As I write this, there are still eleven days left in Nebraska’s 2015 spring turkey season, but I believe my kids and I are done with our time spent in the field with those big, beautiful birds this spring. Time to give you a report on our adventures. . . .
Spring has been particularly busy for me this year, and by “busy” I mean stuff I have to get done, work stuff. I hate it when that gets in the way of my hunting and fishing! Much of my hunting this spring has been in “fits and starts” when I have a few hours here, a few hours there. That has magnified the frustrations at times. Thinking back, every spring turkey season has frustrations, those birds will do it to you, but in spite of that, we had success and some unforgettable experiences in the process.
I spent a weekend, about the only weekend of our shotgun season this spring with nice weather, helping out at a turkey hunting camp held at Maranatha Bible Camp (Skyquest Outdoor Ministries). I hunted with a gentleman from Minnesota, Greg, on a property that was LOADED with turkeys. However, the section also housed the rancher’s cows and calves and that made the hunt more challenging. I knew where at least one big tom would be every morning–right in with the cows and calves. I sure would have approached our hunt there differently had the cattle not been present.
There were a couple of areas where the turkeys roosted every night. In fact, one of those areas was the most used roost area I have ever seen. Underneath those hardwoods the ground was literally covered with turkey droppings and feathers. I dropped my gum there one afternoon, took me two tries before I found it. The racket coming off of that roost every morning was an experience in itself. I never tire of listening to those birds wake as the sun rises.
As a result, we did have a really good idea where birds would work back towards roost every night, so without getting too close to the roost, we set up in the evenings where they wanted to go. The first evening resulted in a shot and a miss at a jake.
Without being able to pull a mature tom away from hens during the day, the pressure was on for the last evening’s hunt. We again had some jakes come our way that evening (we saw tons of jakes on our hunt–there should be lots of mature 2-year old’s next year!) and as they worked along a finger parallel to the finger we were sitting on, Greg took a shot at one. After the shooting stopped, I got up and asked if there were any turkeys on the ground? Greg was disgusted at himself. He was an accomplished turkey hunter and knew he should have just been patient, the birds likely would have offered a much easier, closer, clearer shot. A few yards in front of us we discovered a tree branch that had almost been cut in two by Greg’s shot. At that discovery I had my doubts that any turkeys had been hit at all, but we walked over just to make sure. Sure enough, as Greg got to the top of the finger, there was a jake flopping on the other side. He was relieved to have gotten that bird and a trophy tree limb to go with it. He was able to bag another tom, a mature bird on a quick hunt the next morning.
My family and I headed west again for Mother’s Day weekend. I worked the Outdoor Expo at Ft. Kearny that Saturday, we spent Mother’s Day with both my wife’s and my mother and slipped in some turkey hunting between rain showers. Daniel, my son, and Emily, my daughter, came close to getting Emily a big tom one evening, but when that did not quite work out, they at least put the birds to roost for the next morning. We rolled out at 0’dark-thirty, well before sunrise and I expected Emily’s shotgun to go “Bang” at anytime early that morning.
There is a saying spring turkey hunters often recite, “Roosted ain’t Roasted”. I wish I had a dollar for every time I thought I had a great idea of where to clobber a tom coming off the roost in the morning only to have them do something different. Remember, spring turkey hunting is very frustrating at times! Daniel and Emily set up in the perfect spot before sunrise that morning only to have the birds do the unexpected. They then followed birds around the rest of the morning. Finally, I heard Emily’s gun speak at 10:40, one shot, one shot only, a very good sign of a turkey down!
My kids followed birds around that whole time, finally finding a tom that was left trailing behind one hen. As she fed over a ridge, the kids got into position and Daniel started calling. The tom figured that was a better offer than the last hen he had been following, and after a little coaxing turned and started towards Emily and her big brother guide. The tom walked in, Emily got on him, rolled him at 30 yards!
Many times mid-mornings are much better than sunrise! As the hens peel off from a flock in mid-morning to find their nests, mature toms find themselves farther and farther behind fewer and fewer hens. Get on ’em at that time and they can be called!
I mentioned our experience with finding shed deer antlers while turkey hunting each spring in an earlier blog post. We are not superstitious, but it sure seems like every time we find a deer shed, we are about to kill a turkey. The kids set up in front of one of those cedar trees behind them in the picture, and Daniel found the shed deer antler just down the rise right behind him. Sure enough, a little bit later and Emily had her bird. She always insists on carrying her bird, by herself. . . .
