It was two hours before daylight and I was crawling into a boat to take a 20-minute ride across the main channel of the Mississippi River to hunt gobblers on an island. This experience made the hunting part even better.
I have described this hunt to several friends and fellow turkey hunters. They all had the same questions; “Is a Mississippi River island big enough to hold turkeys and big enough to hunt them there?” The answer is a resounding, “YES.”
As they return from their island paradise for turkey hunters, the author (left) and John Caldwell obviously had a productive morning. (Photos by Sue Caldwell)
This particular island is almost 200-acres in size with about half of its area dedicated to row-crop farming. Farm machinery is transported there by barge. The rest of the island is standing timber with maple and cottonwood trees up to 5-feet in diameter. Last year’s grain crop was soybeans and the turkeys on this island live in paradise. There are tons of food and virtual isolation. It is perfect.
This island is just a portion of a place that offers the most highly diversified wild turkey habitat in the Midwest.
This property is operated by an outfitter named John Caldwell, and is called “The Break.” John and his wife Sue also have property in the Mississippi River bottom and in the hill country of Hancock County, Ill. At any given time during the spring gobbler season, one of these locations is the hottest spot in the region for big toms.
We motored through a small channel between the big island and a smaller one. John had coached me ahead of time to be very quiet as we landed. The birds on the island were used to hearing and seeing boat traffic, but humans were things they only saw at planting time and harvest time; and even then, only rarely. We tied-up and unloaded the boat without a sound.
As we stepped out of the timber and into the huge field that is the middle of the island, John whispered to me as he shook my hand, “You go north, I’ll go south. Meet you here at noon. Good luck.” This plan already had been established. Caldwell was merely confirming his decision on which end of the island to send me.
It was about 6 a.m. before the first gobbler woke-up enough to talk. I moved quickly through the semi-light of dawn to within about 120 yards of the gobbler. There was a road cut through the timber by a log-skid. I put two hens and one jake decoy in the road and backed-off about 15 yards.
Caldwell and the author (right) show off the results of their pre-dawn boatride across the Mississippi River.
As the trees and brush around me began to take shape in the slowly increasing light, the turkeys became more vocal. Their gobbling was almost constant. Occasionally I could hear gobbles from the other end of the island and a couple of times I heard gobbles from across the big river, on mainland Illinois. The problem was, just as I could hear birds begin to fly down from their roosts, hens joined loudly into the conversation.
The hens were not with the gobblers, but could definitely cause them to go in the wrong direction. I had to act quickly and call aggressively. My first series of calls were loud, crisp cuts done on a Lohman box call. The gobbler closest to me responded quickly. I put the box call down and picked-up a call named the “Thunderdome.” I began to putt, cluck and purr like a content flock engaged in their morning feeding.
The gobbling had stopped now — the whole island was silent. There was a large multi-flora rose bush directly across the road from me. I saw the bleach-white head at the same instant I heard the gobbler drum. “Phttt — Voooomm,” was the sound. He was very close.
As the tom stepped into the road in front of me to get a clear look at my decoys, he stretched his neck and died valiantly. He weighed 21-3/4 pounds and sported an 11-inch beard. I slipped him into an orange bag and headed for the boat landing. As I moved through the timber along the edge of the island, I heard a single shot from the south end. Half-an-hour later John met me at the boat with a gobbler of his own.
You too can enjoy a spring hunt on this turkey island paradise by calling John and Sue Caldwell at “The Break” at 217-647-3355.
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