Cold Turkey! - Iowa Wildlife Federation

Cold Turkey!

Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.



5  Winter Gobbler


It was something I’d been putting off for way too long.  Last weekend, I finally crossed the bridge.  Finally made the decision to go cold turkey — literally.




What I mean to say is that I literally ventured into the snow clad woodlands and attempted to bag an end of the season wild turkey — with bow and arrow.  Traditional bow hunting has become one of my favorite outdoor pastimes and wild turkeys rank high on my list of preferred game.  Although I was currently holding a valid pair of fall archery tags, I had put off hunting the elusive birds — at least until now.  But the clock was ticking and time was definitely running out.  This was it — the grand finale – now or never — the very last weekend before this year’s archery turkey season ended on Janurary 10.  In sp4  Survivors - Jan. turkeysite of current inclement weather, it was time to do or die.



It probably should be noted that most Iowa turkey hunts take place in fragrant spring woodlands and are accompanied by singing birds, sunny skies, and warming temperatures.  Last weekend wasn’t it.  By contrast, the weather was delivering a bone numbing mix of double digit below zero temperatures, howling winds, drifting snow, and what professional weathercasters were billing as “life threatening wind chills”.  Winter storm Ion was sweeping in from the north and the upper Midwest was shutting down in a big way; seventy percent of the nation would soon be under severe winter storm warnings.  Not exactly the kind of weather a turkey hunter dreams of.

I decided to at least make an attempt.  After weighing my options, I decided to try for a group of birds I’d encountered while bow hunting for deer.  Although I didn’t know for sure where the turkeys were going each day, I did know where the birds frequently roosted and that would be a good start.

Arriving at the timber before daybreak, I set out a trio of hen decoys, popped up a ground blind, and settled in.  As I quietly waited for sunrise, I began to contemplate the weather, silently hoping I could cope with the extremes and stay put long enough to see some birds.  So how cold was it?  Well, that depended on who you listened to; the reports varied.  What I do know is this.  The normal inside temperature of my chest freezer is zero degrees.  The current outside temperature was already colder than that and getting lower by the second.  I know what happens to stuff that spends time sitting inside my freezer.  Because I had been listening to radio reports regarding the rescue of those 74 passengers stranded aboard the Russian ice breaker, Akademik Shokalskiy, I also knew that current North Iowa temperatures were colder than Antarctica.  That’s right; Iowa was colder than Antarctica!  It’s summer down there and at the location of the ice bound ship, temperatures had actually risen to above zero.

3  Turkey Hunt Jan -2014

As I tried to digest this choice morsel of metrological irony, I suddenly had another thought.  How cold does it have to get before the temperature puts enough stress on a bow to make it snap when drawn?  I was carrying a wooden longbow hand crafted by Vince Smith.  It’s a beautiful piece of work — a stunning example of American folk art actually — and I winced at the thought of bringing the ‘stick’ home in two pieces.  The chilling sound of popping trees did little to dispel my concerns.

My anxious musings were mercifully interrupted by the harsh yelping of a hen turkey.  Excellent news.  I was no longer alone.  Daylight was arriving, and wild turkeys were beginning to fly down from their nighttime roost, looking for company.  Grabbing my call, I yelped back and received an immediate reply.  I laid the call aside and three or four minutes later, I spotted the magnificent dark shapes of wild turkeys weaving their way through the snowy timber.  I called again and the birds quickly angled in my direction.  When the turkeys had closed the distance to around 60 yards or so, the flock halted.   One of the hens yelped out a “Where are you?” series of calls.  I told them, and the flock made a beeline toward the decoys.

2  Alpha Hen & DSD decoy

There were 19 wild turkeys in all; a single file line of hens, jakes and two adult toms.  As soon as the feathery troupe had arrived at my location, the group’s two dominant hens lost no time in squaring off with my plastic counterfeits.  Frustrated by the decoys’ total lack of response, the hens quickly amped up the aggression.  I tried for some photos, but it was still pretty dark and those blurry pictures won’t be making a magazine cover anytime soon.

1  Double Bull - Jan , 2014

Taking their cue from the aggressive alpha females, a couple of jakes decided to get in on the action and executed a stiff-necked approach toward the decoys.  Spoiling for a rumble, the jakes were emitting a loud, nonstop chorus of fighting purrs as they marched in to challenge the unidentified “strangers”.  When the pair suddenly stopped directly in front of me, I decided to take the shot.

Forgetting my earlier concerns with temperature, I pulled the 51 pound bow to its full draw length and let the arrow fly.  The good news was that the bow didn’t snap.  The best news was that the arrow flew true to its mark.  Following a spectacular back flip, the targeted jake fell to the snow — stone dead and only ten steps from where I sat.

I can’t say for sure what the remaining 18 turkeys made of the jake’s bizarre behavior, but I can tell you that the entire the flock went completely off their collective rockers.  Three of the birds immediately rushed to pounce on their fallen comrade while the two dominant hens continued to vent their anger on the decoys.  For lack of something better to do, several turkeys simply began fighting each other — leaping into the air as they slapped wings and sparred with their feet.  Snow flew and as the chaos escalated, the overlapping sound of yelps, putts, and purrs increased in volume.  Another pair of jakes became so completely agitated by the brawl that they even sounded a couple of gobbles — the first I’ve heard during such bone chilling weather.

7 Winter Woodland - Wild Turkeys

The fracas continued as birds spun in dizzying circles.  During the next five or six minutes, all but three of the turkeys presented excellent opportunities for shots, with some birds coming as close as six or eight feet.  But although I still held an additional tag, I opted to pass on taking a second bird.  The fifteen pound jake would provide excellent table fare; his long, black and white zebra striped wing feathers would provide fresh arrow fletching for future shots.  I had never taken a wild turkey under more extreme conditions and the hunt had already provided an incredible outdoor memory.

The turkeys eventually forgot what they were fighting about in the first place and the brawl began to wind down.  With calm restored, the flock began to slowly peck its way along the ridge, leaving the three decoys and the fallen jake behind.  For a second time, I was all alone in the snowy woodland.  And for the first time in a half hour, I once again became aware of the cold.


6  winter jake


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