The Central Valley Struttin’ Gobblers are a dedicated non profit organization, helping to conserve our wildlife and hunting habitats in South Dakota and around the world. We are a chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, located in Hartford, SD. Each year we hold an annual banquet, Women in the Outdoors event, Jakes ice fishing event all in hopes of raising awareness of the outdoors and to raise money to save the hunt and save the habitat. Please feel free to visit the national website here. Continue on for hunting tips and other valuable information located below.
It’s that time of year again! Women In The Outdoors will be taking place on July 30th! for more information click on this link WITO Flyer (’16)
On May 16th and 17th the Central Valley Struttin’ Gobblers teamed up again with the Warriors Never Give Up to give back to a special Veteran for sacrificing so much for our country. The groups took him on a turkey hunt where we guided and provided everything in hopes of bagging a turkey. This was a truly special event, I hope you enjoy the video and please read the story after for the full details! Make sure to full screen it if you like with the 4 arrows in the bottom right hand corner of the little video screen.
May 16, 2015
A Hero Turkey Hunt Like No Other
This amazing journey began on a cold winter night in Hartford, South Dakota when two non-profit organizations, Warriors Never Give Up (WNGU) and The Central Valley Struttin’ Gobblers (CVSG) of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) met to discuss a potential partnership. CVSG board member, Byron Dietsch, a former Marine, and myself had each arrived early. After sharing brief introductions, we soon realized that not only did we share a common bond of prior military service but also a similar vision and passion of wanting to give back to those who have sacrificed so much. I remember smiling as I left that evening, realizing that a bigger picture was unfolding right before my very eyes. God’s intentional plan of placing Byron and I together that evening set in motion a unique chance one and a half years later for two organizations to work together to offer a hero turkey hunt like no other.
After excitedly packing my hunting gear and gathering my thoughts about this special day, I picked up my good friend, 23 year Retired Army veteran and WNGU board member, Todd Stone. The two of us eagerly headed out to pick up our hero participant, WWII veteran and purple heart winner, Ordell Winterton from Garretson, SD. This would be Ordell’s first turkey hunt and to say the least, he was also excited. As the three of us began the long drive to rural Winner, SD, Ordell shared stories of his 90 years of life and how his military service began at the young age of 17, when he proudly entered the Air Force to serve his country. After his dream of becoming a pilot was halted due to being red/green color blind, this rural South Dakota farm boy took his tenacious passion to defend his country and entered the United States Army. Although he was initially trained as an Intelligence Observer in the Infantry, the US Army called him up to the “big leagues” as a rifleman after his drill sergeant witnessed him hitting nine bullseyes at 500 yards, earning him the nickname “crack shot”.
He, along with his M1 Grande rifle, were sent to Scotland/Belgium where he joined up with the 99th “Checkboard” Army Division as a “replacement soldier” for those who were injured or killed during the infamous “Battle of the Bulge.” On April 27, 1945, five days prior to Hitler ending his life, Ordell and his squad of fifteen men, crossed the Danube River in a wooden boat. Immediately overcome with small and large arms fire, Odell recalls hearing the whizzing sound of bullets and witnessing the splintering of the wooden boat during the skirmish. Feeling like he’d been hit by a “sledge hammer,” Ordell woke up hours later on the other side of the Danube in his own pool of blood. Realizing that he was the only survivor and understanding the urgency of the situation, he began walking for help, stumbling upon a bedded down fellow American soldier in a fox hole who took him to a medic.
Three months following his near death experience and with shrapnel still lodged in his lungs and spine, the “crack shot” from South Dakota was sent to Germany as a company clerk. After the completion of his army career, he arrived back in the states, settled into his new home in rural Garretson, SD, and enrolled at Augustana College for one year before pursuing his true passion and love— farming. As his story continued, a large smile formed on his face and he finished with the story of how he’d met his bride, Madeline, at a wedding. The two of them had shared 67 wonderful years of marriage, creating a legacy for future generations, raising seven children prior to her passing in 2014.
