DANGEROUS GAME? - Iowa Wildlife Federation


Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.



Steve & Emergency Room Gobbler 2009

McGregor, Ia.—For retired conservation officer and veteran turkey slayer Steve Schutte, the 2009 spring hunting season ended with a bang, a slash, and an unexpected trip to the hospital ER.

The fateful hunt took place in extreme northeastern Iowa where Schutte and I have hunted turkeys for the past 37 seasons. We’ve both enjoyed our share of success and failure here, with each new hunt accompanied by its own set of unique challenges. The only guarantee is that with each passing year the local gobblers seem to invent new ways to test our skills and try our patience.

On that year, it was Schutte’s turn to endure his share of humility and frustration — all due to the mischievous antics of three Long Beards currently residing atop the wooded spine known as Poison Point.

From its trout stream base to hardwood summit, Poison Point towers more than 350 feet above the valley floor. Even in a region encompassed by forest lands, wild turkeys consider this ridge to be paradise. Only the meanest, baddest, and toughest toms are allowed to gobble and strut here. It is Schutte’s favorite place to hunt.

By the time the fourth and final segment of the season had rolled around, the Poison Point gobblers had Schutte in a knot. And no matter how hard he tried, Steve just couldn’t bring one of those woodland monarchs to bag. Whenever we’d meet for breakfast, I’d hear the latest account.

“I wish you’d been there this morning. It was just unbelievable,” the story would begin.

“I’d call and those turkeys would just go ballistic. They’d gobble, double gobble, triple gobble. Every time I’d call they’d just go nuts. But I can never get them to come those last few yards,” Schutte would lament.

“I’ve tried everything. More calling. Less calling. Sometimes I just quit calling. By the time I gave up this morning, I had every call I own laid out on the ground in front of me. I actually saw one of those gobblers twice. He was curious but wouldn’t come in. All three of those birds were still gobbling when I left the woods,” said Schutte.

It was a clear and windless morning when the tables finally turned. Hens were scarce and turkeys were gobbling in every direction. It was just past sunrise when, from two ridges distant, I heard the sound of Schutte’s shotgun. Ten minutes later, I felt the vibration of my cell phone.

“Well Lowell, I’m finally hauling one of those gobblers off Poison Point,” reported Schutte.

Welcome news to be sure, but Steve’s voice sounded strained. I sensed there was more to the story.

“I think I might have a bit of a problem,” he continued. “Somehow this turkey managed to get a spur into my hand and it’s cut pretty deep.”

“I’ll be right there,” I replied.

As it turned out, the cut was also a puncture and it was indeed deep. Equally alarming were the visible nodules of tissue — for lack of a better term we’ll call them meat — protruding from the wound. In spite of the pain, Schutte had to tell his story.

“I wish you’d have been there,” he began. “Those three toms were on that ridge at daylight and they were cranked.”

Going through the usual repertoire, Schutte finally struck a call that literally drove those toms over the edge. Unable to resist the temptation, two of the gobblers made a swift beeline toward what they thought was a very vocal hen. The duo soon arrived at Schutte’s location, but halted behind a patch of goose berry that prevented a clear shot.

As Schutte continued calling, the gobblers became competitive and a full blown gobbler smack-down soon erupted. The noise was incredible as the giant, 25-pound birds pummeled each other with beak, wing, and spur. With deadly intent, the turkeys spared like game cocks in a vicious dance designed to cut, demoralize, or disable the opponent.

After minutes of fighting, the pair called a truce and resumed their search for the mystery hen. Finally, at a mere 14 paces, one of the birds offered Schutte a clear view. The turkey never heard the shot that killed it.

As turkeys hunters always do, Schutte rushed to subdue his prize. Although it really wasn’t necessary, you just never know. More than one ‘dead turkey’ has recovered to fly away.

It was at this point that the hunt began to go south. As Schutte pinned the thrashing bird to the ground, one of the turkey’s long needle-sharp spurs became tangled in his right hand glove. The bird gave a violent twist, instantly cinching the glove’s cuff to Schutte’s wrist. As the bird continued to spasm, the inch-plus spur drove deeper into the palm. As Schutte frantically attempted to free the glove, the gobbler’s wing thumped the first knuckle of his other hand rendering it temporarily useless as well. Totally shredded from thumb heel to fingertip, the now blood soaked glove finally tore loose.

Schutte’s left hand was now purple, black, and swollen. His right hand, well — you’ve already heard about that. Within an hour of leaving the timber, Schutte was undergoing treatment at the hospital emergency room in Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin. With no permanent damage to nerves or tendons, Steve will live to gobble another day.

Over the years, I’ve heard many stories about hunters receiving serious hand, tendon, and wrist injuries while handling shot turkeys. This was the first I’ve personally witnessed, and I hope it’s the last.



PHOTO: Retired conservation officer, Steve Schutte displays a 25-pound gobbler bagged in 2009 near McGregor. Within minutes of posing for this photo, Schutte was undergoing treatment at a Prairie Du Chien hospital for injuries sustained when the turkey’s spur became entangled in his glove. With no permanent damage to nerves or tendons, Schutte will live to gobble another day.


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