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Hunter fulfills turkey passion close to home

Bob Krepps of Duluth sits at the base of a maple tree and uses a slate call to try to rustle up a turkey gobbler Wednesday morning, opening day of Minnesota's spring wild turkey season. Krepps was hunting in southern Carlton County. Sam Cook/

IN SOUTHERN CARLTON COUNTY -- Bob Krepps had a quick decision to make. It was just before dawn Wednesday morning, and Krepps, of Duluth, had to decide where he was going to hunt turkeys.

Minnesota's spring wild turkey season opened Wednesday for its first five-day period, and Krepps, 65, was standing among hardwoods in southern Carlton County where he had done lots of preseason scouting.

He knew a gobbler had been hanging out among the oaks there. But his owl-call imitation had produced no gobbling response this morning.

On the other hand, three gobblers were going nuts, calling from their roosts just across the road on property where Krepps did not have permission to hunt.

In the soft predawn light, the veteran turkey hunter made his decision.

"I think I might slip back and work those birds," Krepps said.

He would hunt the active gobblers from this side of the road, where he had secured permission, and hope to call them across the road. Within minutes, Krepps was in position, hunkered in full camouflage on the ground, leaning against an old maple.

Using a slate call, he began scratching out the raspy yelps that imitated a hen turkey contentedly feeding among the acorns.

Later, he would add some throaty yelps on a resonant box call, and he threw in a few furtive yips from a diaphragm call, too.

But the gobblers whose calls had reverberated through the trees a few minutes earlier had gone silent.

"Those gobblers are down with hens," Krepps would say later.

And when a gobbler has the real thing within sight, every turkey hunter knows he's up against tough odds.

Yes, it's an obsession

Krepps, who has hunted turkeys for seven years and in five states, understands that turkey hunting is a challenging game. He has killed birds every year, but it's the difficulty of the hunt that keeps him coming back.

He has taken birds in Wisconsin, South Dakota, Montana and Missouri. This was his first Minnesota hunt.

"This will be the toughest bird I hunt," he said.

That's because most of the land in his permit area is private, and a hunter can't always move to an active gobbler if the hunter hasn't received permission to hunt there.

Krepps, who is St. Louis County's land commissioner, took up turkey hunting in Missouri.

"That's where I caught the illness," he said. "My wife would tell you it's an obsession."

"It's a passion," said Krepps' wife of 40 years, Micheal. "And like the rest of us, we have a tendency to be passionate about our hobbies."

This year, Krepps' passion will take him turkey hunting in Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin. He likes all aspects of the hunt.

"It's a wonderful time of the year," Krepps said. "They're a challenging bird. They're impressive to see. They're unpredictable. Just so many things can happen."

Krepps has hunted whitetails, elk, antelope, pheasants, ducks and geese. But turkeys have stolen his heart.

"I'm just obsessed by them," he said.

Hard luck

After being unsuccessful at luring a gobbler across the road, Krepps tried two other locations on Wednesday. He saw tracks but couldn't get any gobblers to respond.

Thursday was a different day. Hunting on state land in Carlton County, Krepps got a group of three gobblers to sound off. But he couldn't get them to come out from behind some trees. With stealth, he relocated and made one set of soft yelps on his diaphragm call.

One of the gobblers responded.

"I didn't call any more," Krepps said. "I waited for them to come and find me."

The birds began appearing at about 20 yards, coming out from some pines. Lots of birds. All gobblers.

"They kept coming and coming and coming," Krepps said. "I knew there were three. I thought, 'Where did all these birds come from?' "

In all, seven gobblers were parading out of the pines. The closest gobbler was at 15 yards. When the others began to get nervous and mill about, Krepps pulled the trigger on his 12-gauge Mossberg 835. The lead bird fell on the spot. It had two beards, which is somewhat unusual, and the longest was 9 inches. The bird, likely a 2-year-old, Krepps said, weighed 19 pounds.

He'll leave for Montana this coming week, his obsession still intact.