If you haven’t already, go here and read Part 1 of mine and Calvin’s 2015 Nebraska Merriam’s hunt.
Our first few days in Nebraska for our annual Merriam’s hunt was nothing short of frustrating. Despite the high hopes and unwavering confidence we had brought along with us, Nebraska had decided to humble us in what would become our most memorable hunt to date. We had never worked so hard to get on birds, similarly we had never before found the success we had on this trip.
If you recall, our first “successful” hunt didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. I had managed to put a bird on the ground, but with only 2 days left to hunt, Calvin and I were still puzzled as to what exactly happened earlier in the day. After recovering my bird, we wasted no time getting pictures taken before heading back to the cabin so we could prepare for the rest of the day. The first order of business was to review the GoPro footage from in the blind to see if we could make heads or tail of Calvin’s self-destructing bow. Calvin had an idea of what might have caused him to miss, and a growing ache in his knee made his suspicion seem to be the likely culprit. Sure enough, as we watched the footage, on Calvin’s first shot you could see his bottom cam slightly bump his knee. It wasn’t bad, but it was enough to send the shot low. On his follow-up shot, there was no question about it! His bottom cam hit his knee so hard it nearly knocked his bow out of his hand! Definitely an unfortunate turn of events, but done is done, and with the mystery solved it was time to get back to work.
In no time flat, Calvin was feeling confident in shooting my NO CAM out to 20 yards and we headed back out to the same property I had killed my bird earlier. Our plan of attack was going to be identical to the night before. We were going to focus on locating birds, and set up for a hunt if, and ONLY if, a great opportunity presented itself. Patience had definitely proven to be valuable when it comes to killing these Merriam’s, and with 2 days of hunting left, we weren’t in a huge rush. As we pulled up to the property, we quickly gathered our gear and headed back to where we had left the blind. We arrived undetected and took a moment to re-organize everything. It was later in the afternoon and we did not count on much action throughout the remainder of the day. The previous night, the birds had roosted at the very back of the property, and so we decided we would head that way with only the bow and camera to do a little scouting.
As we had expected, we did not see or hear anything the rest of the afternoon. We were, however, able to determine that based on the sign we were seeing throughout the farm that the spot we had set up and killed from that morning was likely going to be our most productive spot. We waited patiently until almost last light before splitting up as we had the night before to listen for gobbling on the roost. Within no time, we had at least 5 different birds located and after a little discussion, we decided to set up in the exact same place as we did that morning. We walked out that night with smiles on our faces, feeling confident that tomorrow we would once again capitalize on our patience and scouting efforts.
Morning, as it often does, came far too quickly. Despite a few moans and groans, we made ourselves get out of bed and head back to the blind. We were running a little late, and as we arrived at our blind we could already see the sun starting to peak over the horizon. We got settled in the blind as quickly as possible and sat waiting patiently for the morning to come alive. Much to our surprise, a few birds began to gobble west of our setup. We were positive that we did not hear these birds gobble the night before. They were considerably closer, and from the sounds of it they were roosted up near to the property we had hunted the first few days we were in town. We tried letting out a few soft clucks and tree yelps, but the birds did not seem to be answering us. We decided we would just be patient and wait them out. Shortly after they started gobbling, they went silent. Throughout the rest of the morning, we heard a few occasional gobbles and saw only a single lone hen. Feeling a little tired with the warmth of the morning sun beaming down on our blind, we both decided to relax a bit. Following our typical routine, Calvin and I were both paying far more attention to our phones than our surroundings when a bird gobbled only a few hundred yards away. It was not the close startling gobble my bird had let out the morning before, but it was something. We tried to call to the bird, but he simply would not respond.
