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Woodland Trails: Time to 'talk turkey'

It's time to talk turkey! Many Wisconsin turkey hunters are either getting ready to travel out after tom turkey this month or they might already be out in the turkey fields and woods in some other states that have earlier seasons than we do.

One such man who is already out hunting in Nebraska is Mike Foster, Prostaff for Primos, one of the largest and best manufacturers for turkey hunting calls and other gear out of Flora, Miss.

I sat down with Mike recently to pick his brain and get him to share some of his secrets and basic knowledge. Mike started hunting turkey back in 1978 when Minnesota had its first turkey hunting season. He got lucky enough to draw a tag and shot a bird that year first even though he didn't know a thing about turkey hunting.

"A turkey just came flying over like a big goose and I shot it."

Mike was hooked because, as he told me, turkey are so smart. "They can see eight times better than a human being and in color. They can hear about eight times better, and they can fly 55 mph and run 35 mph. They are a great quarry to match wits with."

Mike hunted turkey for about 10 years with a shotgun and then decided that he and a friend would try to shoot one with a bow and arrow. And that is a difficult task because they are so wary and have great natural instincts.

"This was about 15 years ago when no one really hunted them with a bow. We figured we were pretty good bow hunters so we decided to just go someplace and do it. We went to Nebraska, called one up and shot it with a bow, and I've been hooked on it ever since."

Taking a turkey with a bow is quite an accomplishment without a blind as Mike first did it. Turkey are so wary. With the way their eyes are placed on the sides of their heads, they can see in nearly a 360-degree range! They don't leave a blood trail like a deer so you can't track them with all those feathers. This year, a new broad head is out more than before that is designed to act like a guillotine and decapitate the turkey.

"I'm not a big fan of cutting a turkey's head off. I respect them too much for that. When I take a picture with a turkey I want the head on it. But I guess there is nothing wrong with it.

"I shoot body shots on turkeys with a large expandable broad head. The best place to hit a turkey (with a bow and arrow) is right above the hips when you take a side shot. I like to go dead center right above the hips. You'll go through all the vital organs that way and he'll go down really quick. If you hit a little bit low you will take out the hips and they can't run or get airborne. If you are a little bit high you'll break the backbone and he'll drop right there too."

According to Foster, when facing a turkey head-on, another good shot is just below the (red) waddles and above the beard, or right up the anal canal when the turkey is turned away from you all fanned out. Both of those shots will go right into the vital organs. The rear-end shot with the fan-out will block the gobbler's view making your shot easier because he won't detect any movement.

Living here in the Midwest we have the Eastern wild turkeys in our area. They have Miriams out west and you have Rios in Texas and the Osceola in Florida. Hunting the different strains simply means you're hunting in different terrain because they all respond to the same calls. Foster thinks the Miriams are the prettiest turkeys.

"Indians used to make head dresses out of their feathers that have buff-colored tipped tails. Wyoming, South Dakota and northwest Nebraska are some of the best places to hunt them. Taking all four is called a grand slam in turkey hunting, something Mike has accomplished!

Mike told me, "The key is I was pretty much a woodsman before I was a turkey hunter. I knew how to kill birds with a shotgun. I grew up pheasant hunting and goose hunting. I knew how to sneak up on animals and shoot them. I was a woodsman before I was a turkey hunter. I just had to learn how to call to become a turkey hunter. It's just like any other kind of hunting. You have to know where the birds like to go. You get there before they do, set up and call. Turkey hunting is 40 percent woodmanship, 40 percent calling and 20 percent how to kill them when you get them in close."

Calling is the key. It makes turkey hunting unique, exciting and challenging. In my next column I'll pick Foster's brain and show you how a pro goes about calling in wild tom turkeys. To be continued...