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.
The youngest boy we call Boo Boo had shown no aptitude for fishing in his first eight years – not much interest, either, which worried me.
If nothing else, children are a wonderful excuse to go fishing. As in, “Well, I would paint that kitchen wall, honey, but the boys really want to go fishing.”
Problem is, if you must force the kids to fish, most wives see through the ruse. My secret is to feed the boys well on fishing trips and to fill their tackle boxes with interesting lures.
Usually, food and lures are good for several excused outings per year. Last Friday was one. And it shocked me, frankly. Forced outside by their mother, the two youngest boys got bored and eventually started picking through tackle boxes. In time they became eager to do more than look at lures, which reinforces my belief that boredom is underrated in a kid’s life.
So late in the afternoon, after the water had warmed, we headed to a deep strip mine southeast of Elmwood.
Early spring is among my favorite times to fish, because big bass are at their most vulnerable and can be almost predictable.
The first spot we fished is a south-facing bay with a dark bottom that typically warms faster than other locations in the lake. When the wind is blowing into this bay after a few days of warm, stable weather, fishing can be very good for bass, crappie and bluegill.
But usually the bite does not turn on until later in March. So we were ahead of schedule, and I figured it would be enough for the boys to eat and to get in some casting practice.
The youngest had other ideas. After a fishless hour, he sighed, “So far so bad.”
Yes, he is a precocious little rascal. We shake our heads at his antics on a regular basis.
Still I knew time was limited before his second-grade attention span would wane. So we left the strip mine and headed to a second, smaller lake where the water would surely be warmer.
Once there, we set up on a shoreline with the wind blowing into it. While casting into the wind is tough for youngsters, it’s another key to catching bass from shore in spring.
Beyond that, of course, luck is a huge factor. How else to explain what happened?
Boo Boo was fishing with one of his brother’s older, closed-face rod and reel combos that had not seen new line in at least five years. He was casting a heavy, black and chartreuse hair jig in order to contend with the wind.
I had no thought he would catch a fish. My money was on his brother, Victor, a good angler when he doesn’t get in a rush.
Then, out of the blue, Boo’s bright blue pole bent double.
“I got one,” he yelled.
Moments after we unhooked that first chunky bass, Boo hooked another. This one was quite a bit bigger – at 19.25 inches it would later be confirmed as the largest caught out of the lake.
The boy was not done. After his biggest bass (above) swam off, he caught four more. I managed two. His brother caught just one.
“Well, Dad,” Boo said, ever the philosopher. “At least Victor learned some new things today.”
So did I. The youngest boy might be a fisherman after all.
The deer contest is looking strong for this year’s Elmwood All Outdoors Show, held Saturday (March 5) and Sunday (March 6) in Elmwood.
We’ve got some cool bucks on the boards that are ready to be ogled when you show up this weekend.
But there’s also a new contest at the seventh annual show: A non-deer mount contest. What does that mean?
For $5 you get a two-day admission pass to the show (worth $10) plus a shot at $100. And you get to show off your cool mount, be it a Blue Wildebeast (one of which is already hanging in the high school gym), a quail, pheasant, turkey, fish or whatever.
Just bring in your non-deer mount and you’ve got a shot at winning $100.
Winner will be decided by voting of attendees, who will drop coins in jars for their favorite entry. Heaviest jar Sunday at 2:53 p.m. wins first prize: $100.
More than the money is the idea of showcasing some different mounts in addition to the usual roster of real cool big bucks.
So bring in your mount. We’ll register mounts any time Saturday and Sunday up until noon.
As mentioned, the cost is $5 and all proceeds go to the athletes and athletic programs at Elmwood High School.