Sitting in a blind, hearing ruffed grouse drumming, loons wailing and sandhill cranes screaming is not what I am accustomed to while turkey hunting.
But that was the very cool natural scene I shared Thursday morning with Josh Lantz near Oma, Wisc.
We were drawn north by the kind folks in the Mercer Area Chamber of Commerce. If you’ve never been to Mercer, you need to make the trip north. This town is a throwback to the pre-commercial days of fun fishing resort towns. There are lakes and fish all over the place. Good people. Good food. And fun.
Turkey hunting up here is a relatively recent thing and they wanted us to have a chance to sample some of their 377,000 acres of public land. Logging is still the top industry in Iron County, but in the 1920s and 1930s, there were few trees left. Without trees, there were not many turkeys. Some locals tell me there never were turkeys up here. I can’t say.
What I do know is that as the timber has grown back … and boy has it grown back … the turkeys have returned (with the help of some strategic stockings). Turkey hunting has gone from not allowed to a part of the fabric of the community, quickly.
The bird sounds are just one of many differences in hunting northern Wisconsin turkeys compared to what I am accustomed to in Illinois and Missouri.
For one thing, you can hunt from sunrise to sunset. Wisconsin has changed its closing time over the years from noon to 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and now to sunset. That gives you plenty of time to hunt.
And with all the public ground up here to choose from, there’s plenty of land to hunt. Maybe too much?
That’s the other big difference. The field edges that we Illinois gobbler chasers so often relate to are not really available in Iron County, where we hunted. Timber is. Lots of timber. And there are lots of birds. Nearly every time I’ve been up fishing on the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage, I’ve seen turkeys while driving to and from the boat ramps. That’s one reason I was excited to make the trip north.
Statewide success rates back up the number of birds. The zone in which we were hunting last year had a Wisconsin-best success rate of 24.5 percent. Sadly, I have not been able to add to that total yet.
Despite a few days of hard hunting, we could not get birds to finish. That was a common lament among the hunters we spoke to. But hey, it’s late in the season and birds have been hunted. Many of the dumb gobblers are dead. Here’s hoping there’s still one dummy out there, waiting for me.
If not, it was still a very cool trip. The sound of drumming grouse is one I won’t soon forget … even though I’d rather hear the sound of a gobbler standing 15 yards away!
To learn more about this area, visit www.mercercc.com or call the Chamber at (715) 476-2389.