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Wrapping up a memorable turkey season

Eric Morken with a Merriam turkey he shot on a hunt in Wyoming during the first weekend in May. (Photo courtesy of Gary Morken)

The turkey hunting season in Minnesota runs through May 31, but my season is officially over after tagging out in both Minnesota and Wyoming.

Anyone who loves to hunt but is not chasing turkeys yet in the spring is missing out. My suggestion would be to try it once. Get out in the woods a half an hour before first shooting light and listen to the gobbles. There's a good chance it will hook you.

I drove 10 hours to Hulett, Wyoming with my dad, Gary Morken, and father-in-law, Mike Schaffran, on May 4 in search of those gobbles. We have built a relationship with a rancher out there who lets us hunt, and the turkeys are generally plentiful. My dad and I got our two birds on the opener in 2017 after about 45 minutes of hunting.

We returned to that exact same spot for our first morning hunt this year. The birds were again gobbling as the sun started to rise over the pines.

Most of them were far in the distance, but they had been the year before too. The Merriam's out there often seem willing to travel great distances to calls, so I let loose.

One tom in particular was incredibly responsive. He was on his way and not afraid to say it.

After a few minutes, he had traveled hundreds of yards and was gobbling on the ridge behind us with our decoys up on a wheat field in front of us.

My dad moved his body around to face back toward the ridge. When the tom appeared, he was 15 yards away and looking him right in the face. The bird immediately knew something wasn't right and let out a few warning clucks on his way out of sight.

Turkey hunting tests a hunter's patience. A good rule of thumb is don't move. Trust that the bird will eventually see the decoys and commit, providing the best shot. It doesn't always work out that way, but picking a hunter's movement has sent a lot of toms running over the years. That cost us a couple of turkeys on the first day.

Day two featured plenty of gobbling on the roost, and my dad and I had one pinpointed at about 8 a.m. He was up top on a field, and we were down low on the ridge. After 15 minutes of talking with him, it seemed clear the bird was not going to close the gap.

Time to be aggressive. I got up and told my dad to wait at the decoys in case one did slip in from where I had been calling. I was heading up the ridge to take a peek.

The tom was strutting like crazy when I looked over the wheat field, but he was hundreds of yards away. I had to get closer. Using the terrain, I kept low and made a move. It seemed to be working until a group of cows feeding in the field were spooked and started running toward me. I sat down against a tree as they trotted right past the turkeys, breaking up the birds and ending my chances. Defeated, I set out to find dad and get on our way again.

I didn't even have time to think about what had just happened when my luck changed. As I walked, I came to the crest of a small hill and noticed the top of a tom's fan.

I immediately dropped to the ground. Did they see me? I wasn't sure, but I went about things as if they had not, turning my body and belly-crawling down that small hill to set up against a tree. Once positioned, I let out a few clucks on the mouth call.

A couple minutes passed. Nothing. I let out a few more soft yelps, and a hen was the first bird to crest the hill. At this point, I knew my chances just skyrocketed.

The hen worked her way past me at about 20 yards as the tom came into sight behind her. He was up on the field a little more - about 35 yards away. Close enough for the three-inch turkey loads I was shooting.

The tom let out a couple gobbles and walked into a clearing. I lifted the shotgun and fired on my second nice bird this season. Mike had gotten one of his own about half an hour earlier to help cap off a good morning in the Black Hills.

It was the final touches on a memorable 2018 season. One that included my first tom with a bow, my 5-year-old daughter's first time in the blind and calling in a tom in the snow for my buddy, Jacob Busiahn.

That all adds up to perhaps my best turkey season ever. Hopefully, a prelude to good things coming in the fall.

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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