hunt has unusual twists

I'd waited three years for a Minnesota turkey hunting permit. The reward for my patience: Snow.

Not just a dusting, mind you. No, this was four inches of heavy, wet, soak-your-clothes and chill-you-to-the-bone snow.

Turkey hunting is not a winter activity. You're supposed to enjoy cool, still mornings disturbed only by the sound of birds singing and toms gobbling, followed by a warm sun on your face by mid-morning, and an afternoon, if necessary, of dozing in the shade of a big oak as you wait for a gobbler to stroll by.

Not this year. On Day One of my season in April, hunting private land near the Whitewater River, I never saw the sun and never heard a gobble. Napping was difficult, because every time I got comfortable, the tree I was sitting under would shed its covering of snow, dumping much of it on my head.

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But, when you have just five days to hunt (four, actually, in my case), you don't bail out. You tough it out. So I waited. And called. And relocated. And called some more. By 3 p.m. my butt was sore, my clothes were damp, and I was disgusted.

Day Two: High hopes

It was harder to get up on Day Two, but the snow was gone, the skies were clear, and my optimism, as is common among turkey hunters, grew as I drove east toward a horizon that was just beginning to brighten.

At 6 a.m. I was sitting against a tree, yelping softly to a half-dozen toms that boomed away in response to every sound I made. I was pumped. My decoys were in position, and I had built a makeshift blind out of evergreen boughs. I was certain the birds would fly into my lap, and I'd be plucking a turkey by 8 a.m.

So, of course, the gobblers flew the other way. One minute, they were so loud that I thought they would land on my head when they flew down. The next, they sounded as if they were a mile away.

An hour later, I managed to find a high piece of ground to scan the other side of the river, the side I DIDN'T have permission to hunt. Through my binoculars, I counted at least five strutting toms. I crept down to the river's edge and called. No response.

Later that afternoon, after the wind had picked up to near gale-force, I was ready to admit defeat. My legs were dead, my gun was heavy, and every time I thought I saw a turkey, it turned out to be a hunter's decoy.

But the clock was ticking. I had two days left to hunt, and if I wanted to kill a bird, I needed a new plan.

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So, I improvised. I got out my maps, and, after knocking on several wrong doors, I managed to figure out who owned the land where I'd seen those toms earlier that morning. When I approached the farmhouse in question, I was greeted by a friendly woman who assured me turkey hunters were more than welcome. The family's German shepherd felt the say way; I slipped a dog biscuit into her mouth and she went away happy.

I now had a plan. So, after sleeping until 11 a.m. on Day Three of my hunt, I braved 40-mph winds and muddy fields in a half-mile trek back to the Whitewater River. I got turned around a few times before I found the exact field I had watched fill with turkeys the previous day, but I was confident that Day Four of my hunt would be action-packed.

At the moment, however, it was Day Three. The sky had cleared, and I found myself overdressed for the warm, windy conditions. It was 2 p.m., and the long, muddy walk back to the truck didn't sound appealing. So I reclined against a tree, lay my gun by my side, slid my sunglasses over my eyes and relaxed. I attempted a few yelps on my push-button caller, but the wind drowned out the sound.

I was nearly asleep when the gobbler entered the alfalfa field an hour later. He came in soundlessly, and there I was, less than 20 yards away, sunglasses on, no face mask, gun lying on the ground.

Fortunately, the wind I had been muttering about for two days saved me. Amid the swaying weeds, I reached for my gun and raised it to my knee. The bird kept walking. I clicked off the safety, swung the barrel slowly to my left and took aim. The tom, his long beard dragging in the grass, paused right on cue.

He never knew what hit him, and Day Four wouldn't be necessary.

No taxidermist required

Back at the farm, I left the 20-pound gobbler on the open tailgate of my truck and, entering a machine shed to get out of the wind, chatted with the farmer's son about my unexpected success. I tried to act the part of the cool, collected, experienced turkey hunter, but my excitement, I'm sure, was evident.

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Then I noticed the turkey feathers that were blowing around the farmyard. I knew it was windy, but there were a LOT of feathers in the wind. Too many.

Then it hit me: The dog.

I raced to the truck: No bird. I scanned the area, and there, 30 yards away, I found my prize, its neck a bit chewed, but otherwise none the worse for wear. The dog was there, too, feathers dangling from her open mouth.

This time, she didn't get a biscuit.

Eric Atherton is a Post-Bulletin copy editor and an avid outdoorsman. Contact him at eatherton@postbulletin.com

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