Turkey Hunting…A Proud Fall Tradition

I get a little frustrated at people who have never turkey hunted. I try my best to explain to them that turkey hunting is perhaps the most addictive hunting they will ever experience, still many of these hunters just blow me off. These hardcore waterfowl or deer hunters just don’t have a clue that once you try turkey hunting and taste success…you will likely realign your priorities to make sure you make time for turkey hunting in your schedule for the future.

Today, in fact, starts the first of two (five-day) fall seasons in Minnesota where hunters were chosen by a lottery system. Earlier this past summer hunters applied for a limited number of permits to hunt one of the two fall seasons. Later this fall (likely December 2nd) the application period will close for Minnesota’s upcoming spring 2005 turkey season.

As Minnesota’s turkey population continues to grow and establish itself the challenge of getting a permit is much easier than the task of bagging a turkey. In particular, fall permits are just not as highly sought after as those for the spring hunts. This might seem a bit odd to individuals not familiar with turkey hunting…but it’s in the springtime that the bird is full of sexual energy and quite susceptible to the seductive calls and tones made by the deceptive hunter. Fall turkey hunting…well, it’s just a bit different than in the springtime.

I must admit that, although I am a turkey addict, I do not find fall turkey hunting particularly enticing when compared to the spring hunt. First off, in the spring a hunter can only shoot a bearded turkey (which mostly means they are targeting males of the species). The fall hunt is more of an indiscriminate hunt whereas a hunter may legally take a bird of either sex (which should be noted is a biologically sound management practice).

Some hunters contend that fall turkey hunting is more of an ambush type of hunt as opposed to strategically luring in the bird. To some extent that statement may be true, but savvy hunters employ definite strategies to put more than just luck on their side. One common technique for bagging a fall turkey is locating a flock (hens or poults) and then scattering them. The key here is to get the birds to fly off in several directions with hopes that eventually the flock will try to regroup. To accomplish this technique, first locate the flock…then do a running surprise. That’s right, first put your gun down for safety as you won’t need it…and take off running to get the turkeys surprised and moving in all directions.

In the spring hunt it is common that a hunter will locate the birds and then call them into the area. But the fall hunt requires the hunter to go to the turkey…and that often means lots of walking. Once a flock is successfully scattered, then the fun begins. Sometimes the turkeys will begin moving back into the area fairly quickly…other times it might take a few hours. The key is once you affect a successful scatter it is then time for the hunter to get set-up and ready for the action.

Unlike the spring hunt when you are trying to seductively lure a gobbler into gun range, the fall calling attempts to accomplish a reassembly of the flock. In other words, the calls of choice in the fall are sounds that mimic the birds from the original flock attempting to relocate each other. For instance, the hunter will typically use the “lost” call or the “kee-kee-run” of the young poult to lure a mature hen into range. The problem is if you don’t locate a flock and scatter it then calling might only achieve marginal success. A scattered flock has more urgency to hook back up with the others and communication is essential in allowing this to happen.

Oddly enough many people think of turkey hunting strictly as a springtime sport. And a mighty fine springtime sport it is. Still, fall hunting has a heritage that dates back well before the colonial times. Remember this…in states like Pennsylvania where there have been traditional fall seasons dating back for centuries, the concept of the springtime turkey hunt is the new game. Fall hunting in Minnesota may lack some of those same long-standing hunting traditions, but that doesn’t mean that bringing home a fall turkey for the Thanksgiving table has to be any less special. Enjoy the hunt and be safe!

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Consider Lifetime Hunting & Fishing Licenses

Back about 15 years ago I was working on a research project that required me to review the hunting and fishing regulations for all 50 states. It was an interesting project, to say the least, as I soon discovered that what is commonly accepted as sport in some states would be frowned upon in others. Yet, during that research I also discovered that a handful of states had an interesting option for purchasing hunting and fishing licenses – that option allowed for a lifetime license.

The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea of purchasing a one-time license. At the time I then contact my local legislator, Steve Sviggum, who is now Minnesota’s Speaker of the House in the House of Representatives. Steve did some checking with DNR officials about the concept, but ultimately it was concluded that the DNR had strong concerns about how those critical monies would be handled for the long-term benefit. In essence, the DNR was worried that if a fund of money (from lifetime licenses sold) was developed to become interest bearing, it would become a temptation for lawmakers to divert for other matters.

The whole concept of my lifetime license proposal was simple. I proposed that the license must be purchased for an individual anytime between the ages of birth and three years. This would allow a period of at least 10 years for this money to grow with interest before the individual would otherwise be required to buy any licenses (12 years is the earliest a license must be purchased for anything). I reasoned that this up-front money would be a great stimulus for the DNR if the money was used properly, however, my proposal failed.

