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The Addiction: Spring Wild Turkey Hunting

Truth be told, I’m finding it difficult to cope as I wait anxiously for Nebraska’s spring wild turkey hunting seasons to arrive. The days are getting longer, we’ve had some of those abnormally warm winter days, and hints of green are emerging on my lawn!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m really looking forward to experiencing the spring migration of waterfowl and sandhill cranes, in addition to hunting snow geese, but it’s hard not to not think about wild turkeys in the springtime when there is a day filled with warm sunshine and calm southwest breezes.

I’m certain that the birds on my hunting properties are still bunched in larger flocks as they were a couple of weeks ago.

It shouldn’t be too much longer before wild turkey courtship rituals enter the picture, right? I know that breeding is dictated by photoperiod (day length or amount of sunlight in a 24-hour period) and is fine tuned by local environmental conditions.

Photo by Greg Wagner.

I realize there’s plenty to do to get ready for Nebraska’s spring wild turkey hunting season openers – Archery/Crossbow – March 25, Youth Shotgun – April 9 and Regular Shotgun – April 16.

While many outdoor enthusiasts begin to prepare for fishing, camping, golfing and other spring pastimes, a word of caution is advised for those gearing up to spring wild turkey hunt.

There needs to be some sort of product manufacturer warning labels on turkey hunting gear (calls, decoys, camouflaged blinds, camouflaged clothing, etc.), seriously! It should read:

Warning: this product may cause extreme hazards to your health and well-being! Expect obsessive behavior, nervousness, insomnia, weight loss, irritability, paranoia,  rapid pulse rates, heart palpitations and occasions of intense euphoria.

Noted turkey hunter and outdoor writer Tom Kelly once wrote, “I do not hunt turkeys because I want to. I hunt them because I have to. I would, really, rather not. But I am helpless in the grip of my compulsion.”

Anyone who has ever spent a gorgeous Nebraska spring morning with their back leaning against the base of a mature hardwood tree, or sitting in a camouflaged blind, using a call and decoys to lure a wild gobbling tom turkey to within shooting range — as he struts almost the entire way — can attest to the addiction of this outdoor lifestyle.

Photo by Greg Wagner.
Photo by Greg Wagner.

There are few outdoor adventures as electrifying as spring wild turkey hunting! But, what makes spring wild turkey hunting so uniquely special?

Let’s explore it.

The antics of the bird imprint the hunter’s psyche. I don’t know of many other game species, maybe except bull elk, that get as wound up as jealous male turkeys do during their mating season. The entire courtship display they put on from gobbling activity to tail fanning, puffing of feathers, strutting, stamping, drumming and fighting is quite something to see and unforgettable!

Photo by Jeff Kurrus.
Photo by Jeff Kurrus.

Calling wild turkeys is like a chess match. They make a move, you make a move. A tom gobbles. Should I call, or not call? The tom gobbles again. Do I continue calling, stop calling altogether or use a different call? The challenge of the hunt is fooling a majestic bird that is wary and elusive. Will I draw him into the decoys or spook him into running over the next ridge?

Every turkey, every hunt is different. Successful turkey hunters know that you have to be willing to adapt strategies quickly. No two toms are the same. No two toms respond to the same call the same way. They all react differently to certain scenarios and conditions. What works to lure one gobbler to within shooting range, may not work for another gobbler in the same location out of the same flock!

Great respect for the quarry. Despite having a brain the size of a peanut, calling a sharp-eyed wild tom turkey with acute hearing close while pretending to be a blob of brush at the base of a tree or in a camouflaged blind is the essential thrill of turkey hunting. While harvesting a bearded bird is an accomplishment, it is secondary. As a friend of mine once said:  “If spring wild turkey hunting was easy none of us would be doing it. It’s the only outdoor activity I am aware of where you come out of the woods and talk favorably about how you were defeated.”

Spring wild turkey hunting is tailor made for youth. There are many reasons that spring wild turkey hunting is wonderful for kids. Among them, the weather is nice, the hunting is exciting with big, vocal, active game birds, and the kids love hunting out of a tent (blind). If there was a certain type of hunting ideal for today’s youth, there’s no doubt it is spring wild turkey hunting!

Turkey isn’t the only delicacy in those woods. A freshly harvested, roasted wild turkey is a delicacy on the dinner table, but there are other delicious wild things that can be found in the woods during the spring wild turkey hunting season. Patches of wild asparagus and morel mushrooms may appear. While you’re trying to locate some birds, keep your eyes peeled amid the leaf matter for these tasty treats in late April or early May in Nebraska.

Photo by Greg Wagner.
Photo by Greg Wagner.

The spring countryside offers a great reality show. Whether it’s the red buds opening or white-tailed deer feeding, spring wild turkey hunting offers one of the best, close-quarter opportunities to watch flora and fauna as the countryside comes alive with lush shades of green. Being a turkey hunter, you’ve blended into your surroundings. You’re sitting, not moving much at all.  You’re quiet. You’re intently surveying the area around you. There is much to witness.

Photo by Greg Wagner.
Photo by Greg Wagner.

Hooked on hunting turkeys in the spring yet?

Nebraska boasts the nation’s best and most liberal wild turkey hunting. Learn more details about our spring seasons by clicking here.

Still not fully convinced to go spring wild turkey hunting? You may want to attend one of these very informative workshops on beginning wild turkey hunting.

Click the link highlighted below to see video of my first wild gobbler harvested with a crossbow during last year’s spring season, courtesy of the Omaha World-Herald.

Nebraska Spring Wild Turkey Hunt (Crossbow).

Remember, time outdoors turkey hunting is time well-spent. Good hunting!


Photo by Greg Wagner.

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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