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Friday the 13th

Our spring turkey season is winding down, but I am not quite done blogging about it yet.  Got another report, another story to tell. . . .

You may recall that my daughter was the first one to take a shot at a turkey this spring, Spring Turkey Report, Manure Spreader Bird.  Misses happen, and they mean we get to hunt longer; in fact it seems like we always have to work hard to get another opportunity after an early season miss.  It has happened that way often enough that even though I am not superstitious, I am thinking about it.  My son and I each punched tags this spring with some effort, but we did not work exceptionally hard.  Emily has hunted for three weeks after missing her big Tom.

I always tell my kids that the permits are theirs, the hunt is theirs, it will be what they want it to be.  I do not want to push them to the point where they are not enjoying it.  My son, Daniel, and I are “gung-ho” and feel like we need to be chasing gobblers every minute we can.  During spring turkey season, I wake early every morning with gobbling turkeys on my mind.  Emily is more casual, will hunt when we have time, takes it easy, hates getting up early, and loves hunting evenings.  I will admit her approach drives her brother and dad crazy at times, but I will also admit that I thoroughly enjoy hunting with her, appreciate her approach and hope I have learned some things from it.

A couple of weeks ago we hunted every evening except one.  All of those evenings were enjoyable and there were a couple of them where we believed shooting a big Tom was imminent.  But, we could not close the deal.  Going into that weekend, we thought Emily would be ready to hunt harder, longer, but she was ready for a break.  So, we took a break.  In fact we did not hunt turkeys for five days!  Yes, Daniel and I were having withdrawals, I was shaking and could not sleep, but Emily knew exactly what she was doing.

After the sabbatical, her and I slipped out for another evening hunt.  We returned to a familiar spot, one where we often hunt, one where scouting and experience has taught us the birds like to hang out.  I had a spot in mind that evening where we would sit, but spotted a hen feeding there already.  My rule #1 is to not spook turkeys (SHHHHHH!), so we snuck into a nearby alternate spot and sat our butts down.  It was an excellent spot to sit and listen, a good spot to figure out what “our” turkeys were doing after not being with them for five days.  Unfortunately, except for the hen we spotted when we first got there, we neither saw nor heard another turkey for the next hour and a half.  My mind was beginning to wonder which other hunting spots we were going to have to go to, or where the turkeys had gone?

Then a big strutting Tom appeared in the field in front and off to the left of us.  He gobbled at my calling a couple of times, but would not step our way.  The hen he was escorting then appeared and we knew why big boy was not going to strut up the hill to us.  In the next half-hour that evening, a couple more hens showed up, and after hearing another Tom gobble a few times saw a couple of Jakes and him come walking out of the creek bottom.  We watched them all fly up to roost that evening.

We did not punch Emily’s tag that evening, but the birds we saw had me fired up.  I thought Emily might even want to get up early the next morning to get back on ’em, or perhaps sleep in and slip out for a mid-morning hunt.  Nope.  It would be good enough for Emily if we just went out again the next evening.

Now, I rambled about that unsuccessful evening for a couple of reasons.  First, all the calls, decoys, and other turkey hunting gear are just tools.  They all will work at the right time and place, but none of them will guarantee a turkey within shotgun range.  No matter how much of that gear you have, nor how proficiently you can use it, it still comes down to understanding the birds, knowing where they are likely to be and what they are likely to be doing.  That last unsuccessful evening told us there were still birds in the area, there were at least two mature Toms there, they were still with at least a few hens, and there were a couple of annoying Jakes hanging around with them.

Even if Emily wanted to wait until the next evening, I knew exactly where we would be and exactly how we would hunt!

And what a hunt that proved to be!  It seems that the harder we have to hunt, the greater the reward!

Daniel joined us for the next evening’s hunt.  It was a little breezy, 25-35 mph with gusts to 505 mph!  Didn’t mean nothing.

