WORDS: NATHAN BENDER
PHOTOGRAPHY: MATT MCCORMICK
Much like any old midwestern “Deer Camp” that takes place during Wisconsin’s 9-day Firearm Deer Season in November, Turkey Camp revolves around those same traditions just during a different time of the year. When we turn the page from April to May on the calendar, the first week of May has always manifested our annual trek north to the land of nomadic turkeys and diverse environments in which we chase that next distant gobble. Traditions that date back many years with nothing but exemplary memories that have come from the experiences while in camp are what keep us coming back year after year.
Turkey camp is the place in which I first felt the rush and pulled the trigger on my very first turkey. It’s the place in which I gathered much of my knowledge and woodsmanship through the years; it will invariably be a place in which my father and I will genuinely value. Whether the trip is successful or not, it’s the one trip that we look forward to the most out of them all each year. From conversations had in the spring-woods to rehashing past years hunts around the potbelly stove in camp, I’ve come to the realization that this idea of “Turkey Camp” spawned quite the bond between a father and a son and all the friends that have joined us.
Turkey camp has always been a father-son trip that is planned each year, where some years it can be a week-long trip while some other years it may only be a quick bomber-trip north just to disconnect and get together with friends and landowners we haven’t seen in a year’s time. Collectively, we’ve vowed to keep the tradition of Turkey Camp alive, rain or shine or even if that means just going up and opening up camp for a quick 2-day hunt. The disconnection at camp from the real world is surreal and is what draws us back each and every year. To this day, Turkey Camp is one of the very few places where we get the opportunity to disconnect from our normal day-to-day lives and reconnect with what means the most to us. Cellular reception is poor, cable TV is nonexistent, and we get a chance to enjoy some of the finer things in life with some of the best of friends and family.
Just like any other pursuit in the outdoor space, weather can play a major role on the likelihood of success. If there is one thing with Turkey Camp, it’s staying positive and living in the moment. The weather in early May can be very unpredictable and in turn can make these feathered creatures of nature act a bit out of sorts. In all the years of Turkey Camp, we’ve never measured the enjoyment of the trip on mere success, rather we tend to find gratitude in the lessons learned, memories made, the “fine dining” of the camp cooking and the top-tier camaraderie that the camp presents. Any opportunity that gives us the chance to disconnect from our daily work routines and keep a tradition alive goes without saying that it is truly something special.
This past year at Turkey Camp, we were presented with some tougher than usual hunting conditions. With an unseasonably dry month of April in Wisconsin, it made for challenging times to try to engage and move on a bird when it mattered most. After a pretty incredible first light spectacle and fight between two separate flocks of birds within very close proximity on the first morning of our hunt, we found ourselves grinning ear to ear. We knew right then; we were in for an exciting couple of days at Turkey Camp.
It’s not often we’re humbled in this part of the state with an abundance of wild turkeys in the area but we found ourselves at a bit of a loss after day one – there certainly was no shortage of turkeys. A couple of our biggest hurdles that we were faced with on this hunt were inevitable challenges thrown at us from mother nature. Through the challenging times though came a time to learn; a valuable lesson at that. The ability to slow things down, to change our perspective and to accept that success isn’t always measured on the pull of a trigger, allowed for us to enjoy our time forging new friendships and growing as outdoorsmen. I’ve noticed in recent years as I’ve grown in the outdoor space, that going into a day’s hunt with no set expectations opens the door for opportunity. Opportunity to not only enjoy the hunt and pursuit itself but to enjoy every single detail, big or small in the space that we are so lucky to explore.
With public lands dotting the landscape of the entire state, it opens the door for the opportunity to hunt wild turkeys in really any part of the state of Wisconsin. After the reintroduction and a few decades of conservation efforts in an attempt to re-establish the wild turkey in Wisconsin, the state now boasts a population of well over 350,000 wild birds according to recent data from the Wisconsin DNR. We are fortunate, in that the state of Wisconsin offers a variety of terrain and unique environments for us to pursue and hunt our growing population of wild turkeys. From the Northwoods of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest to the beautiful bluff country and driftless region of the SW corner of the state, there are birds present far and wide. Permission is fairly easy to gain from private landowners alongside all of the public land access. Go out and explore. You never know, maybe you will be next in creating your own tradition of Turkey Camp in the great state of Wisconsin or the state in which you reside.