LEFT: Edgemont High School senior Jenna Ostenson recently harvested this nice tom turkey on a hunt with her family, including sister Peyton who took the photo.
RIGHT: Don Massa, left, and his son Thomas, harvested a pair of tom turkeys with the bows on their property near Edgemont on the opening weekend of the firearms season.
By Eric Harrold
EDGEMONT – Each spring, turkey hunting enthusiasts clad in camouflage take to the woods and fields in pursuit of strutting toms. This year’s season may take on a special meaning to some who find themselves hampered like everyone else due to corona virus or COVID-19 restrictions, guidelines, etc. Hunters may keep their distance when venturing into larger towns, just like most everyone else is, but the targets of their pursuit definitely take a different approach.
Turkeys would be poor candidates when it comes to behavior recommended for avoiding infection. They are most gregarious and if there’s a little pile of spilled grain somewhere they’re wandering through, don’t for a minute expect that they will adhere to any recommendation that they remain at least six feet apart. Up until the last week or so, they’ve been quick to gather at bird feeding stations in the yards of Edgemont residents, gobbling up the provisions to provide energy and insulation against the frigid temps of winter nights. Now that the season has turned the corner from winter to spring, they’re heading out to strutting grounds and nesting sites outside of town, throwing caution to the wind when it comes to social distancing.
Turkey hunting certainly can be used as a social occasion when it comes to parent-child hunting tandems. Local hunter Lane Ostenson has taken his daughters Peyton and Jenna out each spring since they were 10 years old. Each succeeded early on in taking their first birds. Peyton, he says, has gotten particularly efficient with both mouth and slate calls.
When asked if the recent concerns with corona virus had crossed his mind one way or another with respect to turkey hunting, Ostenson responded that it hadn’t – which makes sense. Turkey hunting is one of those hunting pursuits that really doesn’t lend itself to a group approach, unlike say, pheasant hunting. You want to be quiet and avoid detection, so three is definitely a crowd when your goal is to put a gobbler in the bag.
For those hunting solo or with a family member who they’re already in close quarters with, it’s easy to see why one wouldn’t give much thought to infection concerns associated with COVID-19. Other folks, who expect to entertain out-of-town hunters in some capacity, look at it differently.
Mark Brown is a veteran turkey hunter of 47 years. He says that he’s yet to get out after a bird and normally hosts his two nephews from Pierre. They’ve been informed that they’re welcome to come on down, but they’ll have to stay in his camper unit rather than the house over concerns of infection. Brown cares for his mother who is 88 and has heightened concerns with regard to her health in the midst of the present health crisis in which the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are among the most vulnerable if they become infected.
In fact, due to having a few unoccupied bedrooms at her home, Brown says spring turkey hunters used to spend the night with her when they were in town, but that of course is no longer happening.
“I have friends in Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota some of which have been coming out for 25 years,” says Brown. He also mentioned that his brothers are coming in May and he looks forward to hunting with them, despite the challenge of pursuing birds that have “gotten educated” over the course of the season and are more wary and better able to detect even the slightest movements that may betray a waiting hunter. Brown says he hopes the relatively mild winter helped survival and that coupled with a good hatch will promote good numbers for future hunting seasons.
Brown shared one unfortunate outcome due to corona virus and that was the cancellation of the HuntSafe class he teaches along with Don Massa and Lane Ostenson. It was scheduled for Good Friday and intended to give new turkey hunters the chance to get in on opening weekend.
Don Massa has adopted a constructive view of the current situation with corona virus as it pertains to spring turkey hunting. Massa points out that turkey hunting and social distancing recommendations fit like a hand and a glove. “What better way to respect social distancing than to grab your turkey hunting gear and head out into the beautiful Black Hills. Sitting in a ground blind with bow and arrow by our side, both my sons and I have been doing some turkey hunting as we can still respect the social distancing by being out in the woods with family members,” said Massa.
The Massas’ efforts have been fruitful this far. “Thomas was able to fill his archery tag on opening morning of archery season and then we both filled our first Black Hills tags on opening morning of the Black Hills season,” Massa reported. “Carl and I were out with his bow this weekend and had several close encounters but continued to be foiled by overly enthusiastic hens interrupting our calling.”
According to Massa, the COVID 19 pandemic has altered plans for the 2020 South Dakota National Wild Turkey Federation JAKES Hunt of a Lifetime as the hunt has been postponed to spring of 2021. “I host this event in the Hot Springs area each year with the help of donors including Scheels, The Gun Vault, Hills Inn and Dakota Decoys,” said Massa. “This year’s winner is from Sioux Falls and travel concerns along with not having time off for an essential employee were the deciding factors. The youth’s father works for a supply company that services health care facilities and his vacation was used up when he was forced to be on 14 days of quarantine. Postponing this year’s hunt was a difficult decision to make but we felt there was no other choice given the current situation.”
Massa indicated that the pandemic has greatly altered the plans of those that travel great distances for the opportunity to bag a gobbler. “I also have other friends that normally hunt in the Black Hills, including one from Canada that attempts to harvest a Grand Slam every year, that will not be making the trip this year,” Massa said. “I usually travel to the Vermillion, SD area to hunt with friends there and am certain that trip will be altered as well. We also hunt on private land in Oglala Lakota County and they are in lockdown so we are unable to hunt there for now,” he added.
In spite of the limitations COVID-19 places on their hunting efforts, the Massas’ level of enthusiasm remains high. “The boys and I will continue to chase birds locally and respect the social distancing recommendations as long as they apply. Our second Black Hills tags open May 1st, so Thomas will be looking to harvest another bird with his bow. We are fortunate to live where we do and to have the chance to be outdoors with family members instead of cooped up in an apartment in New York City.” For those spouses of avid turkey hunters somehow hoping that corona virus would dampen their partners’ enthusiasm and make them more mindful of the spring “honey-do” list, it appears to be wishful thinking. The annual affair with the red-headed stranger will go on as usual, but all good things must end as the saying goes, and the men of the house will return in what has come to be timely fashion. Now if the same would happen with corona virus so that life-as-usual would return, everybody would feel the sensation experienced by those who bag a bird on a spring outing.
With South Dakota’s turkey season currently underway, the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks is reminding Black Hills turkey hunters to check with www.fs.usda.gov/blackhills on trail, campground and other closures.
The GF&P also reminds turkey hunters to follow these rules during their hunt:
• Refrain from using the hunting if you are exhibiting symptoms of illness.
• Follow the CDC’s guidance on personal hygiene prior to and during your hunt
• Hunt locally; follow any stay-at-home guidelines your city or state have enacted.
• Be self-sufficient. Prepare for limited access to public restrooms, showers and water fountains.
• Be self-contained. Leave these public spaces as clean as you found them.
• Limit contact with shared spaces and surfaces, like door handles or guide rails. Use hand sanitizer if you do touch them.
• Follow CDC guidance on the recommended size of social gatherings. Maintain proper physical distance at all times.
• Observe CDC’s minimum recommended social distancing of 6 feet from other individuals at all times. If this is not possible, find an alternate location or depart that space.