For the next hour, we sat and listened as the bird(s) gobbled every 5 to 10 minutes. It was clear that they were either unable to hear our calling, had hens with them, or simply didn’t care about what we were trying to tell them. Either way, our patience was exhausted; It was time to act. We decided that I would slip out of the blind and try to get a little closer to the birds. If I could not pinpoint their location, I would simply set up and call in an effort to lure them in closer to Calvin. With any luck, they would at least come into the field and see our decoys. I moved in their direction and set up at the point of a small draw and let out a few yelps. Nothing. But a few moments later, they let out a gobble. They still sounded a decent ways off, but I was certain that there were two of them now. I waited for about 20 minutes and tried to call a few more times, but the result was the same. They would gobble periodically, but it was evident they were not answering me. All the same, there were two birds gobbling, and we decided to pack up and go after them.
We made our way cautiously to where we thought they were hanging out, but when we got to the edge of the field, they were nowhere to be seen. We had been extremely quiet, but knew there was a chance that we would spook them. Despite that possibility, we continued onward stopping every few steps and glassing the field ahead. We decided that instead of moving any further, we would wait and see if they gobbled again. It took what seemed like forever, but soon, they each let out another gobble. They were still about 150 yards away but they were not far. We put our heads together and quickly decided we would move up close to a big set of power lines before setting up the blind. We put out the DSD decoys and retreated back to the blind. As I moved a few items around in the blind, Calvin began setting up the camera and motioned to me to start calling. I began a short sequence of yelps followed by a few soft purrs and clucks. The birds did not answer as we hoped, so I turned to help Calvin situate the rest our gear. I grabbed my Red Bull and kicked my feet out ready to relax. Immediately I heard a bird…but it was not the sound I had expected. I could hear wings dragging and two birds purring to our right…I nearly fell out of my chair in an effort to get Calvin’s attention. It was no wonder they did not answer my calling, they must have come in on a dead sprint straight to our setup. Just like that, they were suddenly right in front of us. Two beautiful birds in full strut circling our decoys. I don’t know who was more surprised, Calvin or myself? I watched and had to bite back my laughter as Calvin slowly worked his hand down my bow inch by inch, trying not to make too much movement. I wanted him to grab that bow and shoot so bad that I was nearly ready to scream when finally the birds began to move in towards the DSD Jake. At that point, it was obvious they were completely unaware of anything else in the world as Calvin came to full draw. I looked briefly to make sure that big knee of his was out-of-the-way before returning my attention back to the two strutters in front of us.
At last, Calvin’s chance had come…it was time to settle down and make this one count. As soon as Calvin applied pressure to his Carter release, I saw the arrow streak forward and strike the closest bird. I was positive it was a good hit, but both birds jumped and gobbled. As soon as they landed, both began to strut again, I stared in disbelief reliving yesterday all over again. Calvin knocked another arrow and just like the previous morning, I whispered over some words of encouragement. I knew he had this, he just had to be calm and execute. Again, he released, and this time there was no question his arrow had hit true. The Grim Reaper did quick work as the bird ran only a few feet before piling up.
We started to celebrate, but before we could throw the first high-five, the second bird went back into full strut and started slowly walking towards Calvin’s downed bird. Without
hesitation, Calvin handed me the bow and I nocked another arrow. I tried to quietly shift over to his side of the blind, but in my haste, I punched my Grim Reaper tipped arrow clear through the front of my blind. I even managed to kick over my Red Bull which hit one of the legs on the camera tripod. It was with complete amazement that I looked up and the second bird was still there at 5 yards. No wonder they had not been gobbling, this bird must have been deaf! Whatever the reason, he was still there, and I quickly drew back my bow and settled the single pin on my Spot Hogg Hogg-Father. I slowly applied pressure to the thumb barrel on my Simple 1 release and sent the arrow on its way. It struck the bird right where his tail feathers all came together and he went down in a heap. Now there was no more being quiet, Calvin and I erupted in congratulations and cheers. Once again, Calvin’s hunt had turned into “Our” hunt, which had a much better ending.
We could not believe it. At the start of the week we were uncertain if we would even see a bird, and now between the 4 of us in camp, we had put down 6 birds in just over 4 days.
Our 5 year quest to have each of us tag a Merriam’s with our bows had finally come to a close. There were many ups and downs, but the memories we have made each year in Nebraska continue to be some of my favorite hunting experiences to date.
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