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The Bittersweet Last Turkey of Spring

With May 31 being the last day, the end of turkey season is near.  Though our Nebraska spring season is long, the end is always tough to take for us addicted to chasing the gobble – even when it ends successfully.  Here’s how mine ended this past holiday weekend…

Turkey strutting marks
Turkey strutting marks

Saturday morning I rolled out of bed at 4:00 a.m., checked radar and climbed back under the covers when it revealed a large, colorful swath of rain parked itself on top of my hunting area.  Sunday morning I nearly repeated the process, however the radar showed the rain hadn’t yet made it far enough north and there was a decent chance it was going to miss me altogether.  So, on went the camo, I grabbed an apple and walked out the door.

It was a cloudy, dark morning.  I didn’t realize just how dark until I stepped out of the truck at my chosen hunting spot.  In my experience, late season gobblers begin sounding off from the roost tree a bit later than they did just a few weeks earlier.  A darker than normal morning was going to delay it even more.  Even the songbirds were noticeably quiet as I made the walk to the general area I had heard turkeys just the week prior.

The silence was abruptly broken when a deer, bedded just a few feet from the field edge I was walking, bolted and crashed its way through the timber.  The sudden racket made for a moment of excitement at which point I stopped dead in my tracks.  Partly from the surprise and partly in hopes of not drawing anymore attention to myself and ending my chances at a turkey.

The first gobble of the morning came in response to my owl hoot.  It was further away than I was hoping but I was very thankful for it.  Some late season mornings come and go without a gobble.  Shooting time was only a few minutes away and I knew I had to get closer.

One of the benefits of late season are the leaves on the trees.  Blocking the view of roosted turkeys they can give you a chance to get closer than usual without being spotted.  However, the leaves also work to muffle all sounds, including gobbles, and that bird is often not as far away as you might think.  I did my best to balance these two variables and set up the decoy on the field edge as a gobbler sounded off.

Making my way into the cover to hide I realized two items I had not expected.  First was that the green grass was too tall to allow me to see the field or my decoy from the base of the tree I planned to lean against .  The second surprise was the roosted turkeys right above me.

My hiding Spot
My hiding Spot

In hunting you often have to adapt to the situation to have a chance to be successful.  So I did what I could.  I laid flat on my belly at the very edge of the grass which provided some camouflage and a decent view of the field in front of me.  Shooting might be difficult from this position, but not impossible.  As for the birds above me, I convinced myself they were all hens and that I was between them and their love interest – a good thing for me.  There wasn’t much more I could do.

By the time sunrise supposedly arrived (it was now more gray than black) the birds were a bit more free with their gobbles.  I kept my calls pretty soft and comforting and they would answer them periodically.  The gobbles started sounding muffled and more distant which I took to mean the birds were flying out of their roosts and now talking from the ground.

I reassured myself that the birds would be looking to avoid the wet grass and cover in the timber and much prefer the crop field I was guarding as it was open to the east and catch any sunlight that might eventually make it through the clouds.  To help I tried my best to turn any shadow or dark spot in the field or along the timber edge into a turkey.  However, I was still startled when a tom wandered out of the trees and headed in my direction – and then another.

My heart was pounding when it finally dawned on me that my ploy may work.  This excitement is why I turkey hunt.  I have lost count of how many times I have gotten to see the king of spring make his way into that magical 30 yard ring, but it never gets old – never.  The old boy disappeared for a few long moments due to a roll in the crop field and then quickly popped up by the decoy in all his splendor, with his glowing crimson and white head leading the reappearance.

The bittersweet end
The bittersweet end

As I punched my tag the bitter-sweetness of the moment took over.  I was done.  My season was over.  No more will I be prowling the darkness of predawn as a turkey predator this spring.  I might get lucky and have the chance to tag along with someone else a time or two, but this late in the season the only thing that can be more elusive and unwilling than the turkeys are finding people still wanting to pursue them.

So I will dust off the fishing poles, start shooting the bow and begin dreaming about opening day of spring turkey season 2015…


About Aaron Hershberger

Aaron "hershy" Hershberger is an Outdoor Education Specialist with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. He loves being outdoors. When not outdoors he is day-dreaming about being outdoors and/or whining that he is not outdoors. Hershy has been a Hunter Education Instructor, in two states, for nearly three decades & a Bowhunter Education Instructor for over 20 years.

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