Surprise snow makes turkey hunting season a bit weird

The joys of spring turkey hunting and a remarkable swing from 80 degrees last Saturday to a briefly-sticking snow on Monday.

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Snow capped a sea of mayapples, spotted while turkey hunting, on Monday morning, two days after an 80-degree day.

Snow capped a sea of mayapples, spotted while turkey hunting, on Monday morning, two days after an 80-degree day.

Dale Bowman

Never thought I would be wondering if snow on a turkey decoy looks unnatural.

But there I was Monday. Walking in, snow rattled browned oak leaves. For weather geeks, I think it was graupel, though it changed to regular snow by daylight.

This is the weirdest spring turkey season I’ve experienced. I swear David Byrne was in my head, singing, “Well, how did I get here?” from the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.”

I drew a second season permit, for last Saturday through Thursday, at a public site in Will County.

When I walked back at noon opening day, it was 80 degrees. Spring beauty were in such full bloom they seemed to crane their blossoms archly. Seas of mayapples seemed to shoot up by the minute, much like field corn in July.

Spring beauty flowers, spotted while turkey hunting, were gaudily open last Saturday on an 80-degree day. Credit: Dale Bowman

Spring beauty flowers, spotted while turkey hunting, were gaudily open last Saturday on an 80-degree day.

Dale Bowman

Near the parking lot, a hen busted out of thick brush, jarring me from my natural reverie. I guessed she was already nesting.

I’m not a good turkey hunter. I have extreme difficulty sitting still.

But it is my favorite time of the year and I enjoy the entire experience: preseason scouting to calling to just sitting, soaking in spring sights and sounds.

Last year, I drew a site I didn’t know. Luke Garver, Illinois’ wild turkey project manager, gave good advice. This year, though hunting a site I knew intimately, I asked again.

“I would definitely start with digital scouting and look for key roost site characteristics: large mature trees especially those on ridges and creek banks,” he emailed. “Look for open areas where birds might gather to forage as well. Grassy areas and openings that are concealed from roads are usually a good place to find birds.

“Nothing can substitute scouting a new site in person though. Once at the site, familiarize yourself with parking and points of entry first. Then hike as much as you have time for. Using locator calls such as crow, peacock and coyote calls can be a great way to find birds before the season begins.”

I followed his advice and in scouting found responsive birds in two areas. So I marked three set-up spots.

At the best spot, I jammed two dead sticks in the ground in a way I could see them in the dark from the trail. Then it struck me, “Hey, old man, it’s 2023, get GPS coordinates.” But opening morning, I didn’t want the flash of my phone in the dark and reverted to the old way of spotting the two marking sticks.

April is a wonderful bird month. While scouting, I started noting birds I saw or heard. There were the usual suspects: Canada goose, blue jay, cardinal, grackle, robin, crow, brown-headed cowbird, red-winged blackbird, downy woodpecker, tufted titmouse, mockingbird and red-bellied woodpecker.

On other days, I added spotted sandpiper (I was near water), eastern towhee, black-capped chickadee, yellow-bellied sapsucker and, a favorite, pileated woodpecker. Pileateds sound like the class clown smarting off.

My favorite set-up spot had a big black oak I used as partial cover. Because of the odd weather, the plants displayed a wide range. The spring beauties were open wide Saturday, mostly closed Monday. Mayapples went from stretching high in the heat Saturday to seeming to shrivel and shiver in the snow Monday.

Sunday morning, a turkey gobbled back. A few minutes later, three shots (not a good sign for success) came from private land. Monday in the snow, somebody near me on pubic land fired once (usually means success).

If I measured my turkey hunting by shots taken, I would take up pickleball.

A turkey decoy, as seen through the blind window while turkey hunting during the spring season. Credit: Dale Bowman

A turkey decoy, as seen through the blind window while turkey hunting.

Dale Bowman

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