Ok, I will admit that I may be a bit biased and I do realize that each turkey hunt is unique. However, I have not been a part of anything quite like the hunt I had with my son Logan this past Saturday afternoon. As I mentioned last week (http://magazine.outdoornebraska.gov/2013/04/season-firsts/) Logan is taking in his first spring season as a turkey predator.
After an uneventful morning hunt, some yard work and a nap the four of us headed out to a spot that would give us and the turkeys some protection from the increasing winds. We decided to divide and cover a very large crop-field. Logan and I headed south for about 600 yards to set up a blind and decoys below the protection of a 25 foot tall bluff, while Leslie and Emma headed a couple hundred yards east to cover the northeast corner of woods along the river. Once Logan and I were set we placed an embargo on all turkey calling until at least 15 minutes had passed to allow the area to “recover” from our intrusion. Ten minutes later a chorus of gobbles rang out not far from us and the ban was quickly forgotten. The fun was about to begin.
For the next 15 or 20 minutes the gobblers ignored our calls. However, they would sound off a time or two, every 3 or 4 minutes on their own, letting us know they were still in the area. Then for some reason things flipped 180 degrees and they gobbled at anything we did that sounded remotely bird-like. Pretty soon we spotted them in the field, about 130 yards out. There was little doubt about the intentions of the three young birds as they cut the distance in the most direct path possible. They would only stop to gobble or display, which increased the closer they got to our fake hens. Logan was set to defend our decoys, with his shotgun already resting on the bi-pod. Then at 60 yards we got our first indication that things might not go exactly as planned. The 3 jakes began to stray from their straight-on approach and were drifting ever so slightly to our right. When they weren’t gobbling they were puffed up, spitting and drumming so they were interested in our ruse, but wanted to rendezvous with our hens in a different location.
The trio of young gobblers set up camp at about 18 yards – perfect range for the 20 gauge. However, they were hard to our south with just enough standing vegetation eliminating the possibility of an ethical shot. The next 15 minutes proved to Logan just how frustratingly fun spring turkeys can be – birds well within range, but not shoot-able. During this time the conversation was dominated by: “Dad, we’re losing them.” “No, son, they will come to the decoys pretty soon.” “No I think we are losing them.” “Just be patient, Logan. They will come.” And after 15 minutes, as if to prove my turkey hunting prowess, the jakes all quit strutting and began to walk right up the steep bluff behind us. We were losing them. In a desperate attempt to reclaim some dignity, and perhaps a chance for Logan, I got aggressive on the slate call. All three gave a courtesy gobble once they reached the top. We had lost them.
With time on the clock, and it being Nebraska, we knew that another close encounter with a bearded bird was possible – so we called on. Every once in awhile we would be answered by the trio above us. I didn’t give it much thought as the first few gobbles proved they were walking away from us. Then they began answering every call and it was clear they were indeed getting closer again. Pretty soon they were thundering back gobbles from directly above us. A glimmer of hope was back in our blind, but I was not sure if we could get these boys to walk down the steep bluff. A few minutes later they proved they would not.
Whooosh-whooosh-whoooosh-whoooooosh. A large and dark, air-borne object cruised directly over our blind. The jake landed 50 yards out in front of us. Then a second decided to join him and landed with his buddy. The final bird did the same thing and we were staring down all 3. We were back in business. They gobbled to our quiet clucks and purrs, but seemed a bit apprehensive about closing the distance. I had doubts about being able to get them back into range, but I kept reminding myself they just flew back to us – something I have never heard of, much less experienced. The more aggressive we called the more interested they were in our fake girls. Pretty soon they had cut the distance by 10 yards – we just needed them to continue on their current course for another 15-20 yards.
At 40 yards they hesitated. “Dad, there is a hen in the field.” I looked over and sure enough 45 yards to our south and walking away from us was a hen feeding along the field edge. The trio was now torn. Do they approach the pair of girls that haven’t moved any and ignored their earlier display or take their chances with this new girl? They would take a step towards the real hen, then one back towards us. We had ourselves a standoff. Fortunately, for us the new girl had no real interest in anything that was happening. She was more intent on feeding and continued to walk away from us. We kept calling loud and excitedly as any time we quit calling the 3 seemed to take more interest in the real deal. Perhaps if we could keep their interest until the hen wandered too far away we could entice them close enough for Logan. The trio continued to take one step toward us and one toward the live hen.
At 70+ yards the hen exited the field and out of sight. The trio now only had one option left. They were still 40 yards out but ever so slowly – small 3-toed step by small 3-toed step – were coming closer, likely convinced we were their last opportunity for some evening romance. At 30 yards they began to drift towards the same spot they visited earlier – the “no-shot spot” right beside us. I laid into them with the best mad hen impression I had in me. They stopped. Then it happened. One finally got brave enough to visit the decoys and broke from the others. Logan prepared for what was to happen next…
Later Logan described it much better than I ever could: “The first bird came walking through the decoys, right past us. Then the second walked past us, too. But the third one did not.” No he definitely did not make it past us. His walk was cut short by a 9-year old turkey predator.