I just warned you in my last blog post that I am into full-fledged spring mode right now, out of the office as much as possible chasing gobblers, picking morels and working in some fishing when I can. Time already to tell you some stories and share some success.
Last Saturday youths could start hunting spring turkeys with a shotgun in Nebraska. Archery season has been open for weeks and the general shotgun season for all hunters will open next Saturday, but this week is for the beginners, the youths. With the cheap permits ($6 youth permits) and a week-long jump on the rest of the shotgun hunters, the youth spring turkey season has become my favorite week of hunting spring turkeys. Fortunately, I still have one youth that qualifies and her brother and dad LOVE to get her out hunting.
Actually we got off to a late start last Saturday. One spot we wanted to hunt pretty much cannot be accessed after any rain because we do not want to tear up any roads getting in there. We did not get much rain last Saturday morning, but there was some rain in the area, so we slept in and then got out in late morning. It was not the classic, hard-core, spring turkey hunting regime where we would have been set up on gobbling birds before the sun rose.
I have to take a side-track here and tell you the story about the long-jumping rooster. . . . On the way to our hunting spot we saw a rooster pheasant run across the road (by the way, seems like there are rooster pheasants everywhere now, even in eastern Nebraska). This pheasant went running across the road as fast as he could go, like pheasants are prone to do, and as he got over to the right side of the road there was a ridge of gravel that had been piled up by the road maintainer. That rooster did not want to run up over the gravel ridge and I guess he did not want to fly or spread his wings, so he runs as fast as he can, gets to the ridge and then without slowing down does the long jump with both feet right over the ridge and clear into the ditch. He was definitely a long-jumper and not a hurdler. Both kids and I saw him do it and we laughed for several minutes afterwards as we drove down the road.
Now, back on track. . . we drove to a spot where we have done a bit of scouting this spring and have hunted in the past. No, we did not see any turkeys in the area, but knew this was a spot they liked. By then the wind was howling and we also picked the spot because it was a place we could tuck in behind a big grove of trees to get out of the wind. We threw out some decoys, hen decoys, and as we were sitting down we actually heard a turkey gobble (in the wind I almost did not believe my ears, but both of my kids heard it too). So, we sat and I would occasionally do some calling. After about 20 minutes I see a turkey coming from where we parked the pickup. It was a hen and as she walked into our field, I spotted a jake and a big tom following her. The hen immediately veered off to the east and out of the field and I told my daughter, Emily, that we were probably out of luck as those gobblers would likely follow the hen. Nevertheless, I sent some calls their way, and I’ll be darned if that big tom and the jake did not keep coming down the field edge our way. About a third of the way to us, the big tom veered off to the east and I presume went after the hen. The jake started to go that way too, but I called some more and he turned and kept coming our way. About two-thirds of the way to us the jake started to lose interest, turned and started east after the other two turkeys. I called some more, he stopped, looked, turned and apparently saw the decoys because here he came, at a trot. I was right beside Emily and I told her that jake was a legal bird, she could shoot him if she wanted. Emily killed her first spring gobbler last year, a big tom, http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/blogs/2011/04/em-scores/ and her brother and I both figured she would want another big tom this spring. As the jake was coming our way I told her it was time to decide if she wanted to kill a jake, or if she wanted to hold out for a big tom; it was her permit, her hunt, she could decide. She decided she was going to shoot that jake. He trots into the decoys, about 25 paces out, slows down, Emily gets the gun up, I putt (i.e. imitated the alarm call that turkeys make) at the jake to get him to stop and stick his head in the air, and . . . . BOOM! We hunted a grand total of 40 minutes and Emily punched her tag!
Her bird was a typical jake (by the way, in case you are not a turkey hunter, a “jake” is a 1-year old male or tom turkey, they act a lot like teenage boys). It weighed about 13 pounds and had a little 3-4 inch shaving brush for a beard.
So, after a 40-minute hunt, then what do we do? Well, we had plenty of time, might as well go look for some mushrooms. We picked up the decoys, stashed the turkey and shotgun and did some wandering. Em found the first one.
Sure, the snakes are out too. Surprised Emily did not catch this one (she loves snakes a lot more than I do).
After a successful turkey hunt we always hate to head back into town, we just like to linger and savor the day as long as we can. So, we did a little bit of driving after the turkey and mushroom hunt. We come around a corner and there is a rare smoke-phase colored hen turkey in the road.
A smoke-phase turkey is just an unusual color phase, just one of those oddities that nature occasionally produces. I have seen a couple other smoke-phase turkeys in the past, one was another hen and I saw a beautiful smoke-colored tom one time too (would have loved to been able to hunt that bird). I have seen one turkey in Nebraska that was pure black, not any white, gray or brown on that bird anywhere. Another thing I love about spending time in the outdoors is you never know what you might see and experience–long-jumping roosters and smoke-colored turdeys, it all made for a day we will never forget. Sometimes it just takes a lot of time in the outdoors to see those things.
Let me make a couple of comments before I quite rambling. First of all, one could assume that we were lucky to hunt for only 40 minutes and get a turkey for Emily. My reply to that would be that I do not believe in luck ( http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/blogs/2010/11/luck/ ). “Luck” is the residue of hard work. “Luck” is where preparation meets opportunity. Sure, we just picked a spot, set up and had turkeys come to us. But there was a lot of scouting and previous hunting experience that went into selecting that spot. I will always tell you that the key to a successful spring turkey hunt is to scout, do some more scouting, and then scout some more. Every spring we do way more scouting than we do actual hunting. Actually, the scouting and preparation is the biggest part of the hunt, the actual pulling of the trigger is just the cherry on top. The process is important and actually the most enjoyable part of the hunt.
Now let me see if I can “ruffle some feathers” with a comment. This is my blog and occasionally I share some personal thoughts, feelings and opinions. Well, I have one I want to share right now. There was one little annoyance from our hunt last Saturday. I mentioned to you that we did not get an early start, we waited to see how much rain we were going to get; it ended up being hardly any at all, but that meant we were late getting out. The first two spots we wanted to hunt were occupied by other hunters. Were they other youths out on opening day of the spring youth shotgun turkey season? No, they were hard-core, bow-hunting guys that have been hunting turkeys this spring since March 25. That is fine, they were there first and I am not going to crowd in on someone else that is already hunting. We do a lot of scouting before season and have a lot of options, so we went on to another spot. But, come on guys, the youths can start hunting with a shotgun a week earlier than everyone else; last Saturday was THE opening day for many of those youths, find a kid and take them hunting on that “opening” weekend!
Lastly, I try not to get too sappy, too touchy-feely, and this picture is a little bit blurry, but a father could sure do a lot worse than to have his kids hiking along in front of him on a bright April day. . . .