Time to post my first report from Nebraska’s spring turkey “woods”. My kids and I have been spending time with the birds for several weeks now, we started scouting before shotgun season opened. We have been relatively casual about our hunting so far, going when we have time and hunting at a leisurely pace. Nebraska’s spring turkey season lasts for several weeks and we are in no hurry right now. There will be trips and days when we get a little more serious about it, but we will enjoy every minute no matter when it is or how hard we hunt.
One area we have been hunting has had at least a couple of pairs of mature Toms running together. I am betting those are brothers from the same brood; one bird of each pair tends to be dominant while the other is his “wing man” (get it? “wing man”? they are turkeys, Ha. Sorry, back to the story now). Knowing that has tailored our hunting strategies so far, scouting is THE most important part of the hunt! When Emily, Daniel and I have had time to hunt together we have been doing that so far, mostly in the evenings. We have all stayed together because we are betting that if we get one of those dominant Toms to come to the calling, his “wing man” will follow. We are planning to double-up, when that happens.
It did late last week.
You all know that the wind has blown a bit around these parts in the past few weeks. We had a rare sunny, calm, sacred evening last week and the kids and I were able to hunt. We quietly slipped into a high percentage area, one in which we knew the birds frequented, got in there without spooking any turkeys. We threw out our decoys, settled up against trees and I did a little calling. It was not long until we spotted a hen feeding through the trees about a hundred yards away.
A little more calling and a Tom gobbled. I cannot tell you how I love that sound!
A few minutes more and my daughter spotted turkeys off to her right. She thought they were a couple of Jakes, immature, 1-year old toms, but her brother quickly hissed that they were both big, mature Toms.
“Here we go!!!!!!”
This spring I blew a bunch of gift cards and purchased an expensive, very realistic, Jake decoy. The idea is Toms will come to that decoy to show it who is boss. It took us all of about 15 minutes of hunting on the day of the shotgun opener to have two Jakes standing beside our Jake decoy doing that very thing. So, I figured those two big Toms coming toward us would make a bee-line right for the Jake decoy sitting about 10 yards in front of the end Emily’s shotgun.
They did not do that. Oh, they came to the decoys alright, they got within 40 yards and then started doing a little strutting. Then they sauntered, strutted around the edge of our “spread”, eventually working under a fence and standing, strutting, in the corner of a field right in front of us.
I whispered to Emily to get on ’em, get on the one that was strutting. “They’re too far she whispered”. Well, we were sitting 10 yards from a little trickle of a creek, there was a fence another 10 yards from that, and those two big Toms were standing just beyond the fence–plenty close enough, under 30 yards.
She clicked the safety off. Her brother was ready for her to knock one bird over and then he would get on the other. I started “putting” on the call to get ’em to stick their heads up.
Both of them stretched their necks out and gobbled, right in our faces. One of those Toms had been eating Corn Nuts, I could smell it on his breath.
Emily held her fire, waited for the gobbling to stop and heads to stretch. Good girl!
Here is the turkey she got:
Yep, clean miss. Turkeys jumped in the air, came back down and then turned and slowly walked away. I do not think they were even scared. A good shot did not present itself for any of us after the initial shot; we just sat there and watched them ride away into the sunset.
Now, I have been with several hunters when they missed turkeys; have stared down the barrel at more than one miss myself. You would think shooting a shotgun at a turkey standing in front of you would be a “slam-dunk”. It ain’t. I would love to have been able to look down Emily’s barrel when she pulled the trigger and tell her what she did wrong. Some times I have a pretty good idea of how a shot went wrong, like when one of my nephews commenced to shooting at a Jake like he was on the trap range, but how she missed that big Tom I have no idea. I suspect she shot over him, but mostly that is because I will tell you that most turkeys are missed by shooters peaking up over the barrel and then shooting over the top of their target. That is why I am a big believer in some kind of sights for your spring turkey gun–it may be a shotgun, but you shoot it like a rifle for spring turkeys–close one eye, keep your head down, look through the sights, line ’em up, put the front sight on the turkey’s neck, squeeze the trigger, follow through. Believe me, Emily and I have gone over that, again, several times since she missed. She will figure out what she did wrong.
