With spring weather finally making an appearance this past weekend, our Learn to Hunt Turkey participants had a beautiful couple of days to spend time in the woods. During the weekend of April 27th-29th, the Learn to Hunt Turkey group had their last two days of the three-day course. The weekend was the hunting field experience component of their course.
With all twelve participants arriving on Friday evening at 5 PM, the event would run through Saturday night, with the option for a few more hunters to go out Sunday morning if they desired. The event took place at the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute in Hastings. This piece of private property is intensively managed for wildlife habitat and the mission of the organization revolves around conservation. The Institute offers environmental education and sustainable land management programs to the community. It also provides undergraduate research grants and research partnerships with a consortium of area colleges and universities. The facility is a mix between an environmental education center, nature center and biological field station. The land cover consists of a blend of diverse habitats including wetlands, forests, marshes, streams, lakes, and prairies.
Friday night after check in the weekend began with a welcome from Corey Lucas, the stewardship coordinator for Pierce Cedar Creek. Corey talked about the history and evolution of the property as well as where the group might be seeing turkeys over the weekend. After Corey finished, it was dinnertime. The food was great including a salad bar and pork for the main dish with chocolate cake for dessert.
After the meal, it was time to get down to some turkey hunting details. The group was introduced to their hunting mentors. There were nine mentors willing to help the participants become ethical and responsible hunters. To show them the ropes of the turkey woods, and most importantly help the mentees enjoy their time in the field. These people gave up their weekend to pass on what they love and everyone was very appreciative of them.
Around 7:00 PM, we had the two Conservation Officers for Barry County give a talk on ethics and regulations in regards to the turkey digest. The officers did great answering questions and explaining some of the nuances of turkey hunting and how the hunters should handle interactions with law enforcement in the field. There were lots of questions about turkey hunting regulations, but also good questions about the recreational trespassing law, fishing licenses, and even public vs. private water bodies.
The night wrapped up with the group around the campfire getting turkey-calling lessons from Steve Sharp the R3 coordinator for the National Wild Turkey Federation and leader of this weekend. There were many laughs while everyone tried their hand at calling on box and mouth calls. As the fire burned down people headed off to bed to dream about a successful day in the field on Saturday.
Saturday morning started bright and early with a wakeup call at 4:15 AM. After an excited, few minutes grabbing donuts and filling thermoses with coffee the mentors and mentees headed out into the woods. The weather cooperated and with temperatures in the upper 30’s, our group was prepared to sit in the blind all morning.
The groups split into nine different blinds around the property. There were three blinds in my section of the property. As it would turn out, we were on the slow end of the turkey woods. None of our three groups saw any tom turkeys, and only two of the groups heard any gobbles in the morning. Since the turkey action was slow, my mentee and I spent our time enjoying the waking up of the woods, and we practiced our bird identification. We were lucky enough to see a woodcock, several species of woodpeckers, wood ducks, sandhill cranes, blue jays and geese. We also saw a couple of hen turkeys, but no gobblers.
We packed up our morning hunt around 11 AM to meet the rest of the group for lunch. When we arrived at the lunch area, we found two of the mentees had harvested birds and were sharing their success story. There was lots of excitement as these were the first birds for anyone in the group and there were plenty of congratulatory handshakes and high fives.
After a few pictures and lunch, Steve showed everyone how to process the turkeys using the whole animal and suggested some recipes for the best way to cook them. After this, the group who had not filled their tags headed back out into the woods for an afternoon hunt.
Overall, the weekend was a great success. A big thank you to our partners, the mentors, and the mentees for a great three days of turkey hunting. Best of luck to everyone as they continue their hunting journey.