Turkey hunts slowed by snow

Hunting WILD TURKEY is hardly easy. Many times all the factors do not fall into place no matter what the hunter does to put him or herself in the right place at the right time. Such is one of the standard definitions of hunting … no guarantees. At other times, the hunt can seem easy when one stealthily sits down by a big oak tree at zero-dark thirty in the morning while listening to still-roosted tom turkeys gobbling from the tree tops. When he flies down at first light, one soft call from the hunter can entice the gobbler to take a closer look. When old tom sticks his head out from behind a tree to look for the source of the invisible phantom turkey, the hunter’s shotgun is already up and pointed in the right direction. From that point on, a sight trigger pressure makes the shotgun bark loudly as the load of shot is on its way to the bird. Result: one more tom turkey down. Within the hour, this bird will be cleaned and packed for the home freezer. Its final destination will be a backyard grill or a nice warm oven to prepare it for a future family feast.

For archers who pursue tom turkeys, the process is a bit more involved. For this scribe, I need a hunting blind, a camo- covered, portable, tent-like enclosure, a lightweight chair, my bow of course, a few turkey calls and a decoy or two set outside at 5 yards distance. This process calls for lots of patience. Turkeys may not be moving in my direction today, or tomorrow, but eventually they may pass close. Usually I have a great day outdoors without a hint of any interest by those wild turkeys in visiting my setup. And then, as if by magic, I look out the corner of my eye and see a strutting tom. Will he come or not? Nothing to lose. I’ll make a few quiet calls as if my decoys are talking to each other and wait to see what happens. While writing this, I’m still waiting for the aforementioned scenario to take place.

The No. 1 hardest part of spring turkey hunting is rolling out of bed at 0430. Once that decision has been made, the rest is easier. Hard part number two: Walking into the dark timber with no flashlights of any kind, just relying on the faint moon glow to light my pathway. It is a fantastic exercise in stealth, trying hard to not trip over a fallen tree limb or crunch a stick underfoot. I’m getting better at this. The third hardest factor in turkey hunting…patience. Lots of this factor is needed. Using these techniques has allowed me to get into my blind and set up decoys without spooking roosted toms from nearby tall trees. Factor number four: More waiting, particularly if a tom sees the setup but declines to come closer to investigate. In at least three successful bow kills of toms during the past decade, the toms did come close out of curiosity. It was their last time to do so. More often than not, the tom ignores my setup despite anything I do to sweeten the invitation.

If one wants a turkey guaranteed, buy a farm-fed turkey at a grocery store. If one wants immense satisfaction derived from hunting wild tom turkeys with either gun or bow, then the hunting option is worth its weight in gold. Hunters who have made the effort and paid their dues in terms of lots of hunt attempts know how big the smile is when carrying a tom turkey out of the forest. This leads to the last and fifth hardest part of turkey hunting…waiting for next year.

The big event this past week was undoubtedly the weather …. and the SNOW. Snow in May? Yes it has happened before. Not often, but still those old time record books kept by meteorologists are there for inspecting. Snow puts a big dampening (pun intended) on turkey hunting, mushroom exploration forays, gardening, farming or just about any Iowa springtime outside activity that we think should happen in May. This scribe recalls the big blizzard of April 30, 1967. The place was Rapid City, S.D. My Air Force station was the site when a big northern blew in with high winds and light dry snow. The wind was so intense that it filled any crack or crevice with snow. My car in the parking lot, along with all the other cars, was buried under deep drifts. But when I finally checked the vehicle two days later, I found the interior adorned with mounds of snow. The underhood engine compartment was one solid, snow- filled cavity, complete with the imprint of the hood imbedded in it surface.

You might say that what happened in South Dakota in 1967 is not related to what is happening in Iowa in early May, 2013. All it takes is a slightly different pathway for the upper air jet stream, a big cold air pressure system colliding with warm air from the South, all typical variations in basic mid latitude, midcontinental weather patterns. The ultimate purpose of weather elements is to fulfill one purpose: to move heat from where there is more to someplace where there is less. We may not like it but are powerless to do anything about it. Adapt, improvise and overcome is the only strategy people can employ.

