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Never Too Late To Start (Turkey) Hunting

I have always held the opinion that younger adults are a portion of the population that could be recruited into the lifestyle of hunting. After all, they have time and money to spend on it. They just need someone to guide them through the process of becoming a hunter, and then, of course, to take them to the field.

I believe involving younger adults could prove to be one of the quickest and most cost-effective ways to generate a new hunter. Think about it. Unlike kids, they have the decision-making authority necessary to hunt, can buy the required permits/stamps, equipment, etc., have their own transportation, and most importantly are coming to us wanting to learn to hunt and have the opportunity to harvest their own healthy, free-ranging meat.

Most hunters though come to the hunting lifestyle as youth, picking up and carrying on their family’s traditions; research indicates that far fewer take it up later in their lives, or, do they?

As with anything there are exceptions to every rule or statistic.

One hunter who reflects the notion that it’s never too late to start hunting is my oldest son, Zachary.

This 28-year-old has had some exposure to hunting.  But, like many others around his age, my son has undergone the busy life syndrome. In high school, Zachary was consumed with academics as well as running cross-country in the fall and track in the spring, plus having a part-time job. After graduating, Zachary went off to college, running cross-country there and spending  four semesters studying abroad in Europe and Mexico. Subsequently, in the years that followed, there was graduate school, full-time employment, marriage and a child.

It’s 5 a.m. on Sunday, May 22, 2016.

He’s ready to go, camo, shotgun, permit and all.

No blind, no decoys, just calls. It will be pure, old-school spring wild turkey hunting this morning.

This is Zachary Wagner’s first-ever spring wild turkey hunt.

We drive to our destination which is a small, private farm in the rolling hills and wooded valleys of northern Douglas County, NE.

I know the birds are here. I have patterned them in the days before Zachary’s hunt.

On the drive, amid our conversation and my last-minute hunting tips, my mind drifts.

I want Zachary to hear the gobbles while the toms and jakes are on their roosts in the woods across from us. I want him to be able to see the birds perched on the higher limbs of the cottonwoods and hackberries and watch them fly to the ground to begin their day. I want him to marvel at a gorgeous, unparalleled Nebraska spring sunrise. I want him to experience nature up close.

Well concealed, we sit together with our backs against mature hardwood trees in the canopy of woodlands along the edge of an open, grassy area.

The sun rises and time passes as a myriad of songbirds are noted among the numerous turkey gobbles and hen yelps heard.

A small group of hens and a large adult tom come into view. We watch them for almost an hour at about the length of a football field. The hens work closer to us while the tom goes another direction to approach a different group of hens. Bummer, that was a big tom!

The hens are now within 15 yards of us. Four of them. What a sight for Zachary to see!

The hens eventually move off.

There’s a brief break in the action. So, we stand up, stretch and sip some hot coffee.

Back at it, back in position.

We no sooner sit down and start calling, when two jakes appear.

WOW! They are really close to us! Less than 10 yards, we are undetected.

The jakes separate.

Zach safely points his shotgun at the slightly bigger one.

BAM! The blast echoes through the valley!

Success and a thrilled hunter!

I offer enthusiastic congratulatory remarks and a hug!

Zachary punches the tag on his permit to cancel it.

I take pics of him with his jake.

He field dresses the bird.

We thank the landowner for letting us hunt on his property and then make our way home to clean the turkey and save a feather or two from it.

We soak the meat of it in a salt water/minced garlic brine solution.

There will be Creole-seasoned, charcoal-grilled, boneless wild turkey breasts for dinner tonight prepared by my son!

Quite a first-time hunt, wouldn’t you say?

Zachary says he’s hooked on spring wild turkey hunting! I plan to purchase another permit for him so he can go out a couple of more times before the season ends at sunset on Tuesday, May 31.

Hopefully, he’ll take his dad with him.

Zachary Wagner poses with the very nice jake he harvested during Nebraska's 2061 Spring Wild Turkey Hunting Season.
Zachary Wagner of Omaha, NE proudly displays the very nice young male (jake) wild turkey he harvested during Nebraska’s 2016 Spring Wild Turkey Hunting Season. Photo by Greg Wagner.

Spring wild turkey hunting provides an outdoor encounter that is rivaled by few others and is about many things.

It is about being embedded in nature in the springtime.

American Robin. Photo by Greg Wagner.

It is about exquisite sunrises and sunsets.

Sunrise during a spring wild turkey hunt in eastern Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner.

It is about playing a direct role in helping to maintain the balance of our ecosystems and adhering to the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. It is about our preserving our rich heritage of hunting. It is about enhancing positive human interactions and relationships. It is about making lifetime memories and having fun stories to tell.

Hen wild turkey in roost tree. Photo by Greg Wagner.

It is about the excitement and challenge of calling male wild turkeys to within shooting range on their home turf.

Pair of young male (jake) wild turkeys. Photo by Greg Wagner

It is about having the privilege to harvest something that is fundamentally organic to eat.

Baked wild turkey breast. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Congratulations and welcome to the addiction, Zachary!

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Communications and Marketing Specialist and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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