Time for another update on the 2012 spring turkey hunting season. I have already given reports on my daughter and son’s birds, http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/blogs/2012/04/jake-emily/ , http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/blogs/2012/04/chocolate-tom-daniel/ . That means that again this year the old man is the last one to take a bird; pull up a chair, it is time to tell some stories.
At the beginning of this season I shared some recollections of my first spring turkey hunt and how I became thoroughly addicted to hunting spring gobblers, http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/blogs/2012/04/hi-daryl-spring-turkey-addict/ . We are blessed with an abundance of wild turkeys throughout Nebraska now and one of the benefits of that is that we can hunt all over Nebraska for an extended spring season. I have killed spring toms in Cherry, Lincoln, Custer, Loup, Garfield, Buffalo, Sherman, Lancaster, Otoe, Seward and Pawnee counties in Nebraska, and I would love to hunt in a bunch more of Nebraska counties. I love ‘em all, but probably because it was where I killed my first one, and in the “early years” it was the only place where we could hunt turkeys in the spring, there is just something about hunting them in the pines and canyons of north-central Nebraska. Something about that part of the state just makes the experience even more special; the pines, canyons and gobbling turkeys are the epitome of Nebraska spring turkey hunting for me. With the abundance of turkeys my family and I have not hunted the ponderosa pines and canyons in recent years, but our schedules gave us a chance to do that again this year and we jumped at the chance.
Another thing I love about Nebraska is the diversity in geography and climate we have from one end of the state to the other. In the spring, once the turkeys start gobbling, the mushrooms start popping, and the fish start biting, I get this feeling that I have a game-clock in the back of my mind and it is ticking down, ticking towards the end of spring. I have this panic that I cannot spend enough time in the field and on the water this time of year to take advantage of so much of what I enjoy in Nebraska’s great outdoors in the spring. One way I can turn that clock back a little bit is to head west, head north across the state to areas where spring has not progressed quite as far as it has in southeast Nebraska. It was great to travel to north-central Nebraska and have a little more cool weather, although it was a little damp most of the time we were there, and to find the grass a little bit shorter, the trees a little less leaved-out, the chokecherries still blooming, and the turkeys still gobbling, a lot!
My son and I spent a morning not knowing which gobbling tom to go after first! I do not know that I can ever recall a morning when I heard so many turkeys gobble, and gobble consistently, for so long. They gobbled all morning long until past noon. We set up on a dominant tom first thing in the morning, had him gobbling his head off at every call we made, but he was roosted close to hens and, well, if you have hunted turkeys in the spring, you know how that story goes. The hens flew down, he flew down to them, we called our heads off, he gobbled, but in the end those real live hens were a lot more attractive than a couple of fakes in the trees. No matter, there were more turkeys gobbling to the north, and we went to give them a try.
At this point I have to say that I am embarrassed to tell you that we called to so many gobbling toms that morning, many of them apparently by themselves, and could not call even one into shotgun range. On at least two occasions we set up on gangs of 3-4 mature toms, toms who were not with any hens that we could see, and could not get them to come to our calls or our hen decoys. They would gobble at every call, I could call and get them worked up into a gobbling fit (hate it when they do that, Ha), but they would not commit to coming our way. On one occasion we tried to move into a better position only to be busted by a relatively quiet Tom that was apparently working his way towards us (I should have known better, we had heard this other bird gobble just a couple times off to our right, we should have stayed put, but no, had to try to get into a better position on the 4 blabber-mouth toms in front of us, Aaaarrrrrggggghhhhhhhh!!!!!!).
At noon we set up on another gang of 3 mature toms who were patrolling a ridge and gobbling at every sound. I finally got them to pop out and take a look my way, but then they just drifted off to the west, still feeding and gobbling, but not coming my way. When they got out of sight I took a chance and moved to a new position within a hundred yards of them; all I needed to do was coax them a little ways. Again all 3 would gobble at every call I made; I could see them under the pines only 60-80 yards away and was sure they were going to walk out to meet me, but NOOOO, eventually they took their walking, gobbling act and kept drifting west away from me.
At that humbling point it was time for a break, time for some lunch and fluids, time to loose a few of the layers of clothing that felt so good early in the morning.
After a break, my cousin joined us. Let me tell you about Robin, my cousin. Robin and I only have sisters for siblings. I will tell you that Robin has been like a big brother to me, and in typical big brother fashion has gotten me into a few spots of trouble when we were younger. He stood up with me as my best man when I got married. We have covered a darned lot of miles hunting and fishing over the years, most of it with me trailing along behind, trying to keep up, still that way to this day. I could ramble on for a long time telling stories about “adventures” Robin and I have shared over the years. We covered a bunch of ground going up and down Niobrara River canyons the day I killed my first mature Tom on a spring morning years ago. We started in the snow that morning; were hot and sweaty, thirsting to death by noon when we finally hiked back to the pickup at noon with two toms .