After a few more stops to stretch and gas up we, followed by Byron and Greg Boddicker ( 4 year Navy veteran and Past President and current Board member of CVSG), arrived at the family ranch of our hosts, Dean and Nancy Storms. Pulling into the yard, my eyes went immediately to “old glory” flying high above us gently reminding me of the sacrifices of those who have served. The five of us unpacked our gear as we settled into the refurbished old school house, appropriately named “Beaver Creek”— which had been inspired by Dean’s alias, “Beaver Creek Kid,” the 2013 Cowboy Fast Draw Association World Champion. Following lunch and a short break, Byron, Todd, Greg, and I set up the ground blinds and decoys in a small thicket of trees on the edge of Dean’s pasture land giving our hero the best opportunity to hunt that ever elusive and coy North American Wild Turkey. As we patiently waited and anticipated the opportunity for our hero to get a glimpse of the majestic bird, Greg’s expert calling proved worthy as he coaxed a mature tom toward us. The volume of the gobbles increased as the tom bellowed near the trees, soon coming within sight of our setup as we watched his territorial display of strutting and fanning out his fluorescent colorful feathers. As if showing off, his grand finale included a “spit and drum” show. As our WWII hero hunter anticipated our feathered friends’ next move, rays of sun broke through the clouds as the stubborn turkey advanced excitedly toward the decoys giving our hero the close encounter and opportunity we all had hoped for. After a gun malfunction and perhaps a case of “turkey fever,” our frightened, but alive turkey was given an opportunity to live another day as he ran down the tree line. However, the inviting sounds of Greg’s yelps and clucks proved to be soothing enough to persuade him back. Having shared in this awesome experience, we thanked God for our time together and for giving our hero a second chance at our long-bearded friend.
Back at the lodge, we shared stories of the hunt, reminisced how “the turkey hunt like no other” had more of an impact than imaginable not only the lives of our hero participant but also for those of us who had volunteered, as well as how thankful we all are to those who have served before us. To learn more about Warriors Never Give Up, their mission of changing the lives of our nation’s heroes, one outdoor adventure at a time, or opportunities to partner with them, please visit their website at www.warriorsnevergiveup.org.
1. Pre- and Early-Season Groups
Scouting flocks with fall turkey season in mind begins as springtime ends – or should. It’s a continuum for the year-round turkey hunter. Watching these game birds, then later hunting them, is an ongoing, enjoyable process.
Across the country, individual brood hens hatch their eggs, and begin raising their poults sometime in late spring or summer. Biology tells us that not all regional hatches are simultaneous. As a result, so-called early- and late-hatch turkeys may be seen in the same specific habitat. Sizes of family groups may vary.
Pre-season summer flock scouting is often low-key, but no less important than later on. Turkey hunting opportunities aren’t offered during this first phase of brood development for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, looking for newly hatched groups of birds is a worthwhile start to the hunting you plan to do that fall.
Simply spending time in areas you’ll later hunt can pay dividends. Gobbler groups, composed of mature toms and jakes, remain together after the spring breeding season – often in areas where you’ve hunted them just months before. Also, broodless hens — unsuccessful at nesting — form same-sex flocks during this time.
By early fall when seasons commence around the country, family flocks, gobbler gangs, and broodless hens have each established distinct groups. As fall turkey hunting season opens, you might see these groups together in habitats where the food source may be concentrated, or the habitat limited, or both.
2. Phase Two-Field Flocks
As late September transitions into October — the heart of fall turkey hunting — all three groups will be seen bugging in fields.
Family groups, gobbler gangs, and broodless hen flocks often favor insects. They’ve done so throughout summer, eating protein-rich bugs, insects that also provide a source of moisture. Edge-cover margins with uncut grasses separating woods and pastures hold bugs, and turkeys gravitate there. If grasshoppers and crickets haven’t been frosted off, turkeys will hit these and other field bugs. Once the post-freeze transition begins, and assuming mast is available, wild turkeys will search for beechnuts, acorns, fruits and tubers, among other edibles.
