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Turkey Down

Nebraska’s spring turkey season has been open for several weeks now.  Oh yes, I have been out, have had success.  In fact, I punched a tag back a few weeks, but have been busy blogging about other “stuff”.  Time to change that.

I have always said that the key to successful spring turkey hunting is scouting, scouting and more scouting.  If you can hunt and scout the same areas over time, over several seasons, you will accumulate a wealth of “intelligence”.  You will know areas the birds frequent and they often frequent the same areas from year to year.  Sure, cropping patterns and other changes in habitat will change the behavior of the birds.  On the other hand, I know spots that just tend to attract turkeys year after year.

I scouted one of those spots before this year’s spring season.  I like to find spots with good visibility and just sit and watch.  It did not take long to spot birds; saw at least a couple jakes and four big toms before our spring shotgun season opened.  That got me fired up, as my son said, “It’s on!”

If you have read any of my turkey hunting blogs in recent years, you know I can be very casual in my hunting.  Nebraska’s spring turkey season lasts weeks and I like to enjoy my hunts.  Dawn no doubt is the best time to hear toms gobble, one of the best times to locate birds, but not necessarily the best time to get birds to come to a call.  I love being able to slip out for midday or evening hunts, fitting in hunts whenever I have time.

I pitched out a couple of decoys the first evening I hunted.  Plopped down in a spot that frequently holds birds, the spot where I scouted birds before the opener.

It was not long after getting set up when I heard yelping to the west of me.  I do not know how there could have been turkeys to the west of me, I just hiked through there to get to my hunting spot, but that is where they were.

I would just as soon have a hen turkey respond to my calling as a tom.  If I can call in a hen, then I have a live “decoy” working for me, and they often drag a big tom along with them.  When I heard a hen yelping I yelped back.  We had a short conversation, I am fluent in turkese.  In a few minutes I saw her feeding my way.  She fed right to my decoys and then spent quite a bit of time loafing and feeding right in front of me.  I was worried she might peck at my boot strings; that is how much she was “in my lap”.

After a short while I could see there were a couple more birds that had followed the hen.  They were standing off about thirty yards away.  Once I got a good look, I could see they were jakes.

The decoys I had deployed were a jake and feeding hen.  Apparently, the two jakes were worried that my decoy jake was big enough to kick their butts.

Eventually, they worked up their courage and came posturing over to my jake decoy.  Then, one jake acted as wingman while the other sized up the decoy.

One reason I love hunting turkeys in the spring is the birds themselves are entertaining.  I love watching their behavior, especially the social behavior during the spring breeding season.  Jakes are young toms, not quite old enough to have it all figured out, yet.  They are very much like teenage boys.

So, these two jakes sized up my jake decoy.  One backed the other up the whole time, but the leader still had to work up some courage.  My jake decoy is tough.  He would start to peck at the decoy’s head, but no, he thought better of it.  He would feign throwing a punch, a peck, at the decoy’s head.  This went on for several minutes, until finally, the first peck landed.  The decoy did not peck him back, so it was on!  He stood and pecked my decoy’s head over and over and over again.

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Eventually, the hen fed off and left.  The jakes stayed, peck, peck, peck on my decoy’s head.  You can tell that at some point I squirmed around to reach my camera and take pictures.  They did not care, all they did was stand there to intimidate my decoy.

I could hear gobbles off to the east, but the end of legal shooting time was approaching rapidly.  At sunset the big toms still had not shown, but the jakes would not leave.  At that point I wanted to grab my decoys and get out of sight to let the big toms come in and go to roost without spooking them.

The jakes would not leave.

I stood up.  They continued to peck.  I walked out, not five yards away.  They continued their deliberations with my decoy.

I wondered if I might be able to tackle one?

Finally, they noticed me and shied off a few yards.  Then, they turned and came right back to the jake decoy.

“Shhhewww, you guys gotta go, get outta here!”

Ultimately, they walked off.  They never did seem scared, maybe a little bit confused, but not scared.

I hurriedly grabbed my decoys and headed for the brush.  Not two minutes after I ducked into cover, the first big tom flew up to roost in branches just above and to the east of where the decoys had been sitting.  “Whew, at least I didn’t spook the big toms from their roost”!

I waited until it got darker and then snuck out.  The gobblers were lighting it up from their branches.

Next afternoon I was out to the same area.  It was earlier in the day and I was not sure where to start.  I was hoping the turkeys would give me a sign. . . .

I started for another spot that was a good one to sit and call, watch and listen.  A turkey gobbled just before I got there.  Perfect!  I knew exactly where they were.  Obviously, I could not get there without spooking them, but I knew I could get to my spot and it was close enough to perhaps call one in.

That is what I did.  Quickly, I placed the two decoys out again.  Before I could sit on my butt pad, I heard another gobble, this one even closer!  I sat down, yelped on my mouth call and got a response.  He had heard me, he knew where I was!

It was not a long wait.  Within ten minutes I could hear drumming behind me.  He was close.  “Don’t move.”

I have ended up with turkeys strutting right behind me many times in my turkey hunting career.  When it happens it can be stressful.  You do not want to move a muscle, don’t even breath.  You try your hardest to melt into the cedar tree where you are sitting.  I have even tried to turn my eye-balls 180 degrees to look through the back of my head.  Time stands still.  A meadowlark larks.

You might think I am nuts, I am, but when I am that close to game and I do not want to be seen, I drop my head.  I drop my head down far enough that the bill of my cap covers my eyes.  Whatever happens, no matter how close they get, I do not want to make eye contact with them.  I hide my eyes.

There was more drumming behind me.  I could feel it through the cedar tree trunk and onto my back.

I peaked out under my cap on the left side and noticed a hen turkey standing on the edge of the field in front of me.  There was my left foot, and there was the hen.

I kept my eyes covered, but underneath my facemask I was grinning from ear to ear.  If that hen was going into the field in front of me, Tom was going to follow.

She started feeding into the field.  Then there he was, a big, black, strutting blob in the corner of my left eye.  He strutted right by me to the edge of the field.  I could have swung my gun barrel over and hit him with it.

Then he went strutting right to the jake decoy.  This big Tom was not afraid of that plastic jake.  He knew he could take him.  He started to tower over him to deliver what the interloper had coming to him.

I leaned a little to my right so I had a clear shot.  The ole Browning 16 gauge barked again, and another Nebraska Tom tipped onto his chin.

Thirteen steps right in front of me.

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Had to take some photos right at the spot. Jake decoy is a little askew.

21 pounds, 9 1/4-inch beard, 13/16 and 14/16 inch spurs, 4:50 in the afternoon.

A more “formal” portrait:

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My son and I have not been able to hunt together this spring.  We are miles apart.  But, as you are well aware, cell phones keep us connected.  The text messages are short and sweet.  There will be time for talking and telling stories later.  No, once I get back to the pickup and get the phone turned on, I only need a couple of words, “Turkey down.”

A day later, towards evening.  I got a text from him.

“Turkey down.”

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It has been a great spring!

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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