So, it was great to have Robin and my son Daniel along to coach me for our afternoon hunt. We covered some ground again that afternoon trying to get in front of birds or setting up and calling in spots where birds like to loaf in the afternoon. About 5:00 I suggested we work back to where we started and check a spot where we had seen a lot of birds spending time feeding. Sure enough we get back there, hike up the side of the canyon and my cousin spots some birds on the meadow on top where we thought they would be. I snuck up to the top, got there without spooking anything and then my son did a little coaxing on the call behind me. Hunting with a partner like that is more fun and more effective; Daniel’s calling got those birds to drift a little ways our direction (returning the favor for some of his birds over the years) and eventually I saw a big ole fan coming along. . . . There he was, that was the one I wanted! Raise up and let him have a face-full of 4′s!
By the way, notice the wingbone turkey calls hanging around Daniel’s and my necks, those both were made by my cousin. Neither one of us sound very good on those calls, but they have called turkeys and we proudly wear ‘em on every turkey hunt!
Love those pines in the backround!
Every tom I have ever killed has been special; there are little details I can recall about every one of those hunts. Those are memorable occasions; the details become engraved in my memory. I hope the sharing of those details makes a good story. That picture was taken exactly where my bird was knocked over. It was a distance of about 35 yards from the end of the barrel of my Browning 16-gauge (every turkey I have taken has been shot with that gun) to the spot where that big Tom fell over. I do not know where I hit that bird, his head and neck definitely caught most of the shot load, but I have never seen any turkey killed as stone-cold dead as this one. I shot, he went over, and he never moved again. Usually when you lay the wood to a tom they will flop around at least a little bit–like a chicken with its head cut off. Some times they do not flop initially, not until you get over to them and reach to pick them up. Not this bird, I have killed them a lot closer than this one, but he never moved, not even once. Boom, stone-cold dead.
When I walked up to him, I thought I had killed a turkey X calf hybrid. He looked huge laying there on the ground.
I have killed a lot of mature toms, have taken several that weighed more than 20 pounds, but this bird was in a class by itself. When we got it back to the house, before I cleaned it, I weighed it. I weighed it twice because I did not believe it the first time–24.5 pounds!!!! Holy Cow! If you want to take pictures of a fish and make it look really big, well, yes, hold it way out in front of you. Or, get a kid to hold it. Kids holding big fish make the fish look even bigger. I do not know if it will work with this turkey, but I had my daugher Emily hold it up.
The feet on this beast were massive. Comparing them to the feet of the 20+pounder Daniel killed earlier this spring, the toes were the same length but the legs and toes were much more bulky. This bird had feet like Shaquille O’Neal! The spurs were not sharp and pointy, I am sure he was a 2-year old Tom, but those spurs were each an inch long. His beard taped out at over 9 inches. Another beautiful bird; I doubt that I ever take one that weighs any more than this one.
We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing and sharing time with my cousin and his wife. My family and I love visiting their place, we can literally walk out their door and start hunting. Meals are eaten in the wall tent, and we can work on our ‘hawk-throwing while we are there.
In the evenings when you make a good throw and stick the tomahawk in the target, the turkeys gobble.
Take a closer look and you can see what I mean about walking out the door and starting hunting.
We also spent some time picnicking, hiking, picked a few more mushrooms and caught a few 10-12-inch rainbows from one of the ponds at Keller Park State Recreation Area, http://www.outdoornebraska.ne.gov/parks/guides/parksearch/showpark.asp?Area_No=250 . Did some driving around appreciating all the sights and beauty around us.
By the way, while I was taking those sunset pictures there were turkeys gobbling right behind me.
I have been doing some thinking this spring while hunting. My spring turkey hunting updates have all revolved around hunts I have shared with family, with my kids and with my cousin. In Nebraska a person can now get 3 permits and take 3 toms during our spring season. Believe me, I do get the urge to buy another permit and keep hunting after finally taking a tom. I have nothing against hunting by myself, I still spend some time each spring doing that and I love that time too, but I have come to the realization that we get more enjoyment out of sharing in each other’s hunts. It is not about rushing around trying to fill all the permits we could have; it is all about having a quality hunt. My cousin and my son each could have had their own permit and been chasing their own gobblers when I took my “Mongo” bird. I suppose if we lived closer to some of the areas we hunt, areas that are absolutely crawling with turkeys, we could not resist purchasing additional permits and each taking multiple birds. There are springs when I have done that, and there will be springs when I do that again. But for now, we have a lot of fun hunting with each other, sharing the hunt, and we have as much fun helping others get their bird as we do in getting our own. I have said it before, the hunt is about the process, about the entire experience, the actual harvest is just the cherry on top. Sharing that experience with others is a big part of that process.
I loved getting back to my spring turkey hunting roots and hunting the pines and canyons. Yes, that terrain is a lot more rugged and it takes a lot more work than many of the areas we hunt (my legs still feel dead). But there was something about the smells of the pines and chokecherry blossoms, the sigh of the wind blowing through those pines and carrying the sound of a turkey gobble. It washed over me, it cleared my head, it filled me. It was really, really hard to go back home and go back to work; now I sit here at my computer and keep going back to the pictures, keep remembering the hunt and all those little details. . . .
Cannot wait to do it again.