The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

March 24, 2013

Cross: Turkeys don’t mind the weather, but we do

— By this time last year, most of us already had towed our boats to area lakes to cash in on ice-out panfish.

Golf courses were green and doing a brisk business.

Farmers were gearing up for their spring planting.

The smoky fragrance of fired-up grills was sifting through the neighborhood on the evening air.

But this year? Oh, lordy!

We’ll still be ice fishing well into April.

Golf courses remain locked beneath a mantle of ice and snow.

It will be weeks before any area farmers will be firing up the tractor to perform spring field work.

And if there is any kind of smoke riding the breeze, it is from fireplaces and wood stoves to ward off the evening chill.

Spring arrived at 6:02 last Wednesday morning, but it was hard to notice when the thermometer read a chilly six degrees, amplified by 25 mph northwesterly winds.

Like many of you, I’m suffering from a bad case of spring fever. Mine is a particularly virulent, avian strain known as turkey fever.

Mid-April marks the start of spring turkey hunting seasons in states bordering Minnesota while April 17 marks the opening of the spring season within our borders.

So plenty of time remains for the weather to come around.

And anyway, from a turkey’s point of view, it is the growing periods of sunlight rather than temperatures, that spur the breeding season. Come snow, sleet, cold or wind, turkeys will do what turkeys do in the springtime.

But from a hunter’s viewpoint, the weather is everything. It is, after all, supposed to be a spring turkey hunt.

Being in the woods during the springtime, soaking up the ambiance of the countryside emerging from a long winter’s sleep is where much of the magic of turkey hunting is to be found.

Certainly, it is possible to waylay a gobbler during wintery conditions. Over two decades, I’ve killed turkeys in a snowstorm, a sleet storm, during gale force winds when the wind-chill hovered in the teens.

But it’s a lot more work, not nearly as much fun.

In many states, including Minnesota, hunters are required early on to pick a particular time period during which to hunt. It is a roll of the dice.

During last year’s unseasonably mild weather, those who picked the earliest seasons were winners. By the time seasons in early May rolled around, even though the birds still were active, seeing them through the summer-like foliage was a challenge.

Last year, I selected a late season for a Nebraska hunt and by the time I sneaked into the woods, the thick understory was waist-high, making hunting tough.

So this year, I selected the early season, which began yesterday and continues through April 12. Bad choice, it turns out.

With a couple hundred bucks invested in a tag, I’ll be sure to get down there at some point. Just not for the opener. 

Yes, there are things out there far more worthy of complaints than the weather — something we really can’t do much about anyway.

And really, should we be surprised at all that spring’s arrival is delayed this year?

After all, averages are the sum of the extremes and March 2012 went down as one of the warmest on record.

The way things are shaping up, March 2013 likely will go down as one of the coldest.

Sometimes, payback really can be hell.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by e-mail at jcross@mankatofreepress.com.

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