Home » Research » Panhandle Passages with Justin Haag — Grand Slam? We’ll Settle for an At-bat

Panhandle Passages with Justin Haag — Grand Slam? We’ll Settle for an At-bat

Wild turkeys
At least I was able to take a shot or two with a camera.

After reading numerous wild turkey hunting success stories on the Internet, I figure some might find comfort in hearing from someone who hasn’t been able to bag a tom this season.

Two weekends in a row my 10-year-old son and I have failed to be within range to fire a shot at a tom. The two of us are far from being the most accomplished turkey hunters in the woods, but it seems the gobblers just aren’t as responsive in the Pine Ridge as they have been in recent years at this time of the season.

We had the pleasure of watching a group of about 10 toms and 40 hens fly down from their roosts at sunrise Saturday and put on a grand display in a clearing out of shotgun range … and then march off together, not to be heard from again. We heard nary a gobble the rest of the morning.

While my son is looking to bag his first gobbler, we have opted for calling the birds into a blind instead of a spot-and-stalk approach.

Nebraska Game and Parks Commission biologist Dean Studnicka, who is based in the agency’s Ponderosa Wildlife Management Area field office near Crawford, reinforced my notion that the calling has been tough. He said most of the Pine Ridge success stories he’s heard so far this season have been from those who put the sneak on the birds rather than sit and call.

Studnicka said the late arriving snow has certainly had some effect on the turkeys’ behavior. He expects toms to become increasingly more responsive to calling now that the snow has melted to make it easier for the hens to nest.

Late Sunday morning, after opting to break from the turkeys to wet a fishing line at Fort Robinson State Park, the kids and I encountered a pair of hardcore hunters who had come to northwestern Nebraska from Mississippi and Louisiana. Misery loves company, and the southerners made us feel a little better by assuring us that they had been dealing with the same problem – toms sticking with the hens.

The two gentlemen are among the many hunters who have been attracted to the Pine Ridge for its wealth of public land and abundance of the Merriam’s subspecies of turkey. The Merriam’s, of course, is listed with the Osceola, Rio Grande, and Eastern as requirements to obtain the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Grand Slam. If successful, this will be their second Grand Slam — the first with muzzle-loader shotguns. They’ve hunted at points throughout the South and Midwest this year and said turkeys are behaving oddly in other areas, too.

With the incredible number of birds in the Pine Ridge, though, I’m sure we’ll begin to hear an increasing number of tales about turkey home runs to accompany the stories by those of us who have yet to get an at-bat. Swing away!

Fish with the Family

If you’re in the Scottsbluff area tonight (April 29), get your casting arm loosened up by attending Family Fishing Event sponsored by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. The event is 5-7:30 p.m. at Terry’s Pit in Terrytown.

Along with demonstrations to help folks improve their fishing skills, the event also will pay tribute to the late Jerry Tallmon, an education-minded person who made a lasting mark on the Scottsbluff-Gering angling community. Thanks in large part to the generosity of Tallmon’s family, the former youth fishing instructor’s legacy will live on with a trailer full of supplies to be used for teaching kids to fish.

People such as Tallmon, who pass their fishing heritage to the next generation, are critical to the future of the activity. Brandon Nelson of the Scottsbluff Star-Herald wrote this nice story about him.

Along those lines, the NGPC will continue its mission of educating youth Tuesday and Wednesday, April 30-May 1, when about 715 students from area schools are expected to participate in the fifth annual Outdoor Discovery Program at the Scottsbluff Trails West YMCA Camp.

Weather permitting, students in fifth through seventh grades will be exposed to activities for archery, kayaking, fishing, wildlife, air guns, camping games, outdoor cooking, water quality, climbing and more.

Thanks to all of the activity leaders who have signed up to help the kids develop an appreciation for the outdoors. Your work will pay big dividends.

Nebraska’s Big Game

I recently had the pleasure of assisting Todd Nordeen, NGPC northwest district wildlife manager, and agency video specialist Ralph Wall to create a short film highlighting the incredible successes in management of Nebraska’s big game species. The video serves as a good reminder of how far the state has come in this arena. Not to mention, it features NGPC public information officer Greg Wagner doing a remarkable impression of Teddy Roosevelt. (Go Wags!) Give it a watch.

Justin Haag of Chadron is a public information officer for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and regional editor for NEBRASKAland magazine. He can be reached at justin.haag@nebraska.gov or 308-430-8515.

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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