Season 4 brings plenty of turkeys but few shots

Ross Bielema

If there was an action-packed video trailer of this column, it would show plenty of hens, jakes and tom turkeys running around plowed cornfields, sandhill cranes dancing, shots at a big tom on the ground and in the air, and me falling out of a folding stool (performed by my stunt double, of course) and rolling into the side of world’s smallest ground blind.

I don’t have a name for this blockbuster movie yet, but the working title is “Season 4: More Birds, Less Meat.”

If you’ve followed my columns for the past years, you know there’s a theme. Knowledgeable (right?) but bungling hunter experiences some of the same hardships you probably do. Sometimes, despite himself, he actually kills something to take home.

Before I set foot in the turkey fields, my year started out on shaky ground. For the first time in 22 years, I didn’t draw a tag. I always buy a patron license, which includes a spring turkey permit. I thought I had applied for multiple seasons (usually season 3 as my first choice and season 2 as my second), just as I do every year.

When I heard others also didn’t draw tags, I called the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to see if they were still running Windows Vista. A kind staffer said I had only applied for one tag. Hmmmm. I had no real reason to doubt him, other than the state now would get $10 more out of me because I had to buy a surplus tag. Season 4, Zone 3 was the earliest season left, so I got one.

It was a blessing in disguise because I saw more birds this year than probably any other since I began hunting turkeys in Wisconsin in 2001. I saw hens daily, numerous jakes and even a couple toms. The weather was almost perfect (one morning was 37 degrees, but hey, it’s Wisconsin) and there were dancing sandhill cranes, Canada geese, ducks, songbirds and even a scruffy-looking coyote to break the monotony.

My opening day was May 10, and I was hustling across a plowed field with shotgun, seat cushion and loaded turkey vest to beat the 5:06 a.m. shooting start. What I wasn’t carrying was my decoy bag. What’s up with my memory? Sometimes the turkeys will roost much later than this, but today, they were up and at ‘em. I heard gobbling close to the permanent deer blind I often use on a neighbor’s farm. Within 10 minutes of arriving, I saw two bearded birds approaching through tall grass that skirts the plowed field.

Both beards were respectable, but the birds looked small and they were every bit of 50 or 60 yards away. Did I want to spoil this beautiful spring hunting season by killing a bird this fast? Looking back, I should have shot. I didn’t. They made a beeline across the field to the center, where I’d been watching turkeys cavort for many days on my commutes.

That afternoon, I put up a camo fabric ground blind in some willows closer to the middle of the field. I was in it on May 12, where I soon had a nice tom strutting for six hens. A smaller tom came a bit closer and I had a brief chance at him, but passed.

The bigger gobbler danced and strutted until I convinced myself that my Remington 870 12 gauge Super Magnum 3 1/2-inch chamber could reach him (even though I was loaded with 3-inch shells, they were No. 4 Hevi-Shot). He faced me at perhaps 55 yards when I touched off. Feathers flew but he launched toward me, flying past as I fired a quick Hail Mary. He was still flying when I saw him sail down into the woods behind me.

I looked for him but there was no sign of him. I did bounce a scrawny coyote that was perhaps anticipating a turkey dinner.

The next day, I decided I needed to be even closer to the plowed field, so I dug a tiny pop-up blind out of my garage. Now I own almost every size of Ameristep blind, including the Outhouse, Doghouse and Penthouse, plus several other brands, but this one had no brand on it and was about the size of a car sunshade. I should have opened it up before taking it to the woods but then I would have no column.

Pop-up blinds always spring open easily when removed from their cases. Wait a minute. Where’s the rest of it? I tied one side to some bushes but it didn’t want to fully open. After more twine and stakes, I was able to wedge myself inside. My head was higher than the windows. I briefly sat like a kindergartner on the ground, cross-legged, then went back to the folding stool. Some clamps helped me raise the windows a bit.

Soon I watched a group of five jakes cross the field. I was playing with my phone and looking the other direction when I suddenly realized my two decoys had company. All five birds were now within 7 yards of me. If I wanted turkey dinner, I had my pick, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger on these clearly immature and not-too-bright birds. Let them grow.

After two more mornings of unsuccessful hunting, seeing more hens and jakes, I climbed into my microcompact blind on May 16. The wobbly stool wasn’t quite level when I started to sit down and I slowly fell left. My shoulder hit the side of the blind and I heard a slight tearing sound, but never found any damage. Yes, I had fallen and I can’t get up. My wife and daughter enjoyed my texts. I was expecting sympathy and of course got none.

The group of five jakes returned to laugh at me. I let them go again.

The best part about getting skunked is there are no birds to clean. That’s fine with me.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at