I was flipping through my turkey hunting scrapbook this spring when I realized this is the 40th year I have been chasing spring toms in Nebraska! Some of you will say that means I am old. Whatever, whippersnappers! Let me reminisce a bit. . . .
I am the second generation of spring turkey hunters in Nebraska. That would be the second generation of turkey hunters since seasons were established and turkeys were re-introduced and recovered in the state. My uncle and Dad were first generation Nebraska turkey hunters. They hunted some of the first seasons the state had. Literally, they learned to hunt spring turkeys by trial and error. That included a lot of error. I listened to them tell stories and shake their heads at how little they knew and how many mistakes they made. However, hunting skills are hunting skills, and eventually they put it together.
Have benefitted greatly from their experiences and the experiences of other first generation turkey hunters like Dick Turpin. I will always believe that Dick and my Uncle Ivan were two of the best turkey hunters in the state. I learned from the best!
I have seen spring turkey hunting in Nebraska from a time when there were only a couple of open units in northern and western Nebraska. There were only a limited number of permits in those units. Now, a person can find wild turkeys in every county in the state. We have a long spring season where a person can hunt anywhere. We have come from a time when you might be lucky to get a spring turkey permit once every year or three to now when Nebraska residents can have multiple permits every spring.
Looking back through my scrapbook, I have hunted spring toms in no less than thirteen counties in Nebraska. Those hunting grounds have stretched from the far southeast corner of Nebraska to southwest and north-central parts. I have killed toms in places where we never dreamed there would be turkeys present. Have hunted turkeys in eastern Nebraska deciduous woodlots to southwest Nebraska cedar canyons and the classic northern ponderosa-rimmed canyons and a variety of river bottoms and rural areas in between. In quintessential Nebraska fashion, I have killed turkeys while hugging a soapweed.
By the way, turkeys in Nebraska are a fantastic wildlife management success story! I am proud to be one of the original conservationists, hunters, fishers and trappers, who made those efforts possible. It thrills me to see turkeys so widespread in Nebraska now! In my opinion, our state will never have enough of them, and turkey permits are worth every penny I pay for them!
Any discussion of the success of wild turkeys in Nebraska would have to mention the fact that most of our birds are hybrids. We have turkeys with eastern, Rio Grande, Merriams, and probably a little domestic blood in them. I have seen white-tipped birds in southeast Nebraska and chocolate toms high above the Niobrara. Some may turn their noses up at our all-American birds, but I love the variety, the diversity! I love seeing toms in the same flock with different colored fans.
I have bragged that I have killed three-fourths of my turkey grand slam and never left my home state of Nebraska. Come to think of it, there was an almost black bird I encountered a couple of times one spring on the South Loup River. If he had not been a jake I likely would have clobbered him and claimed my grand slam without leaving the state, Ha!
In forty years the explosion in turkey hunting gear has exceeded the turkeys themselves! I would still take as much of that old-fashioned brown and green camouflage as I could get. When you hunt the diversity of habitats and vegetation we have throughout a spring season in Nebraska that old camo is best and much more versatile than all the new-fangled tree bark stuff.
Would you believe there was a time when it was required that you carry a call with you while you hunted spring turkeys in Nebraska? That rule was enacted to discourage the usually unsuccessful and potentially dangerous practice of trying to stalk a turkey. Back in the day, you could find some box calls and other friction calls on the market, but there were hardly any mouth calls! My first mouth call was a torture device and I imagine my calling in those days was tortuous as well. My uncle had me calling anyway, and it worked!
Likewise, there were no such things as turkey decoys. Uncle Ivan bought the first commercially available turkey decoy I ever knew of–a hen silhouette. Compared to the infinite variety of decoys available now, it was not much, but it worked!
Dad and I went together and bought one of the first “FeatherFlex” decoys on the market. We used it for years after continually sewing up seams and annual re-coloring. Killed a darned lot of birds over that decoy as well.
Strolling through a sporting goods store late one spring, I found a turkey hunting vest on sale. I bought it. Mostly, I wanted the vest to make it easier to carry birds out after who knew how many miles I had walked. Ultimately, that vest now carries all my gear, every spring. It has also been sewed and repaired. I am always making improvements, but it is the same ole vest. I can safely say that vest has packed out over a quarter ton of turkeys so far.
In forty years I have hunted with a variety of partners, friends, acquaintances, nephews, brothers-in-law, uncle, father, cousin, and son and daughter. Was with both of my kids when they killed their first birds. They are still hunting toms this spring.
Have been present with several others at the taking of their first turkeys too, nephews, brother-in-law, and several others. There is nothing like it.
My spur necklace has 37 spurs on it now, all taken in Nebraska. Throw in a few jakes killed along the way and yes, that works out to at least one tom each spring. Oh believe me, there were seasons when tags went unfilled. A few when more than one big tom tipped over in front of my 16 gauge, every one of them killed with that Browning shotgun. There have been big birds and small, long thick beards and busted spindly ones. Multiple beards too, one had six of them! Every Tom was beautiful and still etched in my mind. They all tasted darned good too!
The stories I could tell, many I have here on my blog. But this particular post is already long enough. Let me finish it this way. . . .
It all started in the pre-dawn darkness one April morning forty years ago. A morning I still remember like it was yesterday. There was so much turkey racket that rose from the darkness below the ridge we stood on that I was sure my uncle was pulling a prank on my dad and I. Thought he had us standing above someone’s farm yard full of turkeys. I expected that weekend we would be lucky to hear a gobble or two, and really lucky if either dad or I killed one. By mid-morning I had taken my first tom, a jake.
We continued hunting for dad’s bird. Back in those days from time to time you would hear a loud boom as an air force jet broke the sound barrier–a sonic boom. There was a sonic boom late that morning. When it happened, turkeys gobbled up and down the Niobrara valley for as far as you could hear. There were dozens of them. Since then, I have often wanted to call in the air force for a sonic boom at one of those times when I believed every turkey in the county had disappeared into a hole.
That evening we were back in those magnificent Ponderosa pines. My amateur calling was good enough to get a mature tom to swing our way and my Dad filled his permit.
I have been hooked ever since. Cannot wait to see what the next forty spring seasons will bring!