Morken: Feathers fly in the turkey woods

Opening week of the Minnesota turkey hunting season felt especially impactful this year as people were able to get outside and hear the sounds of spring in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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A young jake turkey (middle) examines a lay-down hen decoy during a morning hunt on April 18 in Minnesota. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The first gobbles of the morning were well in the distance. Far enough away that you wonder if it’s real or if you are trying to convince yourself you heard it.

My 7-year-old daughter, Aubree, was cuddled up in her camp chair under two blankets when another tom let loose from the roost. This one was still pretty far away, but closer.

“Did you hear that, Aubree?”

“Yeah,” she whispered with a smile.

I let the morning come to life without calling. Birds were singing. Two deer examined our decoys in the gray light. A rooster pheasant cackled, and a tom finally couldn’t take it anymore. He gobbled, and my heart rate jumped.


The bird was likely 200 yards away, but at that distance, they’re workable. I grabbed the Woodhaven Cherry Real Hen box call to let him know we were there.

Five minutes passed before another gobble rang out. Closer this time. I grabbed the box call again and let out a few more aggressive yelps to encourage him.

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Aubree Morken, 7, was all smiles while sitting in the turkey blind twice this past weekend with her dad. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

By his third gobble, it was obvious we were in business. I have had great luck in getting birds to commit by getting aggressive in using a box call and my mouth call simultaneously. It felt like the right time to fire him up, so I let out a series of loud cuts and yelps.

A couple minutes passed when the tom interrupted the silence. He was directly behind us in the woods now less than 50 yards away. A couple soft clucks let him know we were there.

“He’s really close, Aubree. Try to stay still and be as quiet as you can.”

Aubree pulled the blanket up to her nose and looked out at our Avian-X half-strut jake and lay-down hen decoys in the plowed field. From our left, the tom strutted directly into our setup.


Almost immediately, he jumped on the back of the jake.

The tom repeatedly spurred the decoy before landing and breaking into full strut again. I got a chance to draw my bow when his fan covered his line of vision, and he turned to give me a straight-on shot opportunity.

I settled the pin on the top of the beard and pulled through. The arrow erupted and feathers flew. My shot hit perfect vertically, but a little to the left of my mark. Only an inch or two, but on a strutting turkey slowly spinning circles, that inch can be the difference between a dead bird and a fist full of feathers.

The arrow only startled him for a brief moment before he jumped back up on the jake decoy. I grabbed for a second arrow, but the tom was attentive enough now that he picked my movement and scurried back into the timber.

“That was fun to see,” Aubree said.

She could sense I was disappointed as I sat thinking about what just happened. Aubree put her arms around my neck a few minutes later to give me a hug. I wanted so badly to connect on an opportunity with her in the blind, thinking it might pique her interest in this even more.

Anyone who has followed my columns in recent years knows I have struggled with my shot. The instinct to rush the process on an animal is something I have worked hard to overcome. I switched to a resistance release in the last couple months to remove the trigger from the equation, and truthfully, it seemed to help.

I did not feel rushed on this bird. I anchored properly, got settled and waited for the correct shot. The tom was spinning very slowly. That might have caused me to be off the small margin I was, but that still felt like just an excuse in the immediate aftermath.


The reason I bow hunt turkeys in Minnesota is because it affords me the opportunity to hunt all season if needed. I would love to have had a shotgun in my hands on Sunday, but I just can’t justify limiting my hunting time to a seven-day season in April through mid-May that would really only mean being able to get out two or three of those days each spring.

That’s especially the case right now, where the opportunity to be in the woods feels particularly special. For three days this past week, I almost forgot that we are in the middle of a pandemic. It wasn’t on my mind as I chased after gobbles and got Aubree into the blind with me twice.

This was my first time using this decoy combination of the Avian-X lay-down hen with a half-strut jake, and I was blown away by its effectiveness. A jake came in on Saturday morning and mounted the lay-down hen. Sunday was the first time a tom got eyes on the decoys, and they worked exactly like they were meant to. Aubree got a thrill out of the show that made for.

I want to make sure my wife and I get the kids outside more during this strange time, and in that sense, this weekend was a win. Crappies are biting. Turkeys are gobbling, and the forecast looks pretty great this week. Time to dust myself off and get back out there.

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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