Locate these food sources — areas that hold serious insect numbers — and the flocks will follow. Checking the crops of tagged October and November fall turkeys, I’ve routinely found a variety of insects, from grasshoppers and crickets to so-called stinkbugs, and even a praying mantis on occasion. This omnivorous bird just doesn’t favor insects, either. A buddy in fall turkey camp once found salamanders filling his autumn bird’s crop. I’ve taken turkeys that have eaten worms, small frogs, and other morsels.
During this time, flocks will not only roost in an area that provides a sense of security, but one that offers a direct path to the field or woods where they feed each morning and late afternoon. Time in the habitats they favor — either scouting or hunting — will allow you to decode the mystery of their movements. There’s really no substitute to this approach short of hunting with somebody else who is doing the scouting, possibly a guide or landowner who’s watching the turkeys for you.
3. Broodless Hens and Gobbler Gangs
If hens breed unsuccessfully, they gather in groups, creating broodless flocks that stay together through summer, fall, and into winter. These groups can include adult hens, and female turkeys that are one-and-one-half years old by autumn’s hunting season (“super jennies,” if you will). In late fall you may also encounter a brood hen with young hens born that late spring and summer, especially if growing fall jakes have left their family flock.
Adult and juvenile gobblers flock together in late spring and summer, after breeding activity ends, hens begin to nest, and broods hatch. Like broodless hens, male birds travel in autumn groups, and into the start of winter. This includes gobblers over two years old, and male turkeys one-and-one-half years old (so-called “super jakes”).
Hunting adult longbeards is considered the ultimate experience in the autumn turkey woods. Targeting broodless hens is equally challenging, as mature fall wild turkeys of both sexes “ no longer driven by breeding (toms/hens), or tending to poults (broodless hens) ” are sometimes tough to draw into range with your calls and setup tactics.
If scattered while hunting, both fall adult turkey groups use visual recognition to safely regroup, often with spare vocalizations such as clucks and soft yelps, disappearing into the autumn woods. Other times both broodless hen and gobbler groups can be highly vocal, and responsive to your calls. Each autumn, I see toms strutting, and hear them gobbling. If you’re a hardcore fall turkey hunter, you have too.
4. Late-Fall Jake Groups
Born that late spring or summer, juvenile male turkeys assert dominance before they leave the family flock in late autumn or winter, challenging the brood hen’s governing status.
As autumn progresses and birds grow, a single dominant jake will sometimes assemble family flock members following morning fly-down or after a predator (or hunter) flushes them. Flock harmony is disrupted for a time, as the hen that raised these birds from the egg is sharing flock control. While in the family group, and after they leave it, male turkeys routinely fight to establish pecking order.
In these jake-only flocks that leave family groups, a dominant bird usually rules this entire gang. Male turkeys want top-dog status on a year-round basis. This is why some of us have shot a gobbler, only to see other male birds move right in to peck at, claw, and mock breed the dead turkey.
As fall and winter progresses toward spring, these jakes will often join one or more adult gobblers. One bird in that group — often a longbeard — will hold spring breeding rights to all the hens in that habitat; that is, unless this dominant position is challenged. Nevertheless, it’s also not uncommon to see a band of rowdy shortbeards defeat an adult gobbler in a fight. I’ve watched gangs of juvenile turkeys run off longbeards, and vice-versa.
5. Winter’s Many-Featured Flocks
I watch turkeys, a lot. Last winter a local group of Easterns got my attention, and held it until they broke up in spring as breeding season approached. Three longbeards spent time in the same farmer’s field as a family flock. Between November and March, I found them through the binoculars (and on foot) in the same relative area, before the group broke up. Often the toms were in full-strut winter splendor.
Through fall and winter turkey hunting seasons (if available), you can obviously determine flock composition while listening to birds on the roost according to the calls they make, even without visual recognition.
By understanding the five phases of fall and winter flocks, you can hunt them with appropriate strategies during available seasons, or simply maintain scouting interest as spring approaches.
– Steve Hickoff