Daylight length is a huge factor in the timing of WALLEYE fish spawning. For Iowa DNR fisheries personnel at Lake Rathbun, they must hit the water for netting walleyes at just the right time. It happened this year. The date was April 6t in this big reservoir of south central Iowa. It was their best walleye netting season in years. They filled all the fish incubators with eggs to spare. How many eggs did they get? 85 million!

Each female walleye at Rathbun averaged 1.4 quarts of eggs this year, an increase over 1.04 quarts in 2012, and 1.11 quarts in 2011. Rathbun’s waters netted 817 female fish, 450 of which, were ready to spawn. That yielded 631 quarts of eggs with each quart holding about 135,000 eggs. That is how the calculation of 85 million comes into the records. Nine hundred seventy eight male walleye netted were able to provide fertilization for those eggs. The Rathbun fish hatchery will ship 30 quarts of walleye eggs to Guttenberg at that hatchery facility. Each of those quarts were filtered three times via a 10 micron system prior to transport. The filtering is the best method available at this time to keep invasive species from taking a free ride and possibly infecting other waters. Once all the eggs hatch, 38.5 million of the young fry will go back to Rathbun and 16 million will be taken to Clear Lake. Some of the Rathbun fry will stay until they grow to larger fingerling size.

Thanks are due to the dedicated fisheries staffers of the DNR who spend the time, long nighttime hours on the water netting, and even longer hours at hatchery facilities to bring these valuable fish to all water sites throughout Iowa. A big salute goes out to these workers. You can help by making sure you buy a fishing license, even if you never intend to go fishing. It is money well spent.

The Marshall County Conservation Board will host a SPRING BIRD WATCHING WALK on Thursday at Timmons Grove (south) County Park. Timmons Grove is a 199- acre, Iowa River floodplain, bottomland forest. The time to begin will be 9 a.m. until at least 10 a.m., or whenever the group decides to quit. No registration needed. Just bring yourself, a friend and binoculars. The hike will be led by Diane Hall, naturalist. The group will be looking for warblers, thrushes, flycatchers and other spring migrants. Warblers passing through Iowa include at least 35 species, 11 of which are known to regularly nest in Iowa. Warblers are insect eaters primarily but some small fruits add to the mix. This birding hike is part of International Migratory Bird Week, an activity to increase appreciation for Neotropical birds.

HUNTER SAFETY CLASS No. 1 for Marshall County this year is coming up soon. The times are 6 to 9 p.m. on May 16 and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 18. This class is primarily aimed for youth that are 12 years old or older. It is not unusual for a parent to attend also, and register for the class, since they will have to be there anyway. Iowa hunter safety classes are required to be successfully completed before the first hunting license is purchased. Register online at the DNR website www.iowadnr.gov/training.

SPORTING CLAY shoot that was scheduled for Sunday is cancelled due to recent weather, snow, colder temps and soft grounds. The Izaak Walton League regrets it had to take this action, but Mother Nature played the trump card and she won. The Ikes do have another sporting clay shoot set for June 2. They are pretty sure snow will not cancel this event. On June 2, registration opens at 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Lunch will be available. See you then.

A merger has taken effect of two chapters of PHEASANTS FOREVER. The Tama and Marshall County PF chapters have agreed to combine. Many Tama County members have historically attended the October banquet each year when it is held at the Central Iowa Fairgrounds activity building. The merger will have benefits for wildlife habitat projects in the two counties. Upgrading of existing lands that PF has assisted with is one goal. PF is also a supporter of the Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist Program whereby free advice and consultation is available to landowners who desire to enroll in conservation programs. There will be a meeting of any interested PF member at 5:30 p.m. on May 7 at the Stadium Lounge in Marshalltown. Learn what the combined chapters can offer and find out what is being planned for the fall banquet 2013. Pizza will be available to all who attend. Call Steve Armstrong at 641-751-1668 for questions or details. See you there.

Three Rules of Life: 1. If you do not go after what you want, you’ll never have it. 2. If you do not ask, the answer will always be no. 3. If you do not step forward, you will always be in the same place.

Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.