OLIVIA, Minn. — There are a lot of different strategies for taking turkeys, and Marlin Hanson has proven the best of them.
He has sat motionless on the ground with his back to a tree for hours, crouched under the protection of an evergreen tree during a bone-chilling drizzle, and stalked and ambushed the birds on river bluff paths.
He’s also sat in the comfort of a lawn chair and waited until they came to him.
That was last year, on the first day he went out. The 24-pound tom, his biggest ever, strutted over to him at 6:20 a.m., ending his season right as it started.
“It’s not easy,” said Hanson of turkey hunting. “Sometimes you get lucky and it looks easy.”
Hanson, who will celebrate his 84th birthday in July, is testing the lawn chair strategy again this year, but with a new twist. He’s allowing himself the comfort of a pop-up blind for the sake of concealing himself.
Hanson, of Olivia, will be hunting next Saturday in the second season. It’s about as early as he’s ever gone out. Among the first in the area to take up turkey hunting, Hanson has been at this since 1999. Initially, drawing a turkey permit was entirely a matter of luck and a preference system.
In 2004, his preference points gave him the opportunity to be drawn for the first season, but he did not make it out. On Easter morning, he didn’t feel quite right. Soon, he was on a helicopter ride to a hospital for heart bypass surgery. Friends put a picture of a turkey on his hospital door.
Hanson kept true to his target. He contacted the DNR and explained that he couldn’t use his license due to his hospitalization. He was able to return his license and keep his preference points for the next year.
Hanson, who grew up near Pine City, Minn., took up hunting and fishing as a youth. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, he worked for Sperry Univac in the Twin Cities. In 1980 he purchased the Olivia Hardware Store and has made Olivia his home ever since. He sold the store in 1996, but continued to work there until about seven years ago.
Even with the demands of owning a business, Hanson made time for the outdoors and hunting and fishing. He said he needed little prodding to give turkey hunting a try once the opportunity became possible in this area. “I just decided it was a fun thing to try,” said Hanson.
Minnesota’s successful reintroduction of wild turkeys began in 1971 with the release of 13 turkeys in Houston County that had been trapped in Missouri, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The DNR and partners released over 5,000 birds in the next 38 years. The first release in Kandiyohi County occurred in 1993. By 1998, hunters in the county could apply for the first turkey permits.
Hanson’s favorite hunting grounds are on the bluffs of the Minnesota River Valley in Renville County. He makes it a point of getting to his hunting spot a good half hour before sunrise, while the Whip-poor-wills are still calling.
About the time they turn quiet, Hanson picks up his box or slate call and starts making his own noise. It’s hard to match the excitement when a tom turkey responds, according to Hanson.
He’s had them come from at least a quarter of a mile away. And, he’s watched them come, stop about 15 or 20 yards out, and strut back and forth. They’re expecting a love-lorn hen to come running like a teenager to her rock star.
He’s learned a few things about this. One time a tom answered and answered and he kept calling and calling, but soon, it was just Hanson who was calling and calling. After giving up and standing up, the hunter discovered the tom was hiding no more than two feet behind him.
Now he knows. If the toms are quiet after answering, they are very cautiously making their way, so just quiet down and keep your eyes open, he advises.
Tales from the wood
And yet, there are those times when toms and hens throw caution to the wind.
One time, two competing toms raced to his calls like sprinters in a race, both putting on the brakes at the same time when they caught sight of the hunter. Too late for one, he said.
A few years ago a tom and two hens were making an absolute ruckus near where he hid. Hanson put a bead on the tom and pulled the trigger. Click. Stupid, he thought, he must not have had a shell in the chamber. He repeated the process and again, no bang. Another tom and more hens, apparently attracted by all the noise the original birds were making, arrived.
Click for a third time. All three shells had dents, but were duds, he discovered. Now without ammunition and frustrated, Hanson stood up and darn near had to shoo the birds away. “I don’t think I saw another turkey that year either,” said Hanson.
He has willingly shared these and other lessons with young hunters, all for the sake of introducing youth to the sport. He’s participated in three youth hunts as offered by the Department of Natural Resources. Along with his wife Maureen, they’ve put up the young hunters and their parents in their home as weekend guests to give them a try at the sport.
Along with what he learns in the field, he reads books on turkey hunting and of course, learns from others. Wearing a ghillie suit that helps him blend in with the scenery is among the tricks he learned from another hunter, and recommends.
Yet this experienced hunter will admit that the sagest of advice he’s heard has come from one younger than him. A fellow hunter put the sport in perspective for him this way: “It really isn’t the expert that does it. It’s the guy who has a lot of patience. Talent doesn’t get you turkeys, but patience does,” said Hanson.
That makes turkey hunting truly a sport for everyone of all ages, and Hanson will tell you this. Yes, it’s exciting to call and bag a turkey. But whether you’re successful or not, it’s every bit as rewarding being patient and enjoying the beauty of spring unfold around you. “It’s a rebirth,” he said.