Please allow me to interrupt my usual subject material here on my blog. . . . It is turkey season and my mind can only concentrate on one thing at a time. Right now it bounces back and forth between spring turkey hunting, mushroom picking and fishing.
Every morning I hear the birds singing, they may not be turkeys and I may be in the middle of town, but as soon as I hear them, my ears are straining to hear the gobble of a turkey, wherever I may be. My mind is pretty much on turkeys all of the time right now, so let me ramble about spring turkey hunting.
Let me tell you what I consider to be THE most important thing to be successful taking a big spring Tom. No, I am not going to talk about expert calling, realistic decoys, blinds, chokes, sights, shells, camouflage, or any other gear.
My Number One, #1, “numero uno“, rule for hunting spring turkeys is (drum roll for effect, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum,…..), DON’T SPOOK ‘EM!
“Duh, thanks Captain Obvious”.
Yes, take Elmer Fudd’s advice!
But, it is a lot more than that.
My turkey season every year starts well before I ever carry a shotgun into the field (if you are from back east, you can say “into the woods” if you wish, but even when turkey hunting in Nebraska, “into the field” makes more sense). My favorite way to scout is to find a spot where I have good visibility as well as good listening, plop my butt down, sit, watch, listen, learn. The last thing I want to do is “bust” or spook turkeys. I want them to follow their daily routines naturally without any interference. That is the best way to pattern the birds, to figure out where they want to be and where they want to go.
My philosophy is much the same when my intent turns towards actually harvesting a bird. Obviously, I have to get a lot closer to the turkeys to get a big Tom within shotgun range, but my priority then is still to do that as much as possible without spooking birds. If I have done my homework while scouting, I do not want to alter the turkeys routines and behaviors. And, I for sure do not want to scare the birds onto another property where I cannot hunt or even into another area where I have to start all over finding them and figuring out what they are doing.
Admittedly, my hunting style is less aggressive than some. I know there are times when a hunter needs to be more aggressive to be successful, but, I would much rather start easy and become more aggressive when that time comes.
A few years ago while on a hunt in south-central Nebraska I was helping a couple of guys fill their tags. We killed a mature Tom in early morning, stayed put and almost got another one in the exact same place. Late in the morning the birds moved, we knew where they were and I had a couple of anxious hunters that were ready to go after them. Instead, I told them we would leave ’em be, take a break for lunch and come back later. I knew going after those birds where they were late that morning was more likely to end up with a bunch of scared turkeys than it was another big Tom in the bag. We eased out, came back that afternoon and immediately got on another mature Tom that was gobbling and callable. That was turkey #2 down, and we managed to take two more in the same area the next day. Yes, there was an excellent population of turkeys there, but we also were able to keep from spooking them out of the area, and with some patience were able to be successful on multiple birds.
When you bump a bird
Most parts of Nebraska have enough turkeys now that it is inevitable that you will stumble into some birds and spook them–it happens no matter how good your hunting skills are. When that does happen, again, I often plop my butt down, sit, watch and listen.
Turkeys are good to eat and you better believe everything likes to eat them; they dodge a variety of predators every day of their lives. I know this will contradict some of the things I just said, but if you do spook a bird or birds, stop, sit, let ’em go. They do not necessarily run around panicked after being spooked. Most predators will continue in pursuit and as long as they are pursued the turkeys will keep right on going. However, if you do not pursue them, they often sneak into the nearest cover, or just over the next ridge, and then they stop, watch and listen for something to come after them. If they are not pursued, they will calm down and go back to their daily routine.
After bumping birds, I will even check my watch and tell myself to wait at least 30 minutes before moving again. There have been times when I have seen Toms shot at, missed, and after 30 minutes start gobbling again and even come back to where they just dodged a load of shot.
After the shot
If everything goes well, you eventually will put yourself in position to make a shot. Most of us will be out of our minds with excitement when it all comes together. “Boom, Turkey Down!” Now what?
You will think I am crazy, but if you made the shot, you can see the bird is down for good, be calm as possible. Yes, naturally when a gun goes off close by, the birds will spook, but not necessarily. My daughter actually clean missed the first turkey she ever shot at, but the Tom and the Jake that was with him never even flinched. They completely acted like nothing ever happened. Emily stayed calm too, and I instructed her to aim, “Shoot ’em again”! The second shot did not miss.
You or one of your partners may have another permit or two to fill. Sometimes, by staying calm, you may double up on birds at the same time. Or, at the very least the rest of the birds in a flock will only drift off a short distance after the shot. Either way, if you do not make the birds panic, you have a much better chance to get another one, maybe immediately, maybe in a few hours, maybe even in a few days. Again, you want the birds to stay and act as naturally as possible–rule #1, don’t spook them!
Of course, if you need to get on a bird to make the recovery, by all means, GET ON ‘EM! And, believe me, I have seen lots of happy hunters begin the whooping, hollering, fist-pumping, high-fives, and dancing immediately after making a shot–that is all good too. But, you might be able to capitalize even more, if you wish, by spooking the birds as little as possible.
Like fishing, I will tell you that the only thing I know for sure is that you cannot catch fish, or kill turkeys, by sitting at home on the couch. Sometimes you just have to put in your time, just be out there, and eventually you will be in the right place at the right time. Your chances will be a lot better if you do not make wrong moves, spook birds, even if you do not necessarily make all of the right moves.
Most springs I spend at least some time hunting turkeys on public land. There are some public lands in Nebraska that offer great turkey hunting. But, it amazes and frustrates me at the walkers, butterfly chasers (I am not kidding), bike-riders, target shooters, mushroom pickers, and yes, even other hunters that pretty much spend most of their time scaring all the turkeys, and other wildlife, into the next county. Sometimes I sit and watch ’em all go running by. It does not take a bunch of equipment, gear or gimmicks, to make your time in the field as enjoyable and successful as possible, in fact it is just some old-fashioned, primitive, ancestral, hunting skills–first of all, don’t spook ’em!