First-time turkey hunters take to Wisconsin woods – Duluth News Tribune

WASCOTT, Wisconsin — Breckin Bergquist had plenty of firsts on a cool Saturday morning in the pine and oak country of southern Douglas County.

It was the first time he held a loaded shotgun in the woods.

He learned for the first time to sit motionless in the pre-dawn darkness, hopefully unseen and unheard of any wild turkey that might be nearby.

His first time using a slate call in the woods to mimic the low howl of a wild turkey hen in hopes of luring a tom turkey to come within range.

It was Bergquist’s first turkey hunt. It was his first hunt ever.

Breckin Bergquist and his turkey hunt mentor, Kevinfein, walk you through the steps to safely unload a pump action shotgun at the end of a morning turkey hunt.

John Myers/Duluth News Tribune

It was the first time 13-year-old Bergquist had heard a horn grouse drumming in the woods, and in the distance sandhill cranes chortle and the just a little too distant sound of turkeys feeding as the sun rose.

The 19-degree cold didn’t seem to bother him. Or the fact that his borrowed camouflage gloves had fingers that were 3 inches too long for his still-growing hands.

The morning didn’t end with what everyone involved was hoping would be Bergquist’s best ‘first’: his first tom turkey harvested. The birds were just a little too far away. But there will likely be more hunts for Bergquist in the future, if his smile after the first one is any indication.

“It was great,” he said.

Bergquist was one of 13 Douglas County girls and boys, ages 10 to 16, who participated in the 15th Learn to Hunt program sponsored by the

Gitchee Gumme Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation

. Kevinfein, Bergquist’s mentor at this year’s hunt, was the coordinator of all 15 events.

Turkey hunter with bait

Superior’s Kevin Gemein deflates an inflatable turkey decoy. Foe mentored Breckin Bergquist, 13, on the boy’s very first hunt.

John Myers/Duluth News Tribune

Enemy chose the location after seeing turkeys in the area during recent scouting trips. He set up the lures and made the first call, then whispered Bergquist through the teen’s first attempts at operating a slate call during a hunt. You could tell the boy had practiced.

Foe is a turkey hunting fanatic with 34 turkey hunting seasons under his belt, the perfect guide for Bergquist’s first hunt. Bergquist was the perfect example of what the Learn to Hunt program is all about – attracting children who might not otherwise have had the chance to go into the woods and experience the hunt.

“I’ve wanted to go hunting for a long time. But nobody in my family really hunts anymore, so I didn’t have anyone to go with,” Bergquist said.

Luckily, his mother saw a Facebook post announcing the Learn to Hunt program. “She was pretty nervous at first because I was going out with people I didn’t know with a loaded gun. …She’s watching over me,” Bergquist said. “But she said ‘yes’.”

Boy with turkey

Gannon Hill, 14, of Maple, Wisconsin, with his turkey caught April 9 during the Learn to Hunt weekend sponsored by the Gitchee Gumme Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

John Myers/Duluth News Tribune

Across Northland and nationally, hunter numbers have been declining for years, slowly at first and now much more rapidly as the oldest baby boomers begin to age outside the wild and fewer young hunters are replacing them.

As society becomes more urban, with fewer connections to nature and wildlife, there are fewer people with connections to friends or family who hunt.

Other distractions and opportunities, from video games to team sports to non-consuming outdoor adventures like bicycling, take up a large chunk of many children’s time. Other would-be hunters don’t have access to gear, weapons, or hunting land.

But Enemy and other participants in the Learn to Hunt program hope to at least show them what they’re missing and how to get started properly if they want to stick with it. This year four of the 13 participants bagged big toms on the first morning.

“It’s a lot of work putting this together every year. I bet I got 80+ hours on it over the winter. We also get a lot of donations from local businesses,” saidfeind, who recently retired as a park ranger for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “But it’s worth it when you see the kids’ reactions.”

Group of young turkey hunters

Thirteen girls and boys ages 10-16 participated in this year’s Learn to Hunt weekend sponsored by the Gitchee Gunmme Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation in Wascott, Wisconsin. Each youth had a guided hunt with a mentor. Four of the 13 bagged turkeys on the first morning.

John Myers/Duluth News Tribune

Volunteer mentors Bob Butzler, Mark Nollet and Dan Schafter each received turkey calls this year to commemorate their participation in all 15 years of the program.

The Learn to Hunt program is much more than a hunting weekend. Two weeks before the hunt, participants attended a four-hour seminar on turkey ecology, hunting tactics, equipment and safety. Then on Friday night before the hunt, mentors and hunters gathered in the Four Seasons Snowmobile Club garage. Most mentors and all participants brought their sleeping bags, and local businesses and others donated food so the children could experience a real hunt camp atmosphere.

assisted turkey hunt

Participants in the 15th annual Learn to Hunt assisted turkey hunt, sponsored by the Gitchee Gumme Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, will spend the night before the hunt in the Four Seasons Snowmobile Club garage. Thirteen youth hunters participated in this year’s event in Wascott, Wisconsin.

John Myers/Duluth News Tribune

On Saturday night, the new hunters competed in a turkey call contest using a custom engraved slate call from Luck Custom Calls that each contestant received free of charge.

“I’m just glad that we can do it again,”feinr said, noting that COVID-19 precautions had canceled the event in 2020 and 2021.

For Lake Nebagamon’s Josh Huray, this year’s Learn to Hunt program brought life full circle. Huray first participated in turkey hunting when he was 15 years old. This year, at 30, he served as a mentor and guide.

Boy and hunting mentor with turkey

Superior’s Colson Buck beams as he holds the turkey he shot with the help of his mentor Luke Gregerson as part of a learn-to-hunt program.

Post / Gitchee Gumme Chapter, National Wild Turkey Federation

“I’ve hunted turkeys every year since that first time,” Huray said. “I love it. … anything in the forest and I’m fine. Sitting out there in the morning and seeing the forest come alive around you, that’s special. … I love going out with other people and seeing how their eyes light up when they hear that big cat eating up close. It’s almost as good as shooting one yourself.”

Mentor and seasoned hunter Dan Schafter of Lake Nebagamon agreed.

“Thirty years ago I had never seen a wild turkey before. Now they’re everywhere,” said Schafter. “I had so much fun doing it … and maybe we can pass that on to some new kids.”

By the way, all the practice Bergquist did with the Slate Turkey Call paid off. He didn’t bag a turkey, but he won the turkey call contest on Saturday night and almost called a bird on Sunday morning.

Youth with a slate Turkish reputation

Breckin Bergquist, 13, of Superior, practices with a slate or friction turkey call that mimics a turkey hen’s howl. His practice paid off when Bergquist won the reputation competition among the 13 youth of this year’s Learn to Hunt program.

Contributed / Kevin Foe

For more information on the Superior-based Gitchee Gumme Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and their Lean to Hunt program, contact Kevinfein atfeindkevin@yahoo.com.

John Myers reports on nature, the environment and natural resources for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at

jmyers@duluthnews.com

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