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Turkey hunts always full of surprises

Dave Steinke was still new to turkey hunting when he was sitting at home one night in the dark. He was alone. All the lights were off. He was listening to a turkey-calling tape, trying to perfect his calling technique.

"My wife came home about 9:30," said Steinke, who lives in Duluth's Morgan Park neighborhood. "She had never heard that sound before. She turned the lights on and saw me sitting there with my box call."

Any turkey hunter will understand Steinke's behavior. And any turkey hunter's wife will understand Melissa Steinke's take on his addiction to the sport.

"She thinks I'm crazy," says Steinke, 62. "I don't blame her."

Steinke will be hunting turkeys again this spring in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The first turkey-hunting sessions in both states open Wednesday . Hunters in both states had to apply for permits through lotteries or buy left-over permits over the counter.

This spring will mark Steinke's 20th year of turkey hunting. He's learned a lot through the years.

Steinke shared three turkey hunting stories that illustrate the crazy things that can happen on a turkey hunt:

A miss to remember

Steinke was hunting on his grandfather's farm in Houston County the first year he hunted in Minnesota. He was moving and calling along the edge of a field about 9 a.m. when he got a gobbler to respond. In about 20 minutes, Steinke called again, and the gobbler's response was closer. So Steinke set up in a brush pile along a fence line to wait for the gobbler.

"I waited another 10 minutes and let out a couple of calls," Steinke said. "He was right behind me. He let out a gobble, and I swear the ground was shaking. My heart was pounding. I was breathing pretty heavy."

The gobbler kept coming.

"He came up on my left," Steinke said. "All I could see was his feet. I couldn't see his body. Finally, he stopped right in front of me. This was a big tom. I had my hat and mask on. I was breathing steam out of my mouth. He was looking at me. We were eyeball-to-eyeball. He was three or four feet away. I didn't dare move. He was a good two feet above me."

The gobbler suspected trouble and began to walk away.

"I tried to grab my gun, but it got caught in a grapevine," Steinke said.

The bird, now spooked, was moving away fast.

"I got up and leaned over the fence line and took a quick shot," Steinke said. "All I got was feathers. But that experience is what I remember more than anything."

Knocking on doors in new territory

In 2003, Steinke failed to draw a permit in either Minnesota or Wisconsin, so he bought a left-over permit in Minnesota for an area near Rochester where he hadn't hunted before. He loaded his gear, and the day before his season opened, he made a cold call on a farmer to ask about hunting his land.

"Most landowners will let you hunt turkeys if you're courteous," Steinke said.

The farmer told him he'd seen some turkeys behind his barn and to go take a look. Steinke went out back near some old farm equipment and a ravine.

"It was about 4 in the afternoon," he said. "I saw about 40 turkeys in that ravine, and 10 or 12 were gobblers. I figured, 'I'm going to hunt here.' "

He set up his blind by a derelict pickup that night and was there early the next morning, despite heavy rain and 30 to 40 mph winds.

"They say turkeys stay in the woods in that weather, but again I was proven wrong," Steinke said. "It was raining and blowing so bad I was holding the shelter down with one hand. I called out once in a while. About 10 a.m., here comes this turkey running out of the woods within 10 yards of the tent, right toward my decoy. What I thought was going to be a jake was the largest bird I ever got."

The bird was not big by body weight, but had 1¼-inch spurs and ranks among the largest by spur length registered with the National Wild Turkey Federation for Minnesota. Steinke had a taxidermist do a full mount of the bird, and it's now in his basement.

Waiting game pays off

Some gobblers come charging in right at dawn. But other days, nothing happens early and a hunter must decide whether to move or sit tight. On this late-season Wisconsin hunt in Vernon County, near LaCrosse, Steinke decided to sit. He was in his tent-style blind, sitting comfortably in a chair. He had a jake and two hen decoys at 20 yards in a cow pasture.

"I was doing my calls about every 20 minutes," Steinke said. "About 11:30, I heard a gobble quite a ways off, and up on a ridge, out popped a big tom. He strutted back and forth up there, maybe 140 yards away."

Steinke and the bird called back and forth for about 45 minutes before the gobbler disappeared.

"Sure enough, about an hour later, he was right back up there, gobbling again," he said. "One o'clock passed. Two o'clock passed. He'd disappear for an hour or two. At three o'clock he came walking up toward the decoys. It took him forever, it seemed. He stayed down in a crevice a good 50 or 60 yards away for another 20 minutes.

"I said, 'Doggone it, I should charge him.' Finally, I made a couple more calls, just a few clucks. He was curious enough. He popped his head up and gave me just enough room at 40 yards. I was fortunate to get the bird. It was the first double-beard turkey I ever got.

"That was my thrill. It lasted close to four hours."