Turkey hunting takes couple on a wild ride

Star Herald
by Danielle Prokop –

GURLEY — Everybody’s got a thing. For Leon Kriesel and Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel, it’s turkey hunting.

“Sure, it’s quite a quirky thing, but it’s ours,” Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel said.

Leon and Cheryl’s self-described “obsession, possession, all those wonderful words,” has spanned decades and thousands of miles. They’re close to hunting turkey in nearly every state except a handful — one problem being no wild turkeys in Alaska, but otherwise they have Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina left on the mainland. And Hawaii.

“That’s not going to happen,” Leon said, jokingly.

He’s not the only one who’s gone for the Gould, a type of Turkey in the Sonoran mountains in Mexico. The National Wild Turkey Federation keeps lists of people who’ve completed the U.S. Superslam, meaning catching turkey subspecies in every state except Alaska, and it’s a short list. There’s only 11 people.

Leon’s Kriesel’s goal to take a hunting trip in the South this past spring was sidelined by coronavirus.

The turkey hunting obsession started off harmlessly enough. Leon described his first turkey hunt in the early ‘80s with little fanfare, but it stuck with him. He said he started in the hills around Nebraska and morphed into journeys such as hunting seven turkeys across seven states in 11 days.

“It’s a challenge to outthink them, what they’re going to do, where they’re going to be,” he said, describing strategy for mimicking hens to call turkeys in.

Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel said she doesn’t carry a gun but comes along on the trips to “keep the stories honest.”

“We got addicted, that’s the best word for it,” she said. “It started with a benign trip to Hay Springs, from there it’s kind of exploded.”

Now, as their passion enters its fourth decade, they have a few mementos, a book about a turkey trip made by an outfitter, pictures and the mounts. Nothing comes close to the glory of the ocellated turkey tom. It’s a subspecies found in Mexico with brown feathers that melt into a glow of iridescent greens and blues. Turquoise “eyes” stare from the back of males’ tail-feathers. As he talks about the hunt, Leon Kriesel strokes the white streaky wings used to impress hens. It’s the bright blue head, with yellow and red bumps called corns that really catches the eye. They know he was an older bird from his long ankle spurs used to fight other toms for hens’ attention.

“That look is one of a kind,” Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel said.

Cheryl and Leon enjoy a wild turkey for their Thanksgiving celebration — they wouldn’t have it any other way.

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