Turkey hunting with a bow is definition of a challenge

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May. 15, 2002  

Turkey watch worth the wait

CHRIS NISKANEN, St. Paul Pioneer Press

WESTERN SOUTH DAKOTA

Crouching against a clay river bank on a sunny morning, I wondered how hard it would be to hit a Butterball turkey with an arrow at 20 yards.

In a few moments, I learned it's pretty difficult, especially when that butterball is wild and on the hoof.

After a 20-minute stalk, including a few minutes of belly crawling, Minnesotans Mitch Kezar of Delano and Dave Greer of Minnetonka had hidden themselves in a South Dakota creek thicket, their bows and arrows ready for a flock of wild turkeys.

We were hunting wild Merriam's turkeys in a shallow river draw that twists for miles through the prairies between the Black Hills and the Missouri River. It was 9 a.m., and the morning air was filled with the sounds of meadowlarks and fluttering sharptail grouse. At this moment, we were focused on five large toms strutting across a pasture toward our decoys.

I was the one with the turkey call, making melodious hen sounds from below the riverbank. My job was to lure the birds within range of Kezar and Greer.

That's what got me thinking about that Butterball. A killing shot on a turkey must hit an area smaller than a paper plate. On this trip, I watched the two archers practice for fun on cow patties at 40 yards and they were deadeye shots. But it's a different story when the target is a moving bird and you're knee-deep in brush and grass. Moreover, we were hunting without the aid of camouflaged blinds, which means you have to sit stone still. Wild turkeys have amazing eyesight.

Kezar and Greer sat motionless while I call to the toms. The birds answered with simultaneous and thunderous gobbling. In a few minutes, they crossed the pasture and got within 50 yards. I called again, and the birds drew closer. I couldn't see them, because I was hiding under the bank, but I heard their feathers rustling like bolts of fabric snapping in the wind.

I looked up and saw Kezar at full draw. An arrow zipped out of the bow, and I saw Kezar's shoulders momentarily sag. A miss.

Ten minutes later, we emerged from the thicket after the flock had scattered. A few black turkey feathers clung to the grass. Greer shot too, but the arrow nicked a twig and missed. Kezar's arrow clipped just a few feathers on a different bird.

''They came strutting in hand in hand,'' Greer gushed. ''I don't know how I missed.''

Turkey hunting with a bow is the definition of challenge. Only about one-third of hunters using a shotgun bag a wild turkey, so the odds are probably 1 in 10 or less for bow hunters. As we drove across South Dakota, past the Missouri River into the heart of ranch country, Greer described an arduous hunt where he killed a bull elk with a bow. But a wild turkey by archery gear had eluded him for years. His luck wouldn't change on this trip.

Hunting on the prairie adds another element. Compared to Minnesota hardwood forests, the prairie offers few hiding places for turkey hunters. One afternoon Kezar and I lay in the middle of a pasture while a flock of turkeys watched us warily from 200 yards. One quick move and they would have been gone, so we waited for two hours until they trickled into the brush, and then we resumed our stalk.

But sometimes a plan works. The three of us were hiking along a river bottom when a lone gobble call came from the woods. We quickly moved into the oak-filled bottoms, and Greer and Kezar found suitable trees to crouch behind. I sat 30 yards behind them and called.

A young tom, called a jake, was lured into range by my calling, and Kezar pierced him just behind the wing with an arrow. The bird flew a short distance, but we found it later, dead in the grass.

Our hunt started well on the first morning when Greer and I stalked a flock within 100 yards and then succeeded in calling a tom within 25 yards, an easy shot with a shotgun. Greer turned to me and said, ''I think this one is yours.''

After missing with his bow later that day, Greer turned to hunting with a shotgun and had stranger luck. He called in several toms, but watched helplessly as two coyotes swooped in and attacked them. The birds escaped all three hunters.

Greer never got a turkey, but he had a terrific coyote story tell when he got home. Cooking a wild Butterball on the grill will be my and Kezar's enviable task.


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Chris Niskanen can be reached at cniskanen@pioneerpress.com.  
 

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