Once again this blog will be interrupted from its usual fish and fishing content because its author has been distracted by gobbling turkeys. Actually, Nebraska’s spring turkey season has been ongoing for several weeks now, about time to give a report. . . .
One advantage that Nebraska offers spring turkey hunters is the ability to hunt statewide on the same permit. Each spring I enjoy some casual hunts close to home, when time allows, as well as some more serious, hard-core, weekend trips to western parts of our great state. Again hitting on the theme of diversity that Nebraska offers, it is a blast to hunt turkeys in a variety of habitats from eastern Nebraska hardwoods and farms to western Nebraska canyons with red cedars or even Ponderosa pines. The birds are diverse too, from beautiful eastern “chocolate” Toms to white-tipped Merriams and everything including Rios in between. I love ’em all!
I am a failed archery hunter. One spring years ago, when we still had limited permit numbers, I did not draw a shotgun tag, so I limbered up the ole recurve and hunted with a bow that entire season. Oh sure, I flung arrows at several toms, but missed ’em all.
Have been hunting with a shotgun ever since.
So, my season starts every year in April with the opening of Nebraska’s spring shotgun season. It is a long season, so I try to be casual and enjoy it as much as possible. If the weather is terrible, there will be better days. If I have a few hours to slip out in the evening, I will slip out.
Hunted a big Tom in eastern Nebraska first. I will always tell you that the key to being a successful spring turkey hunter is scouting–time in the field learning where the birds are and what they are doing is crucial. Much of that begins before the season ever opens, but certainly the more time spent in the field during the actual hunt, the more that is learned and the more likely success comes. My son and I knew of a big Tom hanging out in a spot we have often hunted, and from year to year, good spots are good spots. One evening solo hunt was spent set up in a prime corner of a field where hens often feed and Toms often strut. I got a Tom to gobble in response to my yelping soon after I got set up that evening, and I gotta admit things were looking good. He was gobbling, would immediately answer my calling, and he was getting closer. Alas, instead of coming to the field edge where he could see my Jake and hen decoys, he stayed in the creek bottom, likely less than a hundred yards away, but in the timber where he kept gobbling and cruised right by me heading south. That was all she wrote for that evening.
A couple of nights later my son joined me. I know our weather this spring, especially early spring was often cold and crummy, but this particular evening was beautiful, the quintessential spring turkey hunting weather. As soon as we got in the field we could hear our Tom gobbling again, same spot as before.
So we connived a plan. . . .
I would set up as I had before and see if on this evening the big Tom would end up coming to my calling. In case he did the same thing he did on the previous hunt, my son planned to stay in the creek bottom, stay to the south.
I sat up and called. Immediately the Tom gobbled back. “Here we go!” I thought.
Just like before, I would call, he would answer, getting closer all the time. I knew at any minute he was going to pop out on the field edge and come strutting right into my setup, but again he stayed in the creek bottom and was proceeding to cruise right by me. I tried everything I could think of to get him to break and come to the field edge. Nothing doing.
Then he was by me, still gobbling, still headed south. Alone, I shrugged my shoulders and grinned.
I waited ten minutes and then whispered to myself, “Shoot straight, Daniel, aim small, miss small.”
Almost immediately the Tom gobbled again and then I could hear some clucking in the creek bottom to the south of me.
One single shot is always good news. I sat still for another ten minutes or so and then stood and looked back to the south. I spotted my son come out of the creek bottom a hundred or so yards away. “Thumbs up”!
Daniel’s bird weighed a little over 21 pounds; had the 3/4-inch spurs of a 2-year old Tom, and a beard in the 9-inch range. Very respectable bird.
My son never called once to that bird. With my calling and the Tom answering, he knew exactly where he was. Some scratching in the leaves was all he needed to do to pull him right into his lap!
We were both busy the next morning, so after the picture-taking we headed for home so we could get the bird cleaned. It was a good night, a very good night!
There is no doubt that our cold, snowy spring pushed the calendar back on the turkey spring breeding cycle. When I got “out west” the birds were still in big bunches and the hunting was tough. There had been snow on the ground there only a week before. We watched 26 birds go to roost together the first evening, toms, hens, jakes, the whole flock. I knew I had two boys from Iowa who were not going to sleep much that night!
Spring turkey hunters have a verse, “roosted ain’t roasted” and that is the truth. The next morning we sat up close to the birds we had roosted the night before. Just before sunrise, all twenty-six turkeys pitched out of the roost trees into the green field in front of us and proceeded to parade by, just out of range, headed for the next field over. When the birds are bunched like that, the toms follow the hens wherever they go. If you get close, within their “bubble” of a hundred yards or so, you might pull a Tom away from the flock, but usually it is a matter of frustration as the hens go where they wish towing the toms along behind them. In those conditions, you either get ahead of them, get in a spot where they will be going, or you have little chance.
We had no chance the rest of that day, except for a lone Jake that I called in twice, but it was early in the hunt and Dustin was holding out for a bigger bird.
That evening we watched ’em all swing by just out of range heading back to roost. I pulled another Jake from the flock right to us, and thought for a second that a couple of big toms were going to follow.
The next morning, they dropped out of the roost trees instead of gliding into the field in front of us, and again made a bee-line past us, this time on the other side, but still just out of range.
Most of the rest of the morning we could do nothing more than watch ’em from a distance as they fed in a field where it was impossible for us to make a move on them. Mid-morning we watched as a hen and big Tom got spooked away from the flock–sometimes busting ’em up can work in your favor.
I watched the hen and Tom run and then walk across a field and disappear into a windbreak of trees to the east of us. I knew once they got into that cover they would quit running and settle down. I waited about twenty minutes and then told Buck, “come on, let’s go kill that Tom”.
We slipped over to the windbreak, put out one hen decoy and got hid. We sat and I softly yelped for an hour. Nothing.
I knew that Tom had to be there someplace. We crept forward another fifty yards and I crawled, peaked around a corner in the windbreak. There he was, standing maybe another 50 yards away. I told Buck to get in front of me in a cedar tree and I softly yelped. The Tom looked, puffed out into a strut, and then here he came!
He saw Buck move into shooting position, but by then it was too late! “Kill ’em” I whispered.
Buck’s bird was another 2-year old, but did not have much beard, maybe only 5 inches! It did not make any difference; I believe it was only the second turkey Buck had ever killed.
By the last afternoon Dustin was getting discouraged and wondering if he should not have passed up on chances for jakes on the first day. I told him not to worry, he would get another chance.
We did. After watching birds in a location where we just could not make a move on them, we saw five more turkeys come out onto a field in the opposite direction. One was a hen, the other four were jakes. I figured we could get at least one of those jakes to come to the call.
All four of them did!
Dustin set up in front of a tree along the field edge about a hundred yards in front of me. I stayed behind hidden in the grass and called just enough to keep those jakes coming, so they would walk right in front of Dustin. Dustin did not go home to Iowa skunked!
My story-telling is already too long, but there is more! More about superstitions and snakes. Oh, and turkeys too! I think I just heard another one gobble, gotta go!
I love this time of year!