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Race Winner

Time for my first report from this spring’s turkey fields!

If you have been reading my blog for some time, you know my attention in the spring gets drawn from fins to feathers–gobbling, turkey feathers.  Our Nebraska spring shotgun season has been open for over a week now.  You may also know that I like to take a casual approach to my turkey hunting.  Oh, I am focused on punching tags, but I like to enjoy the process and every minute I get to spend in the field with the birds (and other wildlife!).  Due to some important family celebrations (a 65th wedding anniversary!), I did not hunt at all during opening weekend.  Yes, that about killed me, the weather was perfect (the wind actually laid down!).

I was able to slip out for some evenings this past week.  One of those I and my decoys about blew away.  The others were still a little breezy, but more tolerable.

The WINDY evening was mostly unproductive.  Initially, I found some birds out of the wind, but they were a little spooked and I did not proceed any further.  Retreating I set up in a good spot to call and listen.  I did have one beautiful, frost-colored hen answer my calling and walk out right beside me.  Other than that, no toms were seen, but I did manage to hear one gobble a few times from the evening roost.

Hunting skills are hunting skills.  To be successful no matter the game being pursued, you have to spot them before they spot you.  When turkey hunting, that means using cover and staying out of sight as you move about your hunting area.  I am blessed to have been able to hunt some of the same areas over a period of years.  In doing that, I have learned paths to take to good places to look and listen without spooking birds.

With that experience and scouting, I usually have a plan.  I have an idea where to go and what to do every time I quietly close the pickup door and start to hunt.  Oh sure, those plans often go right out the window.  I also have plans “B” through “Z”, as well as wait to see what the birds tell me to do.

Come to think of it, I do much the same thing when I am on the water fishing.  Recall years ago reading advice to pick a water close to home that has good potential and fish it often.  Learn to fish that waterbody,  “home” water, and then take what you have learned to other waters.  Do not get caught up “chasing rainbows” all the time.  Learn the skills needed to be successful on your home waters, and fields, and it becomes much easier to be successful everywhere you go.

I am rambling.  I said all that to say this, my second evening in the field the first thing I did was slip to one of those spots.  A good spot to look and listen.  Sure enough I immediately spotted turkeys.  I watched several hens and one big tom moving towards the spot I had planned hunt.  Was not going to beat them there, but I knew I could slip into a good hiding place near by, put out the decoys, and wait for them to wander by.

Believe those original birds stayed just a hundred yards or so east of me the whole evening.  The birds that eventually wandered by came from the opposite direction.  From the direction I least expected.  There were several hens, a jake and a couple of big toms.  When they appeared scattered across the fields in front of me, I did some calling.  Got a hen to reply.

I would almost rather have a hen answering my calls than a gobbler.  Especially early in the season chances are good that a loud-mouth, dominant hen will bring a big tom along with her.  Or, call one in for you.  So, when I get a hen to reply, I try to answer her call for call.  Yep, sometimes it sounds like a calling contest.  The more she calls the more I pour it on.

Sure enough, two gobblers started answering too!

Eventually, boss hen and the two big toms came around the corner into sight.  I watched the toms chase the jake for a bit.  The hen marched right towards the decoys, the two toms strutting a short distance behind her.

Now you are expecting me to tell you I shot one of those big toms.  I did not.  I had anticipated the birds to come from the other direction and had placed my decoys accordingly.  Generally, I like the decoys to be facing away, or quartering away from the direction I expect birds.  The idea is decoying birds will go to the front of the decoys.  Oftentimes it works that way.

These birds, hen and toms both, came to a point in front of the decoys, but no closer.  The hen kept feeding and casually walked by.  The toms got to a spot, stopped, strutted and gawked.  They did not come all the way to the decoys even though I was thinking they would come kick my jake decoy’s butt.

In my judgement at the time, they were just a little farther than I wanted to shoot.  I could have easily taken a shot, but wanted them closer.  Later, I paced the distance and determined that they were in fact in range.  Often I will determine ranges ahead of time, even place markers, but had not because I needed to stay out of sight.  Oh well, there would be another chance. . . the next afternoon. . . .

StruttingTom

Had a similar plan late the next afternoon.  Gearing up I heard clucking and cutting to the north and was relatively sure I heard one gobble.  Slipped to the same spot to look and listen.  Spotted the frosted hen again.  She was alone.  I watched until she was out of sight and then debated with myself on what to do?  As I was deciding to proceed with plan “A”, I again heard a turkey gobble.  I was sure this time.  The bird was north of me, over the rise of last year’s corn field.

Plan “Z” was immediately initiated.  Found a spot near the edge of the field, threw out a couple decoys, called to get their attention. . . .

When I yelped I got a couple of gobbles in reply.  There were more than one!  They gobbled and I replied three or four times.  Then, I shut up.

In a few minutes I could see them about halfway across the field.  They were angling off to the west, so I yelped one more time.  They gobbled and vectored right towards me!

Got the gun up, waited for a couple more minutes and could hear footsteps in the corn husks.  Sitting where I had some cedar tree limbs in front of me, I could see a tom walking along the edge of the field, well within range.  Waited until he walked into the clear, clucked to get him to stop and look.  Pulled the trigger.

Turkey down!

At the shot, the birds (turns out there were three of them) that had not won the race, gobbled.  They were still thirty yards or so back in the field.  I stayed hid and as my bird started flopping they came over to get their licks in on their downed buddy.  “Mother Nature” and the pecking order ain’t kind!

After a bit of poking at my downed bird, they eventually wandered off.  Within a half-hour they were gobbling again.

For those of you who are wondering about details, here is a photo of the set up.  Bird was taken on the edge of the field, 24 paces away.

P4190006 (2)

Picking him up he felt dense, 20.6 pounds.

Beard was very respectable, 9 9/16 inches.  Spurs were nothing special, right about 3/4 inches each.

P4190029 (2)

I always hate to rush home after a successful spring turkey hunt.  I took some time, made a lap looking for mushrooms.  Did not find any.

Looped around to the edge of another field, and was examining turkey sign there.  Looked up the edge to see a coyote a hundred or so yards away.  Figured it had already seen me, but it stayed, focused on something in the trees to its north.  I started lip-squeaking.  Eventually, it heard me, and here it came!  That ‘yote trotted along the edge right to me, maybe 25 yards away before it stopped facing me.

I started talking to it.  Yes, I have said before that oftentimes I talk to the animals.  No, so far none of them have talked back.

Surprisingly that coyote, a female I am guessing by its size, just stood there and listened to me.  It looked, cocked its head and listened just like a pet dog would.  I asked her about her litter?  How hunting was?  Told her it was a good thing I was not predator hunting at the time.  I bet she just stood there and listened to me for a couple, three minutes at least.

Guessing the coyote could not figure out exactly what I was laying along the edge of the field in full camo, and I was downwind.  She did not leave until I stood.  Loped off then, but still was not panicked. . . .

Another experience by which I will remember the day–another glorious day in Nebraska’s spring turkey fields.

More turkeys gobbling.  More stories to come!

About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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