There is little that gets me more excited than the thought of our annual Nebraska Turkey hunt. Each year as the trip approaches, my mind cycles through endless scenarios of how I’m going to arrow my Merriam’s. We all dream of that quick slam-dunk hunt where you nail a bird right off the roost, and every once in a while you get just that. Yeah sometimes, but then there are the other times. The times where the birds leave you standing in frustration; wondering why you drove 1200 miles only to chase your own shadow.
2015 was one of those years. Almost from the minute we arrived in Nebraska, the odds seemed stacked up against us. The bird numbers appeared to be down, and landowners we had established good relationships with in the past were reluctant to let us hunt. Others refused us permission altogether. Very few people were seeing birds, we had extremely high winds, and to top things off I wound up with a nasty cold that kept me in bed on morning number 1. By the end of day 2 in Nebraska, Calvin and I were at a loss for words. Had we really come all this way to get shut out? We stood and watched the sun sink below the distant horizon and listened to birds gobble in the distance, right then, we resolved that we would not go down without a fight.
The next morning, we threw together a quick game plan, hopeful that we might at least get a better idea of where the birds we heard the night before were roosted. However, much like the previous morning, the birds were silent on the limb, and as the morning hunt came to a close, we elected to pack up and head to town for lunch. Just as we were about to leave, I happened to look down on my phone and saw a local area code calling. I quickly snatched up my phone and answered the call. It was exactly what we had been waiting for. Long story short, our accessible acreage had just gone from approx. 85 acres to nearly 1000. Talk about a confidence booster! We were finally in business, and it was time to plan.
Much like previous years, we decided to take things slow on our newly accessible ground. We had never before set foot on it, and we were hesitant to go stomping around and possibly spook birds. We slowly scouted along the field edges and occasionally called in hopes that if we did wander up on a bird, he would sound off alerting us to his presence. It took several hours, but we finally spotted a lone tom making his way over a ridge north of our location. We waited patiently for him to crest the hill and then slowly made our way to the last spot we had seen him. The opposite side of the ridge gave way to several draws, most of which were extremely steep rocky ledges. Only one of the draws, consequently the one he was headed right towards, had a nice gradual slope leading down into the big valley towards the property boundary. Confident that the bird we just saw had left the
area, we set out to search for the best location to set up a blind. One particular spot kept bringing us back over and over, it was at the point of the draw the bird had just left in. Where an old roadbed came up and intersected with the dirt road that ran through the middle of the property, there were turkey tracks every which way we could see. It was obvious this was a spot that birds came to, and frequently by the looks of things. We quickly set up the blind and split up to see and wait for the birds to start gobbling on the roost. Just like the past two nights, the birds started gobbling towards the back of the property. None were as close as we had hoped, but they were much closer than the previous setups. With that, we decided to leave our blind where it was, put out the DSD decoys, and quietly retreated back to the vehicle. It had been a rough couple of days, but we knew our bad luck was about to change.
No more than I lay down and closed my eyes, the alarm was sounding off. I felt like I had gotten no sleep, but we were too excited to let that deter us. Today was our day. The plan was for Calvin to shoot first, and then we’d quickly get on another bird for me. We gathered all of our gear, got dressed, and then headed to the blind. We got there in plenty of time and had over 30 minutes to get organized and ready before the first bird gobbled. Once they started, they didn’t stop. For nearly 40 minutes, they hammered on the roost. We kept our calling to a minimum, but every time we made a peep, they would gobble back. The kept it up until they hit the ground, and then the gobbling slowed. Occasionally we’d hear a gobble, and several times we heard hens behind us. But never did we get anything to come in more than a few hundred yards away. We let out occasional yelping sequences, and around 10 AM, we decided to let things be for a bit.
I decided it was time for a nap, so I moved my blind chair and plopped down in the grass for some rest. No sooner than I closed my eyes however, a bird let out a thunderous gobble less than 75 yards away! Now this was the sort of wake up call I wanted to hear! I nearly jumped out of my skin and hopped back to my feet. I hastily but quietly positioned my chair back in place and sat down. We waited a few minutes but never heard anything else. Calvin let out a soft purr and was instantly cut off with another gobble. I slowly leaned forward, and just as I did, I saw a big old red-head pop over the crest of the hill. As soon as he saw the DSD decoy spread before him, he went into strut. It had been nearly a year since I heard my last bird drumming and was completely taken back by the beauty of this bird standing only 20 yards away. As he slowly approached the decoys, I could hear and see Calvin’s knee shaking. I whispered over some words of encouragement and watched as the things began to unfold. The bird was unsure at first whether to whoop the DSD Jake or get to know the DSD Submissive Hen a little better. Finally, he decided that the DSD Jake was too much and decided to show him who was boss. Within seconds of his first wing slap, Calvin had his bow raised and at full draw. He slowly settled his pin and released. Immediately, the bird took flight, but only went a short distance. Calvin said he hit him good, but as soon as he landed, the tom started to strut again. I told him he better get another arrow knocked and put a follow-up shot on the bird. We both scrounged around the blind searching for Calvin’s quiver. Finally he found it and nocked another arrow. The bird was now about 15 yards away by the time Calvin drew back again and settled in for the second shot. I quickly told him, “breathe, this is a simple shot, just take your time”. He released and I watched in amazement as his arrow hit almost 2 feet in front of the bird. That was the least of my surprises. As I looked over to ask Calvin what happened, I saw that his bowstring was completely derailed off of his cams.
NO! This couldn’t be happening! We had worked so hard, our bad luck was supposed to be gone. I was so shocked, and felt so bad for Calvin that I nearly forgot that my bow sat just to my right with an arrow already nocked. Amazingly, the bird had only gone a short distance and was just slowly walking away. I grabbed my bow and ripped it back to full draw. I estimated the bird to be at about 25 yards, settled the pin on my Hogg Father and released. This time, there was a distinct thud and the tom flew away with my arrow through his back. It looked like a good shot, but I was still too stunned to think. What on earth had happened to Calvin’s shots? How on earth did we come so close to messing this hunt up? I wasn’t sure whether to scream in frustration or excitement. I was only slightly pumped that I had put an arrow through this bird, most of my thoughts were sympathy for Calvin.
Calvin being the person he is, was not deterred, he was just thankful we had accomplished our goal. He was irked to be sure, but he knew what we had come to do, and it did not matter who got the job done. What had been his hunt, quickly turned into our hunt, and our hunt was a success…despite the obstacles along the way.
We slowly organized our stuff, and after about 20 minutes decided we would get out and start looking for my bird. We quickly came across the spot where he landed after taking off after the shot. There were feathers everywhere and a decent amount of blood. Unsure whether the bird continued along the field edge or made his way down the draw, we split up to maximize our search efforts. Within minutes Calvin called out that he had found my bird. I sprinted back up the hill and made my way to the bird he was pointing out laying before us. As I picked him up, Calvin came up and greeted me with a smile and a high-five. Still slightly at odds with my feelings and the turn of events, I was thankful that we had finally put a bird down on the ground. We had pictures to take and more birds to kill! There was nothing else that mattered at that point more than getting Calvin some redemption.
Redemption would come, but not without a little more excitement! Stay tuned for part two of mine and Calvin’s Nebraska Merriam’s hunt.
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