She was a little upset, but you know what? It just means she gets to hunt longer! There will be another chance.
I blogged last week about not spooking turkeys, Shhhhh! Even with the missed shot, we did not spook any turkeys that evening. In fact we watched several go to roost not far from where Emily missed.
A pretty, orange moon lighted our way back to the pickup.
My daughter would much rather hunt evenings than get up at “0-dark, thirty”. On top of that, we had a bunch of family coming to town the next day for a little graduation celebration for Emily (sure would have been nice if she had a turkey to show off too!). So, Emily did not think she wanted to slip out early the next morning, but that did not stop her brother and I!
Knowing where birds went to roost, Daniel and I set up at a favorite spot in between a flock with at least one big Tom and another big Tom roosted in a different spot to the north. We figured they all would work towards each other when they hit the ground that morning and we would be waiting!
If I had a dollar for every time I have put turkeys to roost and had a fail-proof plan for early the next morning, I would have a lot more dollars than Toms. First thing in the morning is the best time to hear Toms gobble, it is the easiest time to find turkeys, but more often than not they do something you did not expect. The hens usually seem to have different ideas and the Toms go right after them.
There was very little gobbling in the trees that morning, none from the birds we had put to roost. The bunch south of us flew down, Toms started gobbling on the ground, and we figured they would work around to us. They went the other way. Why? I have no idea; I know they were not spooked. Daniel watched the last of them through his binoculars, “They’re running the other way” was his last frustrating synopsis of the situation.
But, there was still at least one Tom roosted north of us. He had not made a peep all morning. I kept watching the grassy strip behind us, and sure enough pretty soon I see one lone Tom walking through the dewy grass towards my calling. I whispered that I knew it was a Tom, but I was not sure if it was a mature Tom or not. The bird was wet from all the dew and a swinging beard, the mark of a big Tom, was not immediately evident. He walked through the fence to my right and sure enough–“He’s a swinger!!!!!”
He saw the decoys, started strutting, walked right in front of my barrel, 18 yards away.
My son started pounding me on the back.
21 pounds, approximately 9 1/2-inch beard, two-year old with 1/2-inch spurs. Classic coloration of an Eastern sub-species of wild turkey. I like to call them “chocolate” Toms.
We were hunting a place where there is an old abandoned farmstead. You can still see the foundation of the old house, a bunch of aged, moss-covered, farm implements. I love taking pictures in the field, soon after the kill, pictures that capture the character of the place, the history, the uniqueness of each hunt and each bird taken. In an old rusted-out manure-spreader? YOU BETCHA!
Turkeys gobbled the rest of that morning. Daniel and I had a couple other close encounters and I was sure another big Tom was going to strut to the decoys in front of my son at about 9:30. He was coming, got to 100 yards, strutted some more, looked at the decoys, turned around and went gobbling back the way he had just come. Again, I have no idea why? Maybe the fancy new Jake decoy was too much for him? “Big chicken.”
I have rambled on for too long now. Let me finish with this: I know there likely are no non-hunters reading my blog, and if they did, they sure ain’t reading it now 1650 words in. If you are not a hunter you may think it is just about the kill, rolling that big Tom over at 18 yards. I can assure you it is more, much, much more, than that. I try to express some of that through my blog. Whether I do or not, I have no idea, but I will keep trying.
As we were walking back after our hunt that morning, walking along the edge of a field, my son stops, says, “Look at that”, and bends over to pick up something. I had no idea what he had found, maybe a mushroom, but we were on the edge of last year’s soybean field. He picked up a frog. His eyes must be a darned sight better than mine.
Got any idea what kind of frog that was? Let me give you a hint:
Still do not know? Do some studying, Nebraska Herps.
My kids and I know, know something about that little frog, where it’s kind are found, even what they sound like.
Still think it is just about the killing?
More to come. . . . I hear another turkey gobbling.