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Turkey decoys attract surprise visitors

Outdoors Columnist Blane Klemek

What one can witness while spending time in the great outdoors is endlessly fulfilling, rewarding, and, quite often, surprising.

Take for example a recent early, sunny morning experience that I enjoyed as I sat inside my blind while turkey hunting in late April. Overlooking a farm field, I had set up my blind alongside the field against the backdrop of a plantation of young red pine and spruce. The field was surrounded by outstanding wildlife habitat that included a forest brimming with the sound of drumming ruffed grouse everywhere.

The 30-acre field before me had over two dozen grazing deer scattered throughout. A pair of sandhill cranes and a pair of Canada geese mingled amongst the deer as each bird foraged and moved slowly along.

Suddenly, I heard several blue jays sounding their screeching alarm calls from within the forest and pine plantation behind me. Their cries alerted me that something was up. Almost as abruptly I noticed a large shadow cast upon the ground from something large flying overhead.

As the shadow moved across the field and my turkey decoys that were set just twenty yards from the blind, my very first thought was "raptor," and the reason for the blue jays' distress.

Sure enough, my thought was confirmed when I was able to see through the blind's front window an immature bald eagle quickly swoop down from tree-top level to just 15 feet above the three turkey decoys. Oddly, the large bird was clutching tightly in its talons a stout, two-foot aspen stick.

Once the eagle had dove to mere feet above the decoys, the raptor banked sharply and circled clockwise above the turkey decoys a half dozen times while looking intensely at the decoys below.

I was amazed at how acrobatic the giant bird was as it maneuvered its large body and maintained its elevation despite a wingspan of over seven feet. I could clearly hear the sound of air rushing through the eagle's primary and secondary wing-feathers the entire time as the bird flapped and labored mightily to keep itself airborne.

Whether or not the eagle was tiring or it was just plain bewildered by the fact that the turkey decoys remained motionless, the bird abruptly landed on the ground a few yards from the decoys and stood there looking at the set of artificial turkeys. If ever a bird appeared incredulous, I saw it in that eagle's face and eyes.

As I sat and wondered what the eagle's next move would be, I decided to employ my turkey call and perform a minor amount of "turkey talk" to see what kind of reaction the sound would elicit from the bird. And so I "clucked" lightly from the confines of the blind while closely watching the eagle.

It took only a couple of clucks from the call until the eagle unexpectedly launched itself airborne once again and hastily flew in the opposite direction, never once looking or circling back. I almost hollered after the bird, "Hey! You forgot your stick!"

I wondered what the bird would have eventually done had I not used the turkey call and instead had remained quiet. Would the eagle have shuffled over to examine more closely the turkey trio? Or would it have at last determined the decoys were indeed fake and left anyway. I guess I'll never know for sure—but what a show, nevertheless. Critters do confounding things; that is for certain.

I also enjoyed the company of a pair of Canada geese one morning. Much like the eagle, the pair became attracted to the turkey decoys in a similar manner. Flying overhead, I watched the geese catch sight of the decoys, veer in unison, and descend to the point that convinced me the pair were going to land next to the trio of turkey decoys. And sure enough, they did.

For close to a half hour, the pair of geese loitered around the decoys taking turns feeding while one bird stood sentinel. At one point the geese walked to mere feet from the decoys, never once letting on that the turkey decoys bothered them or thought of them as anything other than the real McCoy.

There were other happenings during my five-day turkey hunt as well. I watched snowshoe hare — their mottled pelage of half brown and half white — emerge from the thickets to graze on field greens. There were times that the hares played with each other and engaged in what almost appeared to be games of tag. Darting to and fro, the hares seemed to relish the openness and springtime warmth.

Deer, too, were entertaining. Though gaunt and hungry from the long northern Minnesota winter, deer everywhere were taking advantage of fresh sprigs of greenery; sometimes even taking time to run about while kicking their heels into the air, not unlike domestic cattle will often do when released from the confines of a barn onto a sprawling pasture for the first time in the spring.

Most species of wildlife possess a funny bone and a great deal of curiosity, if not also a delightful amount of mischievous and playful behavior. Indeed, the reward of spending time in the midst of wild creatures is observing and experiencing all their surprises and wonder, as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

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