John Myers Column: I Didn’t Shoot During a Turkey Hunt – Duluth News Tribune

Nodin, MN – The pistol was ready, resting on my left knee with my leg bent. I was perfectly positioned when the four wild turkeys—young males—came out from a pine farm behind me, marching straight toward inanimate traps.

They gave their approach with little bangs, not gorging. And it would have been a fairly simple shot, even for me, at less than 20 yards.

But it was only 9 a.m. on the first of four days of a turkey hunt in southeastern Minnesota. If you shoot a bird, that will be it. I would have finished. It will be sightseeing and napping for the next three days. Besides, I actually had turkey in the freezer from my Nebraska turkey hunting trip. I was looking for a bigger bird, more cup, more of a challenge and Tom that would give me a better view of the swallow and strut.

So I did not shoot.

Instead, I watched the four birds interact with each other and with my snares. They were a bit shy, just a few feet from the foam and plastic birds. They seemed to look up every now and then—I was sitting in front of a completely camouflaged tree—and look at me sideways. But they clearly never suspected there was a danger. They wandered on the ground, wandered about for 10 minutes and then walked slowly, up a hill, the same bird that was in front when they first arrived. He was clearly the leader of this group of teenage turkey thugs.

Two wild turkeys Jake, young males. Note very short beards or chest hair. Jakes also have an asymmetrical tail fan, with the feathers in the middle being longer than the feathers on the sides.
Contribute / Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks

You learn things from watching wild animals, such as the fact that although turkeys have very keen eyesight, they are more wary of movement and color than shapes. I was just so still, they never knew I was there.

But as soon as they left I regretted my decision. What if these are the only legitimate turkeys I’ve seen? (They were). What if I don’t get another chance to take a bird on this flight? (I did not). What if you come home empty-handed? (did.)

It’s a struggle that hunters face all the time. To shoot or not to shoot. To take a life or not. Some hunters never think much about it. If it is brown it is down for deer. If it’s red (the red head on a male turkey) then it’s dead. But many of us don’t shoot sometimes for myriad reasons. Perhaps the shot will not be clean, it will likely injure the animal. It may not have been so good. Maybe you just wanted the search to last longer.

wild tom turkey

Older from Turkey Tom. Note the perfectly proportioned fan of the tail feathers and the very long beard or chest hair.
Contribute / Michigan Wildlife Council

I don’t get soft, as some have joked when I tell this story. I haven’t made it to the stage of outdoor advancement that many older hunters and hunters claim to get to as they get older, when just being in a duck or deer stand or in a boat is enough for them, enjoying the sunrise and the songbirds. And nature unfolds another day. These are of course the big reasons we all get outdoors.

But, for me, there is nothing better than succeeding in a goal, attracting ducks, calling a turkey or catching a border than a walleye. There is fun in knowing when and where the fish or game will be, how they will respond, and outsmart their guard. I want to finish the deal. I still want to accept as many ducks and pheasants as possible from my dog’s mouth. I still want as many wild games on the table as is reasonable. I want the basic satisfaction of shooting and watching my target fall.

But I also learned a lot from not shooting.

Once, many years ago, while hunting deer in Cook County, my wife fired a nice shot on opening day. Our family was just the two of us at the time and we only needed to take one deer home for the meat. So we agreed to shoot a second deer only if it was a really great bird. The next morning, a herd of deer came rushing to the area where my deer stand was. It was the height of mating season, and two bucks had chased a doe just a few feet from my raised stack of poplar seedlings.

The first Buckeyes were eight small pointers with a whitewashed shelf. I haven’t seen one like it since. The second breast had a slightly smaller shelf but appeared to be the aggressor. It wasn’t any of the cup, so I didn’t shoot.

Suddenly the two start fighting, not in the way we see on the videos, racks completely intertwined, but more hitting their heads together and losing each other’s horns half the time. They even rode on their hind legs at times, causing all kinds of sounds I hadn’t heard before. In the end, a dollar moved a few steps away. And that was all the space the white-horned antelope needed. He turned and jumped on the doe (which was watching the battle) and proceeded to spread his sex.

I’ve never seen a deer fight or mate in the wild before. And here it was, in the color of a close-up of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” unfolding right before my eyes, 50 feet away. If I had shot a buck when I first had the chance, as I have always done before, I would have missed one of the most amazing outdoor stories I’ve ever seen.

wild turkey chicken

A wild turkey hen, is smaller, usually lighter in color than the male without a beard, its head is gray and there are no bumps on its legs.
Contributed / National Union Wild Turkey

Back on the last turkey flight, on the last morning, I called a chicken and then watched it feed, poop and talk to my snares for an hour, amazed at how close they came to me—15 feet or so at times—and not bothered. She was teaching me how to become a better communicator and how to stay motionless. I would never have had this experience if I had shot a jake on day one.

So, my turkey hunting friend and I headed home last Sunday empty-handed, two hunters who drove four hours with the express intent of shooting wild turkeys. At first I was a little disappointed because I didn’t carry a bird in a bag. In the end, though, I made up for my decision. And when I retold the scenario, as turkey hunters always do, I pause after telling you how the four men walked, less than 20 yards away.

“Well, what happened?” Listeners always ask.

I did not shoot.

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