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Reluctant early bird gets his first turkey

Nolan Gustafson can tell you what the hardest part of turkey hunting is. "Getting up at, like, 4 o'clock in the morning," he said. That's why the 10-year-old from Brule wasn't keen on waking up last Sunday morning, the final day of a five-day fam...

Nolan Gustafson and turkey
Nolan Gustafson, 10, shows off the 21-pound, 12-ounce turkey he shot last Sunday in Eau Claire County, Wis. This is Nolan's first year of turkey hunting, and he was helped by his uncle, Matt Schmidt of Lake Nebagamon. (Photo by Aleda Johnson)

Nolan Gustafson can tell you what the hardest part of turkey hunting is.

"Getting up at, like, 4 o'clock in the morning," he said.

That's why the 10-year-old from Brule wasn't keen on waking up last Sunday morning, the final day of a five-day family turkey hunt in Eau Claire County, Wis. He had risen at that hour three of the four previous mornings to hunt.

Nolan was making his first turkey hunt with a clan that included his aunt, Aleda Johnson, and her partner, Matt Schmidt, both of Lake Nebagamon. Although Nolan had slept through his first wake-up call on Sunday, Schmidt wasn't giving up.

"He's going hunting," Schmidt told Johnson that morning. "He just doesn't know it yet."

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Schmidt and Johnson are experienced turkey hunters, and both have killed three varieties of North American turkeys -- the Eastern, Merriam and Rio Grande. This was Nolan's first year carrying a gun while turkey hunting, but he had accompanied Schmidt and Johnson on hunts last year.

"He's a great little hunter," Schmidt said. "He loves the outdoors. He's not a video-game kid."

Already, it had been a good week of hunting for the Johnson/Gustafson/Schmidt crew. Nolan's parents, David and Natalie Gustafson of Brule, also were along, as was Nolan's grandmother, Jo Johnson of Oulu.

"The first day, my aunt got one," Nolan said in a telephone interview this past week.

That would be Aleda Johnson, who was carrying more than a shotgun to the field that morning. She was nine months pregnant, and, at last report, still is.

The next day, hunting with his aunt, Nolan saw a gobbler and two hens but had no shots. Schmidt, hunting on his own, shot a bird that day.

The following day, Nolan hunted with his grandmother, Jo Johnson. The two saw some birds, and Nolan had a chance at a tom but missed.

Taken with turkeys

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The fifth-grader can't get enough of turkey hunting.

"When you see one, like, running, it gets your heart pounding and stuff," he said.

He has hunted deer with his dad, but turkey hunting is much different in Nolan's eyes.

"It's more of a patience kind of thing than deer hunting," he said. "You put out bait for deer, and you can't do that for turkeys."

But you can call turkeys, and every time he went out, Nolan learned more about calling. Schmidt uses slate calls, box calls, mouth (diaphragm) calls and a jake call.

"He's a super good caller," Nolan said. "I have to give him a lot of credit."

On Sunday morning, Schmidt finally rousted his little hunter out of bed.

"We got ready and went to a farm and walked, like, a mile or something," Nolan said.

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They set up by a tree in some tall grass. Schmidt placed two hen decoys and a jake decoy about 18 yards away, Nolan said. The moon was full, the sky not yet light in the east. It was going to be a warm day.

One of the decoys fell over, Schmidt said.

"I went to fix it, and one gobbled in the tree right above us," he said. "I thought, 'Oh, oh. We busted that one.' "

More gobblers around

But as the day grew light, other gobblers were calling behind them, perhaps 200 yards away, Schmidt said. A hen flew down from her roost and came within five yards of the hunters.

"She didn't even care about the decoys," Nolan said. "She just kept walking."

The hen was calling, Schmidt said, adding to the hen imitations he was making on two slate calls and two box calls. But the gobbler behind them wasn't getting any closer.

Nolan and Schmidt passed time by playing Yahtzee on Schmidt's smart phone. Then Schmidt decided to change tactics in his calling. He began alternating the calls of a hen and a jake, an immature tom, using a shaker call to imitate the jake.

"I'd hit the box call with the hen call," Schmidt said. "Then I'd hit the jake call with the gobble."

Nolan termed that "giving them the hot sauce," Schmidt said.

It worked.

"All of a sudden, the gobbler seemed to be at 50 yards," Schmidt said. "But I couldn't see him."

All strutted up

Not long after that, Nolan heard something in the brush and looked out over the field he was facing. There was the gobbler.

"A tom was all strutted up and coming toward the decoys," Nolan said. "I said, 'Matt, Matt...' "

Schmidt, who had been facing the other direction, turned to see what Nolan was so worked up about.

"I turn and see this great big, puffed-up tom coming right at us," Schmidt said. "This tom came right in. He came up hot. You could hear his feathers just quivering. He came right at that jake decoy."

Nolan readied his 20-gauge shotgun. Schmidt told him to take the safety off and put his bead on the bird.

"It looked at me," Nolan said, "and I shot it. It fell and started rolling."

They hustled out to claim the bird.

"It was super exciting," Nolan said.

He had his first turkey. It weighed 21 pounds, 12 ounces and had a 10½-inch beard. A mature gobbler. After a few photos, Nolan and Schmidt made the long walk back to the family's camp.

The rest of the family had slept in that last morning, Nolan said. But they were awake when he and Schmidt came walking in to camp.

"I said, 'What up? I got a big tom,' " Nolan said.

He has plans for the bird.

"I'm going to get the fan, the wings, the spurs and the beard mounted," Nolan said.

It'll be what up on the wall at home, a memory of his first successful turkey hunt.

Related Topics: HUNTING
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