Scott Staples gets up well before dawn on many mornings in his line of work. He’s a conservation officer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources based in Cloquet.
But on the morning of May 5, Staples was in the woods at 4:30 to see whether he could shoot a turkey.
It would be a hunt he’ll never forget. Before it was over, it would involve three toms, a jake and a bald eagle.
An avid turkey hunter for 15 years, Staples had won a crossbow at a National Wild Turkey Federation banquet in Carlton County. He had sighted it in and thought he’d give it a try. Already, he had had a good season. His daughter Haley, 13, had shot her first turkey with him a few days earlier.
On this morning, set up at the edge of a field where he had secured permission to hunt, Staples began with a few yelps on his box call. Within a few moments, he had three gobblers responding.
“The one across the field lit up,” Staples said. “I knew I had him hooked.”
The gobbler was in no hurry, though, to visit Staples’ hen decoy, set up 20 yards from where he sat in some brush. The gobbler stalled 100 yards out, about twice the crossbow’s range, Staples said.
He gave the bird some time, then offered the gobbler some seductive purrs on the call.
The tom was at 35 yards, well within range, when Staples’ view of the gobbler was obstructed by something in the scope. It was a jake turkey that had come from right behind him. When it finally moved, Staples took his shot at the gobbler.
Staples looked up to see that the gobbler had gone back to feeding calmly. He had missed the bird. He figured his shot had gone low.
Reloading a crossbow is a bit of a project. In Staples’ case, it involved standing on a portion of the crossbow and pulling upward with both arms to cock the mechanism. Now the gobbler had moved even closer and was alongside the decoy at 20 yards, but Staples couldn’t reload without giving himself away.
“I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ And then all hell broke loose on the field,” Staples said.
He heard “big wings flapping” out along the edge of the field. He saw a turkey flying high into a Norway pine. He saw an immature bald eagle circling over the tree. He watched the tom he had shot at flee into the woods to his left.
“This is a perfect time to reload,” Staples thought.
As he did, he saw a second tom sprinting away on his left. He then saw the eagle set its wings and make a dive on the hen decoy. So, instead of reloading immediately, he picked up his smartphone to shoot photos. The eagle hit the foam decoy hard enough to put several talon holes in its back and a beak laceration in its neck. Now the damaged decoy was lying on the ground.
The eagle realized something wasn’t right and flew off. Staples took that opportunity to reload the crossbow. After seating another arrow-like projectile called a bolt, Staples looked over his left shoulder and saw the gobbler he hoped to shoot running the other direction. The bird had seen him reloading. Staples sat in the brush wondering what he ought to do next. That’s when he saw the bird in the Norway pine fly down. It was another tom.
“I call,” Staples said. “He answers.”
After a five-minute wait and a couple of yelps on his box call, Staples saw the tom coming for his impaled decoy “at a dead sprint.”
The tom charged in until it was about 30 yards away from Staples, well within range. It looked at the flattened hen. It looked at Staples.
Staples wasted no time. He pulled the trigger on the crossbow. The shot rolled the tom, and Staples found the bird a short distance away. It was a good-sized tom with a 9½-inch beard and 1¼-inch spurs.
Staples stood there, taking stock of all that had happened.
“I thought, ‘That was a wonderful hunt,’” he said.
But the highlight of his season, he said, was watching his daughter get her first turkey.