Once again this spring I was asked to help with a turkey hunting camp held at Maranatha Bible Camp near Maxwell. SkyQuest Outdoor Ministries hosts a couple of turkey hunting camps in Nebraska each spring, and I was one of the “locals” asked to help at their west camp. The attendees this year came from Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa. I was paired to hunt with Doug from Iowa and Randy from Minnesota. Both gentlemen had killed turkeys before, and Randy attended the turkey camp at Marnatha last year. Since neither of my guys were turkey hunting rookies, I tried not to do so much “coaching” as I did just showing them around some of my favorite home turf–the cedar canyons of southwest Nebraska.
The first morning we hunted we got on one of those wild turkey chases where there were some birds gobbling a long ways away, we went after them anyway, but were never able to get into position where we might call one in. In fact those birds eventually dropped over the ridge into the next canyon. After dragging Doug and Randy on that little chase we were way up on a high ridge and I told them that would be a good position to work along, take our time, listen and look for more turkeys. A couple, three things happened up on that ridge that I have to include in my story. . . .
First of all, as we were walking along I stopped and told the guys that I was not an elk hunter but those were elk droppings we were looking at. A little farther along the ridge were distinct elk tracks.
As we sneaked along the side of the ridge, I looked up and saw something white crossing the ridge top. My first thought was that we had just spooked a tom turkey, that what I had seen was the white top of its head. But, I knew that was not right, it did not move like a turkey. Then it dawned on me that what I was looking at was a bobcat! I pointed it out to Doug and Randy and then started lip-squeaking (i.e. making a kissing, squeaking sound with my lips). Sure enough, here that bobcat came right for us. There was a small cedar tree about 20 yards in front of us and “Bob” sneaked up behind that tree, sat down, and then peaked around at us. I will never forget those big yellow eyes looking around the cedar. I thought about digging my camera out for a picture, but did not figure the bobcat would sit for that, and I do not know if a person could see the cat in a picture. Even looking around the cedar tree, if you did not know the bobcat was there, you would have never seen it. The wild felines are such secretive creatures. There are a lot of bobcats in Nebraska these days, but even if you spend a lot of time in the “woods” or in the field, you rarely see one. It is a special day any day I see one.
After covering 4.37 miles first thing that morning, I jokingly told the guys that it was inevitable that we would eventually find turkeys back within a few hundred yards of where we parked the pickup. Working along the tall ridge we were on, we eventually reached a place where I could look back into the valley where the pickup was parked. I took one glance through my binoculars then dropped them and told the guys, “I told you so”. What I could see was a gnarly old ash tree right on the edge of the canyon bottom, I had noticed that tree when we walked by it right after leaving the pickup. In front of that gnarly old ash was a couple of hen turkeys and right behind them I saw the unmistakable sight of two tom turkeys in full strut.
So, we worked 4.27 miles back towards the pickup and set up in a spot where we thought those birds would feed back to us. We did have a couple different hens walk right behind us, but the toms we were watching eventually drifted off to the east.
That was the end of our first morning hunt. As we drove out of the canyon to head in for lunch, there were fresh elk tracks over my tire tracks from that morning.
I believe I have killed turkeys in the spring in Nebraska at just about every hour of daylight. After lunch and a short break waiting for my nephew to come hunt with us, we headed back to the same beautiful cedar canyon. Bouncing along the trail going in we saw a group of hens and jakes that really did not spook away from the pickup, they just went feeding up a side draw to the north. When we got back to our hunting area we needed to hustle because we had an idea where those birds would show up and figured they would be there within an half-hour.
We were right.
We got set up by a big old cottonwood tree. I had Doug and Randy sit shoulder to shoulder facing a gate where I expected the turkeys to come. I told them they would walk right under that gate. They did. My nephew and I sat by a fallen log just behind the guys and as soon as we were settled, I yelped on my mouth call a few times. I got no answer, but immediately saw a hen working her way right to us. We had to sit for some time while five or six hens fed past us. I could see the jakes, young toms, coming along behind them, but they took their sweet time. Originally there were four jakes, but then there were five and that was what was taking them so long–they were waiting for that last bird, their buddy, to catch up with them. About the time I was debating whether to call some more or just wait, I looked towards the gate and here came the jakes. They crossed, stopped, I “putted” at them to get them to stick their heads in the air, and then the shooting started. Randy and Doug each got one of those jakes.
I had to slip into the photo and ham it up a bit.
As we were standing there excitedly babbling about what had just happened, my nephew says, “Look at that!”. We turned and looked back towards where we had parked, standing at the mouth of the next side draw was a bull elk! He was probably 300 yards away. We could tell he was a bull because of the velvet nubs of antlers he had on his head. Again, I had no thought of getting any pictures because that elk looked at us, we looked at him, and then he started trotting off up the canyon. Right behind him another bull walked out. This one also had velvet antlers on his head–velvet antlers about 3 or 4 feet long already!
That was a hunt none of us will ever forget. I told the guys that the birds they killed were only jakes, small toms, but on our hunt we covered a lot of beautiful country, played hide and seek with a bobcat, doubled on the turkeys and then saw two bull elk. All in Nebraska, is this a great state or what?
Doug and I hunted the same canyon the next morning and saw a ton of birds, hens and jakes, but we were hoping for those two big toms to show up again. On another afternoon hunt the second day we sat up in an area I knew turkeys had been frequenting (scout, scout and then scout some more!). We finally heard some gobbling and as we sat debating whether to go after the bird we had heard or stay where we were, I called one more time and got the bird to gobble again, much closer. That made up our minds, we just stayed where we were and after twenty minutes I saw a couple birds working along the hillside towards us. They ended up being jakes, and I was unsure if Doug was going to hold out for a big tom or fill his last tag. The jakes walked in towards our decoys, and I could see Doug getting into position to shoot. Another afternoon hunt paid off.
Naturally, after filling Doug’s last tag, I grabbed my gun and we slipped back up to a ridge top where we soon spotted a big tom we could go after. The bird was following hens and my nephew tried to get in front of them but came up just a few minutes too late.
We listened to some gobbling that evening and had a close encounter with a bird that just walked around a cedar and caught us sitting in the open. I think that may have been another big tom or it just may have been the second jake of the pair from which Doug took his second bird. I never got a good look at him and was not even close to getting a shot.
My daughter and I still have spring turkey tags burning holes in our pockets. We are holding out for big toms and have had a lot of frustrations so far. We are not quitting and I hope to have more stories to tell you before this spring’s season is done. I gotta go, I hear a turkey gobbling!