We sat up where those turkeys hung out the night before, and knowing that there were hens and Jakes with at least two big Toms, we broke out a couple of decoys.  I love using decoys for turkeys in the spring and they can work great.  On the other hand, there are times and situations when the birds just do not come to them.  For example, when most of the hens are laying or incubating, the Toms tire of chasing calling hens that will not come to them, and in fact they become accustomed to hens avoiding them.  At those times they may come within a hundred yards of a hen decoy, but then they strut, out of range, and expect if she wants his company that she will go to him.  A hunter can be more successful without any hen decoys at those times.  Likewise, having watched the big Toms chasing a couple of pestering, “teenager”, Jakes around, I knew a Jake decoy would be effective.

We threw two decoys out, a hen and a Jake, settled in, slipped off my vest, yelped on my mouth call one time, looked up the hill and saw two red heads peaking over!  Emily did not believe me when I told her that I had two turkeys spotted already.  The two Jakes instantly appeared and came walking/blowing down the hill to us.  They hung out with the decoys a little while and then, drifted/blew south of us.

Not five minutes later a hen came out and fed over the hill to the north of us.  And then two more hens appeared just west of us.  They kept feeding our way, and when they were 80 yards or so away one of them started yelping.  So, I yelped back to her. . . . And here they came!

It is all about the pecking order with turkeys.  Much of their behavior and interactions are dictated by each bird’s social position.  For some reason, the two hens that I had called to were heat-seeking missiles right to our hen decoy, and they were not happy with her.  First, the pushing started, and since the decoy was on a stake, the upset hen pushed that decoy around and around and around.  Her “BFF” stood right beside and backed her up with some angry purring and clucking.

Then she started pecking our hen decoy on its head.  Peck, peck, peck, and then grab its head, poke its eye and push it around and around.

All of this was happening 10 yards in front of Emily and me.  With the hens making a commotion, I knew those Jakes behind us would be back.  Sure enough, not 5 yards off to our right, the Jakes come walking back through the grass.  Then they stood there with the one hen watching the other one work over our hen decoy.

This went on for over a half-hour.  We know because we looked at our watches.  One hen pecking and trying to push our hen decoy over, the other birds casually standing around, feeding, relaxing.  That angry hen pushed our hen decoy three inches farther into the ground.  She wore down a path around the decoy.

Two deer came out of the trees and joined the show.

Every once in awhile the wind would gust so hard that the cedar tree Emily and I were sitting up against became a recliner.

While this was going on I had quit calling–we had live decoys in our decoy spread, and who needed to call?  Finally, while continuing to watch the hen fight right in front of us, I decided to start calling again because the real birds were not making much noise especially with the wind howling like it was.  I kept telling Emily that a big Tom was going to show up any minute.

I thought I heard a gobble.

And then, there he was, walking full strut out of the creek bottom not 80 yards in front of us.

And here he came straight for the party!

I told Emily to get on him.  At 25 yards and still coming, I putt-ed on the call to get him to stop and put his head in the air.  Emily was supposed to take the shot then, but she hesitated wondering if he was in range?!

“Yes, he’s in range!  I wouldn’t tell you to shoot if he wasn’t in range!”

He’s still coming, “Shoot ’em, shoot ’em now!”

BOOM.  Turkey down!
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During pre-season scouting we spotted a big Tom with a really thick beard.  He appeared to be the dominant bird in the area.  Emily got him!  The beard was not long, a little over 8 inches, but what a brush!  He weighed 20 pounds and had the approximately 1/2-inch spurs of a 2-year old Tom.  During scouting I also noticed this bird had a bit of a limp; we did not see him limp last Friday night, but he had some big “knots” on his left foot where I am betting broken bones had healed.

My kids and I could hunt more, we could each have up to three permits a piece each spring, but we have settled for less than that each of the past several springs.  Those are all the turkeys we need, it is about the quality of the hunt, and respect for the game.  Maybe Emily has taught us to slow down, to enjoy the experience, to savor the time we get to hunt together, especially in the evenings?!

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A hunt we will never forget!
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That’s my girl!

About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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