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The Casual Turkey Hunter

I hesitate to post this blog.  It may get me drummed out of the spring turkey hunting corps.

You see, I seldom rise before dawn to hunt spring gobblers anymore.  Over the years, I have gotten up early less and less.  Sitting in the “woods” at dawn listening to a turkey gobble from his roost is the quintessential turkey hunt.

It also results in sleep deprivation.

This bad habit really got started while hunting with my daughter.  When she has a spring turkey tag, it is her hunt.  Her brother and I love to assist, but we want her to enjoy it.  Emily is not a fan of early mornings.  We have had her out for the sunrise a few times, but she would much rather take it more casually.  She loves evening hunts.

Admittedly, that has driven her brother and me crazy a few times.  However, in the process I believe we have learned to enjoy our hunts even more, and our success has been no less.  In fact, our success has been even better.

I can think of a lot of early mornings when I was “on” a roosted bird.  I also can think of a lot of those mornings when that “sure-fire” plan for the early morning hunt did not work.  Invariably, those roosted toms ended up going the other direction in pursuit of real flesh-and-feather hens.  Do not get me wrong, sunrise is THE best time to hear toms gobble.  For locating birds, you want to be in the field before the sun rises.

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If you want to kill spring toms, there are better times.

Take my day of hunting last week as an example. . . . I am not even going to tell you exactly how late I got to my hunting spot.  Now, I will admit that I have an advantage hunting the same places that I have for years.  I have always said THE KEY to hunting spring gobblers is scouting, scouting, and more scouting.  When you are done with that, scout some more.  Knowing the area, I had an idea of some midday loafing spots, open timber with nice green grass, places where some lonely gobblers would be hanging out.  My plan was to spend some time sitting, calling and slowly working my way through that habitat.

I set up in my first spot.  If you have hunted spring turkeys, you know the feeling when you think you heard a gobble, but are not quite sure.  I had that feeling right after sitting down.  Then I was sure I heard a turkey gobble, but was not sure where he was.  I had to move, had to get someplace where I could hear better.

After standing, I could tell the gobbling was east of me.  “Right where that Tom has been hanging out all spring.  I will slip down there, set out the decoys and see what happens.”

I moved a hundred yards or so; got to the spot I had in mind.  A turkey gobbled, close, just out of sight.  Another one gobbled a little farther off to my left.  “Hurry up, get set up, get sit down, call.”

The birds answered me, but they would not close the distance.  From what I could tell, they were on the edge of the field to my north.  Eventually, the gobbles sounded like they were heading away from me.  “Time to make a move again.”

I should have stayed where I was, but I thought they were moving off.  I wanted to re-position to see if I could get them to come.  As I got to the edge of the field, I glimpsed a turkey hurrying away from me.  “AAAArrrggggghhhhhhh!  Spooked them.”

All I got was a good look at two big toms as they trotted over the hill heading north.  I should have known at midday they were there all the time.  With some patience I might have worked them in.

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Greg Wagner photo.

My number one rule while hunting turkeys is “whatever you do, do not spook them.”  Well, that was out the window.  Now what?

That’s easy, keep hunting!

The last thing I wanted to do was go after those spooked toms.  Leave ’em alone and they will not go far, then they will settle down.  I could come back and hunt them later.  So, I started the opposite direction.  I went south and found another good loafing spot to set up and spend some time.

Again, after a short sit, I thought I heard a turkey gobble.  By that time the wind was blowing hard enough that I was again not sure.  I sat longer; called occasionally.  Close to an hour after sitting down another gobble rang out, this time no mistake about it!

I strained to look through the trees expecting to see a tom coming my way.  Eventually I could see him on the other side of the creek; he would strut a little, then stand and look.

He kept answering my soft-calling, and I knew there was still a good chance he would end up standing in front of me.  I expected him to work back behind me to cross the creek, but tracking the frequent gobbling I finally concluded he went downstream and then across.

The gobbling got really close, in-my-face close.  Finally, Tom was strutting 20 yards in front of me.  Problem was I was looking through cedar branches and brush to see him.

The decoys, a jake and a hen, were off to my left and I expected him to strut over to them.  He would not.  Stood where he was, strutting.  Close enough I could hear him spit and drum.

Could not shoot through all the brush.

I had worked him for over an hour.  Then, we had another hour of “stand-off” where he stood and strutted right in front of me, but I had no shot.

Eventually, he wandered off and plopped down in the shade for an afternoon siesta.  I had blown another chance.

By that time it was time for a quick break, some fluids and food, so I could be back out for the evening hunt.  I sped home for a cheesesteak and limeade then headed right back to the turkey woods.

If you are still reading, what happened next is even more embarrassing. . . .

I parked in my usual spot, started gearing up, and yet another Tom gobbled to the west of me.  “OK, I know where he is, know where I am going to go.”

I walked fifty yards from the pickup, set the decoys in some green grass.  Called, got an immediate answer.  Found a tree, sat down.  Five minutes later he gobbled again, this time only half as far away.  “He’s coming!”

Another five minutes and I could see him working my way through the trees.  He would strut a bit, but on he came.  He worked to an opening a little off to my right.  I re-positioned when he went out of sight.

Once more, I expected him to hit the opening and head for the decoys.  But, again, he could see the decoys, but all he would do was stand and strut.  I looked him over, made sure he had a long beard.  He puffed out into a strut, I made my move.  He took another look at the decoys, I pulled the trigger.  Twenty-five yards, tipped him onto his chin.  Never knew what hit him.

I had walked fifty yards from the pickup; hunted fifteen minutes.

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18.3 pounds, 8 1/4-inch beard, spurs just a freckle more than 3/4 inches.  Not the biggest bird I have killed by any means, but I will take him!

One of the things I love so much about spring turkey hunting is that it can seem impossible, like you will never kill a bird.  Then, in a flash, you find the right bird in the right situation, and it is easy.  They come in strutting and gobbling just like they are supposed to.  You just gotta stay after ’em, stay in the field, stay confident, until it happens.

When it does, there is no greater feeling in the world.  I do not care how easy it was; worth every minute of the hours put in until it was!

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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