Emily’s bird was not huge, it weighed a little over 15 pounds, had a 7-inch beard and the spurs of a 2-year old (about 3/4-inch long). She did not care and neither did her brother or old man–it was a mature tom and any of us would have taken that bird given the chance.
In fact, earlier that morning I had a tom catch me off-guard and I believe it may have been the bird that Emily eventually killed. I had just set up in a favorite spot, just settled into a cedar tree when I hear the “ffft-ffft-hrrrummmmm” of a strutting turkey. They have to be close for you to even hear that sound and there he came strutting down a hill not 20 yards in front of me. The gun was in my lap, but I had not moved and I figured if I just sat completely still he would relax and I could get a shot. But no, after a stare down for a minute or two he got spooky and I could tell I was going to have to make a move if I wanted a shot. I moved, the bird started walking and then trotting away from me, but there was enough of a dip in the ground that from my seated position I could not see the tom’s head again until he was about 35-40 yards and running away from me. That was not a good shot and I did not take it. It was the second shot at a running, not-quite-close-enough tom that I passed on this spring.
The kids and I know we could each get multiple turkey permits each spring, but we really enjoy being able to hunt together and assist each other. Daniel killed his bird earlier (Turkey Report 2015: Henned Up), and then spent much of the rest of this spring’s season helping his sister. My kids are 8 years apart in age. My wife and I did not necessarily plan it that way, but having that much difference in the kid’s ages has been a blessing. Daniel really is a big brother to his sister, and honestly our kids have never had much of the rivalry or fighting that many siblings have. I believe Emily really likes hunting with her big brother, and I am really proud of both of them! When I heard the shotgun go off that morning, I nearly started doing a victory dance myself (I would have, but I did not want to spook any turkeys that might have been close).
So once again that left the old man, me, as the last one to kill a tom. I got to hunt one more evening and morning over an extended Mother’s Day weekend and we needed every minute of it! My son and I found a big tom Sunday evening, thought we might be able to get in front of him and his dozen, thirteen hens, but ended up losing them. Just before sunset I spotted them again, so once again we put ’em to roost and had a plan for the next morning.
You know how that went. . . . We sat up in the perfect position, the tom gobbled 3 times before he flew down, after a bit the hens worked right by us, the tom went the other way, we never saw him–frustrated, again. We watched hens for the rest of the morning, kept waiting for a big tom to show up, but nothing. We did get to see a bobcat, always a notable experience, but about mid-morning decided on one last hour effort to check another property to see what we could find.
We parked, snuck up a canyon looking for birds without spooking them, and were just about to give up and head back when by son spotted some birds up a draw. I wish I had a video of what happened in the next 20-30 minutes. We sat behind some cedars and watched one big tom, a couple jakes and five or six hens feed up on the side of a hill. As we watched I looked down and here comes another big tom strutting through a gap in a stock dam right below. As soon as I saw those two big toms strutting and gobbling, I knew there was going to be a fight! The big toms squared-off, spurs a-flying and wings a-flapping. Then they grabbed each other’s snood, wrapped necks and started the sumo wrestling. Back and forth they went with the two jakes circling them like boys at a schoolyard fight. The hens paid no attention, just kept feeding away from them. After fifteen minutes or so of the battle royale, here comes the winner chasing the loser right towards us, both birds running just as fast as they could go. I thought they were going to run the couple hundred yards right to us, but about half way the pushing and wrestling started again. When all the turkeys went out of sight just around a corner, I got ready and slipped into position as close as I dare. A couple of hens and a jake fed right out in front of me and the next thing I know there was a big tom standing full-strut just through the cedar branches about 10 yards to my left. Time to shoot! I had to pause to wait for that big tom, the winner of the fight, to be where I was not going to kill more than one bird with my shot. He went down at about 30 yards.
Notice the sheds in that picture? Nope, they were not deer sheds, those were elk sheds! They were not big, and they had been busted and chewed up, but they were the first elk sheds we have ever found!
“Hooks” I got “Hooks”! I have not killed a bird with spurs like that for several years. He weighed 20 pounds, had a 9 5/8-inch beard and hooks over 1 1/4 inches! A great bird on a great last minute hunt. I did not have a video camera and camera man to share it with all of you, but I did get to share it with my son!
There is so much more I could tell you about this spring’s turkey season, beautiful places, snakes, hawks, song-birds, butterflies, time spent with friends and most of all with family. The memories will last until next year and long after that. It was all time well spent, time I cannot wait to do again.
Until then, there are fish to be caught!