Nearly a minute had passed since the longbeard strutted in to model and posture for our hen decoy.
And there the gobbler stood, flexing confidently for the phony female, its beard swaying, its fan spread wide, and its spurs hooking skyward.
Finally it walked past the decoy, never once lifting its red, white and blue head and neck above its puffed chest. For the third time I stroked the aluminum plate on my pot call, making the “Cutt! Cutt! Cutt!” sounds that usually make strutting gobblers raise their head high. I hoped, of course, to make it expose its neck and noggin for a killing shotgun blast. Instead, it quartered away and spun its fanned tail to face us, blocking our view of everything that mattered.
My pounding heart rung so loudly in my ears that I couldn’t tell how Emily Krumenauer, seated inches away, was handling the tension. I glanced at her shotgun barrel. It wasn’t wavering. Instead, it followed the gobbler’s slow progress through the decoys, almost as if Emily had been hunting turkeys 20 years, not 20 minutes.
This was her first turkey hunt, and so far she was holding it together. The big gobbler hadn’t offered its head for a clean shot, and she hadn’t risked a shot that would destroy the prime meat in its breast.
I flicked my eyes once more at the old Polychoke on the 12-gauge barrel of Emily’s Winchester Model 12 shotgun. The gun stayed steady atop her raised left knee, pointing at the turkey. Her dad, Gary Krumenauer, would be proud.
“So far, so good,” I thought as the gobbler’s fan faced us 20 yards away. “He doesn’t suspect a thing. He’s calm. Em’s earning this one.”
We were hunting south of Chippewa Falls on land near the Krumenauers’ family farm. Emily works in Eau Claire with my daughter, Karsyn, and has been hunting about 20 years, mostly for deer, and never for turkeys. Soon after the Department of Natural Resources started selling leftover tags in March, Emily asked if I would take her turkey hunting.
She went online, bought a tag for Zone 4 during the fifth period, May 19-25, and asked her dad if she could borrow a shotgun.
After discovering it was easier to buy a turkey tag on a website than shotgun ammo on a store shelf, the Krumenauers asked their friend Chris Cesafsky if he had any turkey loads. He did, and so Cesafsky’s son, Cory, and Emily’s dad helped her verify the shotgun’s pattern with a couple of test shots.
Cesafsky also pointed her to a bordering field where he and his wife, Kim, often see turkeys feeding and displaying. Emily and I returned to the Cesafskys’ woods after work May 20, tucked my portable blind into a brushy point at a field’s edge, and stashed a jake and two hen decoys for her hunt at dawn on May 22.
We returned about 4:45 a.m. that day, set our decoys 20 yards out from the brushy point, and settled onto our ground cushions by 5 a.m. Emily, a right-handed shooter, quartered her left shoulder toward the decoys so she could cover everything in the field before her.
As the decoys grew distinct in the growing light, I whispered final instructions before going silent. “Rest your gun on your left knee. If you see a turkey, raise your gun with your knee so you have a solid rest. If a gobbler comes in strutting, don’t shoot until it raises its head.”
Minutes later a drake mallard flew over, quacking as it headed east across the field. A turkey in the woods behind us gobbled back. Wow! Thumbs up!
Pressing my lips to my wingbone call, I yelped three times. Again, the tom gobbled. Seconds later, gobblers in distant woods to the south called back, as did one to the southwest.
About 5:10 a.m. Emily pointed out two gobblers several hundred yards to the south walking toward us. “Get your knee and gun up,” I said. Soon after, however, something spooked the birds and they fled to the east.
Before we felt disappointed, a turkey landed in the field to our left with a rush of wingbeats. Thick brush blocked our view of the bird, so we hoped it was the gobbler from the woods behind us. Judging by where it landed, we knew it could see our decoys. A minute or so later we heard an intake of air near the landing site, as if the turkey had just inflated itself.
Emily’s left forefinger pointed southward soon after, and she eased her knee and shotgun higher. The gobbler strutted into view seconds later, performing slow pirouettes to impress all of Chippewa County with its size, colors and attitude. Two minutes into its show, the gobbler turned its back to us, advanced a few yards, and quartered eastward, bringing its head back into view.
I swiped the wooden striker hard into the aluminum, making my loudest calls yet. The gobbler raised its neck and head to look our way. Before I thought to whisper, “Shoot!” Emily fired the 12-gauge, dropping the gobbler as if it had been clubbed with a Louisville slugger.
As the bird “crappie-flopped” its last, Emily released the tension she suppressed the past few minutes. “Are you kidding me!?” she half-shouted. “Did that just happen?! No way! No way! Could you hear my heart pounding?! I was breathing so hard I thought you’d yell at me! I kept telling myself, ‘Mindful breathing. In your nose, out your mouth!’ But I couldn’t calm down!”
After exchanging high-fives and taking photos, we visited the Cefaskys, relived the hunt, and returned to the Krumenauers’ home to share Emily’s success with her parents. Later, after plucking the tom and carving, vacuum-sealing and freezing everything but the turkey’s gobbles, Emily sent a note I’ll always cherish:
“We’re granted one time on this earth, and so these past few days I slowed my busy lifestyle for a few firsts: First time turkey hunting; first time hunting in spring with so many birds calling and the woods so green; first time filling a tag so early (5:20 a.m.); first time shooting my dad’s cherished Winchester 12-gauge shotgun; and first time cleaning and processing a wild turkey. Just seeing my dad’s pride made all these first so worthwhile.”
Emily Krumenauer, Eau Claire, shot this gobbler 20 minutes into her first turkey hunt. She got it May 20 near her family’s Chippewa County farm. — Patrick Durkin photos