Field photos by Jon Wipfli, recipe photos by Matt Lien
Plain and simple, I love to turkey hunt. It’s the time of year when I get my first taste of spring, and waking up an hour before the sunrise is also something I look forward to. The temperatures are finally rising, ramps are exploding all around, and there’s generally lots of action when it comes to turkeys.
Before this trip, I’d already struck out on my first turkey tag of the season, and had another one planned, but when father/son combo Joe and Tom Ertl invited me up to their cabin for the weekend in between tags to make some calls and sit in the woods, I jumped at the chance. Both guys have a lot of insight into turkey hunting and calling—and are not shy with sharing brandy—so I was in no position to decline.
It was the third week into the season, which meant some turkeys were still emboldened by the heat of mating rituals, but others were starting to get a little leary of decoys. While out, we had a ton of sightings and even more turkeys responding to our calls, but it was challenging to bring them in closer than 70 yards. One group of gobblers came within 80 yards of us, at which point the dominant tom stayed put and sent two jakes in to scout out the situation. The jakes took one look at the decoy spread and swerved to our north with the tom in tow. That turned out to be a pretty common thread for me for the weekend, so I was happy to see a text from Joe with a picture of a downed bird. He had called it from atop a ridge, and as soon as the bird crested 10 yards in front of him, Joe blasted it. The success gave Joe the opportunity to exercise his patent saying, “If you see red, it’s dead” throughout the remainder of my stay.
With the bird in hand, we turned to Tom for some butchering advice. As his never-ending repertoire of turkey stories suggests—and necklace of turkey spurs that he struts around with confirms—Tom has done this a few times. He made quick work of the turkey, swiftly removing the breasts and legs before handing them over to me to cook.
Wild turkey has a bad rap for being mediocre game to eat. Admittedly, wild turkey can be exceedingly dry and the legs can be a challenge to work with. But I like a good challenge, and had a plan to combat those two hurdles. The legs were going to hit the grinder with some pork shoulder to make breakfast sausage; the breasts were destined for schnitzel, the recipe for which is featured below.
Lightly pounding and breading the breasts in preparation for a quick fry lets the protein cook without turning bone dry. We are also going to pair it with some wild ramps foraged on the hunt, and a warm spinach-and-bacon salad.
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