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Spring or not, a turkey's gobble beckons

A group of toms slowly made their way up a hill just west of Alexandria in early February. (Eric Morken, Echo Press)

I can't be the only one who feels like Minnesota's spring turkey season has snuck up on us this year.

My anticipation level usually reaches a fever pitch by late March. Winter snow gives way to the first sign of green grass. The toms start dancing in the open as the hens lead them out of the woods in search of the vegetation and bugs arriving in the fields.

It's harsh, really. Here they are in all their glory, strutting their stuff in hopes of winning the heart of their one-and-only someone. We drive by and think, "You'll pay for that come hunting season, you pervert." Young love can be so cruel.

Only I haven't seen that scene play out this spring. The fields not far from my house that were filled with strutting turkeys last March and April now sit empty. There is nothing out there for them with the ground still frozen solid.

The turkeys are in the surrounding woods somewhere. I watched a flock of about 30 for most of the winter. A group of four toms greeted me almost daily on my way to work, oftentimes hanging around long enough for me to snap a few photos of them with my phone.

I haven't seen them for almost a month, though. That's the thing about turkeys. They're nomads. Sure they have their favorite fields to strut in, but they can be here today and gone tomorrow.

The good thing is that we don't need to see them to know that they're there. Ask any hunter what is the one thing that makes turkey hunting different from every other season. The echoing of a gobble will undoubtedly be their answer.

The first time I ever hunted turkeys was in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was late in the season and the active period was long over. We hadn't heard a thing through two days when my buddy and I came upon a flock.

We jumped out of the vehicle and belly-crawled through a pouring rain up the ridge. I let out a few yelps with my mouth call and the hens starting answering back. Finally, a tom couldn't take it anymore as he let out a thunderous roar. He never did come out of the pines, but at that point, I was hooked.

Some of my most memorable hunts since then have been in close calls with some really vocal birds. A few years ago, I called for a friend and had a tom strut right behind my back but never get within gun range of my buddy. That same year I chased a group of four gobblers in Wyoming that answered in unison to every call.

It's the anticipation of hearing that first gobble that gets us out of bed at 4:30 in the morning. It's what will have me sitting in 30-degree temperatures when my five-day season opens next Wednesday.

It doesn't feel like it, but the calendar says spring is here. I'll believe it when I hear the first gobble. That's the true sign of spring for every turkey hunter.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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