Then low and behold about 8 years later I seen the issue reemerge and finally become law. Today, sportsmen in Minnesota (residents and non-residents alike) may purchase a hunting or a sportsman’s license (allowing both hunting and fishing). Moreover, the cost of that license is prorated based on your age…with individuals in the 16 to 50 year old bracket paying the highest one-time fee.

So why does all of this matter? Well, I was a big proponent of the concept for one very important reason. Certainly the cost of the license is a serious investment…but the investment that mattered most for me was not the financial one. Instead, it was the commitment I was making to that individual for whom I purchased the license. Remember, my original proposal was much more limiting than what is in place today. I concluded that if I suddenly became a new father or uncle of some youngster…and I purchased the license as a gift for the child…I was making a pledge to ensure that kid grew up to enjoy the outdoors.

I firmly believe that the future of our sports depends on us to instill an interest in the youth. With the ever increasing social pressures and free time possibilities for kids today, far too often the outdoors takes a backseat. Nothing makes me cringe more than to see a child who would rather stay indoors to play Xbox or PlayStation when they could be outdoors enjoying the fascinating world of nature. In large part I blame the parents. Our culture used to be that a child couldn’t wait until they were old enough to go hunting with dad or Uncle Charlie. The anticipation mounted as the child got older and closer to that first hunt. Similarly, even though many adults take children fishing at an early age, I sometimes wonder if more couldn’t be done to instill a lifetime interest in the child.

I applaud the Minnesota Legislature and DNR for finally recognizing the great value in the lifetime license system and what it can mean to our state. I also think the pricing structure they have established is a great value no matter what your age. Check it out by clicking here. Moreover, when you give a gift of a lifetime license to a child your generosity will be long remembered and appreciated by that individual as they grow older. Indeed, few other gifts you can give will have such a lasting impact and will leave fond memories of your outdoor spirit.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Minnesota DNR…Stop Messing With My Traditions!!

I hate change…and the older I get the more disdain I have for the Minnesota DNR when they go and change one of my hunting or fishing seasons in some manner. Call me a traditionalist, but I like my outdoor experiences to feel much the same from year to year.

Today marks the opening of the Minnesota duck hunting season in our great state and, of course, there is a change. I believe for the first time ever the shooting begins promptly at 9am. for opening morning. What’s with that? A 9am start? The only hunting season that is supposed to begin at 9am is for pheasants…and now opening morning for the waterfowl season has moved from noon to a 9am opener. Was this really necessary?

You see, for years and years the opening day of the Minnesota duck season commenced promptly at noon on the first day of the season only (the duration of the season would open each day at one-half hour before sunrise). The reasoning here was that a later start on the first day would give the local ducks a better chance to get used to all the commotion of hunters, dogs and their boats that were suddenly invading the marshlands. It was purely an effort to give ducks a fair chance to get used to these new disruptions…and hunters, well, shall we say a chance to get all of the kinks out of their rusty hunting techniques…and to do so in daylight. Certainly it was far better for hunters to set up their spread and get ready during daylight hours on opening day than in the darkness of pre-dawn surrounded by potentially deadly water.

But of course, the DNR succumbed to the pressure of a group of hunters who thought they have a better way. Biologically speaking, it probably makes no difference when the first gun fires on the opener. What it comes down to is a tradition broken only for the sake of doing something new.

I’m still frustrated about when the waterfowl season opens on the calendar. It used to be that waterfowl season ALWAYS opened on the first Saturday of October in Minnesota. Then goose populations got out of control and there was early goose seasons…and, I guess, the next logical step was to creep the duck season earlier, too. I understand the DNR works within framework established by the Feds. And I understand that when you are given “extra” days for your season it makes more sense to allocate them early…rather than later in the fall when cold temps might have pushed most ducks south. But there’s just something that seems wrong to me about hunting ducks in September. Hell, the leaves haven’t even turned color yet and the corn fields are still standing mostly sporting their summer green colors. Duck hunting is a fall activity and it ought to look like fall when you are out wearing your brown marshland camo.

Indeed, traditions no longer seem to be a sacred cow with the powers to be at the Minnesota DNR. And don’t even get me started on how they have messed up my traditions when it comes to deer hunting. Sure, the wildlife managers play with their population models and must continually come up with new systems in an effort to reach desired harvest levels. But I will save this rant for another month when the eve of the deer opener is much closer.

I view the activity of hunting to be a pure experience rich in tradition. When I go out on opening morning…I want that same feel that my father and uncles might have experienced 40 years ago. But each time change takes place it somehow deteriorates the experience in my mind. Tradition is what reaches across the generations and makes the outdoors such a wonderful place to connect with the past. Oh sure, I understand that at times there may be good reasons to make changes…whether it be for safety…or even a newly recognized wildlife management purpose.

Still, I contend that every time there’s a change in some hunting or fishing tradition that action should not be taken lightly by us sportsmen. Change should only occur when it has a fundamental purpose paramount to the outdoor tradition it attempts to destroy.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction Without Prior Permission.