Nathan Baker worked the woods and fields every spare moment, but as the end of turkey hunting season approached, he was birdless.
His wife, Samantha, nailed one early, the first time she hunted turkeys, but Baker was running out of time.
“I had been out quite a bit,” Baker said as the May 10 season-concluding deadline loomed.
Then he got his chance, and he took advantage. Baker got the attention of his bird when it was between 150 and 200 yards away.
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“I got set up on the edge of the woodline,” he said, “and I made a few calls his way.”
It took a bit of coaxing, but the turkey’s curiosity was piqued, and as Baker called, the turkey moved to within 25 yards for a kill shot. The bird was worth waiting for. It was triple bearded and scored 87.4 points to capture the grand prize in the adult division of Brownstown’s Xtreme Limits Outdoors sixth annual contest.
Baker won a $200 credit toward a full mount from Charlie Lee Watts at Two Mile Taxidermy.
Baker scored big, but overall, there were mixed results in Jackson County for this year’s April-May season. Elsewhere around the state, however, it was a boffo season with an overall rise in harvest numbers of around 15%.
The 2020 total was about 14,500 turkeys, up from 12,014 in 2019. Yet the take was flat locally in the county — 184 turkeys compared to 188 in 2019 and 186 in 2018.
“It was pretty slow this year,” said Jeremy Steinkamp, who oversaw the contest. “They were very stubborn this year.”
Steinkamp said this was only the second time in 23 years of trying he did not harvest a turkey, and he did actually miss a shot.
The weather was contrary, too, with one day warm and the next frosty instead of the expected steady warm weather that would have been more seasonable.
“I’ve never hunted turkeys when it has been that cold,” Steinkamp said of some overnight low temperatures in the high 20s. “It should be in the 80s.”
This was one activity that was not particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing could easily be built into a hunt. What Steinkamp observed was more young people hunting, he figured because they did not have to stay in school in-person.
“A lot more kids hunted this year,” Steinkamp said.
The state’s youth hunt was the over first few days of the season, and young people participated with adult guides. The three winners in Steinkamp’s contest were Kali Davis of Bedford, first (66.2 points); Trapper Dean of Brownstown, second (62.7); and Ava Brock of Brownstown, third (59.9).
The second-place adult division finisher behind Baker was Kyle Wade (71.4), and third place went to Seth Brock (68).
Wade bagged his turkey during the first week of the season at about noon one day rather than the more likely time of early morning or sunset.
“I didn’t even know it was anywhere around,” Wade said.
He actually had taken a break to collect mushrooms before heading home but decided to give it one more go.
“I got my call out one last time (before calling off the day),” he said.
When he received a surprising response, Wade set up his decoys and called again. The turkey answered and began slowly moving in his direction.
There was give and take over the next 40 minutes, calling and moving, the wary bird coming toward Wade, but not in a hurry.
“He came right in like he read the script,” Wade said.
Clearly, the turkey had not read the ending, though. When the bird got close enough, Wade called a final time, got a good shot and got his turkey for the season.
At 36, Wade said he has hunted turkeys “ever since I can remember. I think they’re hard to get.”
John Brock guided his daughter Ava, 9, on her first hunt, aided by his 23-year-old son, Seth.
“We heard a couple of turkeys gobbling,” John said. “We had seen them. They came in from the left side.”
Seth did the calling, wooing the birds to the family’s hiding place behind an oak tree. Ava was anxious to pull the trigger on her .20 gauge Remington, but dad told her to wait as long as she could.
Finally, she fired when the target was only 5 yards awaym and Ava had her first bird.
Dad had weeks to catch up but never got a clear shot. He didn’t care because he had more fun with his little girl.
“She wasn’t that excited,” John said. “But I was.”