POPLAR, Wis. — Nathan Nelson picked a crummy day to start his turkey hunting career.
Rain mixed with a little snow. Temperatures struggling to stay above freezing. A raw wind off Lake Superior gusting to 20 mph. It was the kind of morning when you’re never sure if the turkeys can even hear you call and when the birds usually don't call much at all.
Still, judging from Nelson’s smile, he didn’t seem to care.
“I think I’m going to like this,’’ the newbie turkey hunter said.
Nelson was sitting in a camouflage, tent-like ground blind set up by his friend, Darrel Anderson, on a 20-acre plot owned by Nelson’s dad. We weren’t far off the Poplar River and a stone's throw from Lake Superior. The two Poplar men are church buddies who share hunting stories frequently.
On Wednesday morning Anderson also was sharing his turkey hunting skills gleaned from 12 years of hunting Douglas County toms, just about as far northwest in Wisconsin as you can go.
“We had seven toms out here at one time last week,’’ Anderson said as he placed the decoys about 15 yards from the blind. It was just after 5 a.m.and still pitch dark.
Nelson, 27, a youth pastor, has been a deer hunter as long as he can remember. An avid archery hunter and budding videographer, Nelson was finally talked into trying his first turkey hunt by Anderson over the winter. Nelson wasn’t just trying to bag a tom turkey, however. He was also trying to video himself doing it.
“I’m looking for some new content for my Youtube page,’’ Nelson said. He had a Go-Pro attached to his shotgun and a professional video camera on a tripod.
Anderson offered a running string of advice for Nelson, like where to aim on the turkey (just below the head) but he had only one warning: Don’t shoot the tom turkey decoy. The deoy has an air bladder that will deflate if struck by a pellet.
“And they’re expensive,’’ Anderson added. “You hit it, you eat it.”
For Nelson and every other first-time hunter, having a mentor like Anderson is priceless. Turkey hunting requires scouting for productive locations, careful blind placement, knowledgeable decoy placement, concealment, quiet, patience and — probably most difficult to master — all sorts of calling.
“I think it’s something I can pick up. But I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing now,’’ Nelson said.
That was okay because Anderson knew exactly what he was doing. The veteran hunter played through a cast of calls, starting with a quiet mouth call for yelps and chirps, building through a slate call with purrs and escalating to a loud, hammering box call when it became clear we would have to pierce the wind to be heard by any gobbler. As the morning slipped by without a gobble Anderson even tried a shaker-gobble call hoping to incite a reaction.
He leans toward the aggressive end of the calling spectrum but takes plenty of pauses between calling sessions.
“I like to get the hens going. If you can start a fight with a hen, that really fires up the toms. They go nuts,” Anderson said.
We never got a tom fired up that morning, although we did see two strutting far off across a field. They never responded to our calls. One lone hen came in a few times to investigate our setup, but even she seemed cold and disinterested as she pecked for food in the field.
Perhaps the highlight of the morning was a visit by a coyote at about 9 a.m. and, earlier, what appeared to be large, light gray wolf that came in to investigate.
“That is so cool,’’ Nelson said in a whisper, his video camera struggling to capture the animal about 90 yards away in low light.
Anderson hunts turkeys as often as possible in late April and May, mostly within 50 miles of his home. He shot his first bird just across the street from his place. He loves the interaction between man-and-bird so much that he volunteers to call for anyone who needs help — be it his daughter or Nelson.
“That's’ the great part of turkey hunting, you can have fun even when you don’t have a gun,” he said. “It’s just as much fun to call one in for someone else.”
Anderson is exactly the kind of guy that hunting enthusiasts hope for when — concerned about the downward spiral of hunter numbers — they call for hunters to pass on their passion, their skills and their time to newcomers.
“He’s been dogging me to try turkey hunting,’’ Nelson said of Anderson’s persistence. “And this year my wife wants to go, too. So, I finally gave in. I’m glad I did.”
“I think I may have created a monster,’’ Anderson said. “This (turkey hunting) grows on ya.”
Nelson bagged a turkey Friday morning. His videos can be found on YouTube at Still Water Outdoors. Minnesota and Wisconsin turkey seasons continue through May.