Nebraska-turkey

A Nebraska Tom

Turkey Hunting in Nebraska  After having to postpone my Nebraska turkey hunt due to a massive spring snow storm in Colorado, I was anxious to get out of the snow-covered foothills of Littleton on Monday to head to Nebraska.  It was a 4 ½ hour drive to Hayes Center, Nebraska, and that part of Nebraska is very beautiful with rolling hills and water-washed canyon land.  The vegetation was very green in most places, and the hard wood trees were budding with bright yellow leaves.  I was excited to go hunting!

I got to the house in Hayes Center and it was locked.  I called Jerry, the local contact for Birds & Bucks (the outfitter that provides these hunts for a very reasonable price), and he said that he was taking the other hunter who was staying there for a tour of the hunting areas and would be back in about an hour.  He told me where a key was, so I brought my gear in and made a sandwich for dinner.

Jerry showed up at about 7:15 PM with Mitch Peterson, the other hunter who was staying at the house.  Mitch was a very nice young man, turning 31 this week, and an experienced turkey hunter.  I left with Jerry and he took me to see the different properties that I could hunt, which was almost overwhelming, there was so much land to hunt.  This isn’t like a hunting club or anything like that; it is wild, private land with natural populations of turkey, pheasant, deer, and all kinds of other animals.  I couldn’t believe all of the animals we saw on that drive around the properties, I was encouraged that I would get a turkey on this trip.

After I got back to the house I talked with Mitch for a while, we hit it off very well with each other and had a good conversation.  He has a lot more experience hunting turkey than I do; he has been hunting turkey since he was 13.  Mitch is also the president of the Front Range Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, which impressed me for such a young man.  Mitch gave me some good pointers, and I was anxious to get out the next morning and hunt.

I didn’t sleep much that night; I never do in an unfamiliar bed, especially with the anticipation of a hunt in the morning.  I got up at 4:45 when I heard the creaking floor boards above me as Mitch got up to start getting ready.  I made some oatmeal and coffee, put on my camos and face paint, and headed toward the area I chose to hunt that morning.  I arrived at the abandoned farm stead well before sunrise; I had planned to hunt a line of cedar trees south of the farm where I had seen a lot of turkeys the night before on our scouting trip.  As I worked my way towards the tree line, I heard gobbles coming from a creek bed to the northwest.  You can see a video by clicking here.  While I wanted to continue with my original plan, I couldn’t resist those gobbles, so I changed my plans and headed towards that creek bed.

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Sunrise

I concealed myself in a patch of brush and trees above the creek bed and waited, but I didn’t see any birds.  You can see a video by clicking here.  As the sun came up I decided to just start walking the land to see if I could find any birds, it is tough to hunt a new area with very little scouting time.  I ended up hiking all over that vast expanse of property for four more hours before I finally saw a hen about a quarter of a mile away, coming down from the area that I had planned to hunt in the first place, isn’t that how it always goes with hunting?

I hiked up to where the hen came from and saw another hen in a field of prairie grass south of the cedar line.  South of the line of cedar trees there were several large cotton woods, and then a somewhat open field spotted with smaller cedar trees.  I saw several turkey feathers on the ground, some droppings and tracks, and I figured that is where the birds spent their mornings, I should have gone with my original instincts that morning.  I decided that I had found their roosting area, as well as their morning activity area, so I planned to come back that evening and try to catch the birds on their way back to their roost.

IMG_1220I went back to the house, took a nap for an hour, made a big afternoon meal of ham and eggs, and then headed back to the farm at 4:30 to set up in that cedar tree line above the corn field, hoping to intercept the birds as they made their way back to their roost that evening.  It was windy that evening, and at first I set up my camo cloth blind, but I didn’t like the way it flapped in the wind.  So I took that down and gathered some branches and tumble weeds to make a small blind in front of me as I hunkered down into the cedar trees.  You can see a video by clicking here.  As I sat there waiting for something to happen, three trucks pulled up to the farm house at 6:15 PM, each pulling a long cattle trailer.  They proceeded to back up, one-by-one, to unload cattle through the fences into the area.  If that wasn’t enough, about 30 minutes later a truck pulled into the farm house and two people got out and started doing work on the house using a power saw and making all kinds of noise.  They left at 7:30, but that totally screwed my chances of getting a bird that night.

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Waiting in the cedar row looking for turkeys.

I still waited it out; there wasn’t much else I could do.  I did see a beautiful huge Tom about a quarter mile away to the west, fanning his big tail with a hen.  He was a monster, and in the sinking sunlight his tail feathers appeared to have a bright red stripe across the top of the fan.  There was no cover for me to try to approach him, even from that far away.  I decided to try anyway, so I got out of my hiding place and walked along the tree line in his direction.  I went about 30 yards before he saw me, and he took off running; turkeys have amazing eye sight. I went back to my blind and waited out the rest of the evening until shooting light was gone without seeing anything.  I was a little discouraged as I headed back to my truck in the dark, but it was still a good day of hunting.

I got back to the house, took a shower and settled into to watch the Rockies game.  Mitch came back very late; I was actually getting worried about him.  He didn’t get back until after 10:00 PM.  He had gone to another property that was about 25 miles to the east, and part of the property that we had access to for this hunt.  He was excited about what he saw that night, and he was going to go back there the next morning.  We had a good talk about our day of hunting, and then we turned in for the night.

The next morning we both got up and left early; I went back to the place I hunted the day before, and Mitch went to the place he went to the evening before.  I had the same experience as I did on the previous day; not able to locate the birds in the morning even though I heard gobbles, and I wasn’t going to wander around that place for four hours again, so I went back to the house by 9:00.  Mitch came back at 9:45 with two birds, and he was excited to take me to this other property to help me get a bird.

As Mitch cleaned his birds, I got ready to go back out to hunt.  Mitch didn’t even put his gun in my truck; he was going solely to guide me, which I thought was very generous of him.  We drove to the property about 25 miles to the east, and along the way the land began to change dramatically into a river bottom terrain and then these rolling hills and canyons, it reminded me of a miniature mountain range, it was beautiful.  The hills were dotted with juniper trees, yucca plants, and small bushes, and the valleys were lined with junipers and sometimes steep water-cut walls.

We started exploring the valleys and glassing the hill sides.  Mitch gave a locator call and a couple of other calls, but we heard no response.  After about 30 minutes Mitch spotted a turkey laying down under a low hanging branch of a juniper tree in a narrow gully.  We both watched the bird through our binoculars, he was about 300 yards away, but we couldn’t tell if it was a Tom or not.  We decided to go up the hillside to the south of the gully and try to get into a better position to see the bird, and potentially shoot it.

As we worked our way close to where we thought the bird was we couldn’t tell for sure where he might be because we couldn’t see down into the valley through the trees.  We finally dropped down into the valley and couldn’t see the bird.  As we worked our way back towards the east to where we first spotted the bird, we realized that there was another drainage to the north that forked off of the one we were walking down, that was actually the drainage where we saw the bird.

Suddenly Mitch signaled to get down; the turkey was about 20 yards up the drainage.  He looked at us but didn’t really see us, and he turned to walk towards the west.  So we climbed up above that drainage and worked our way along until we got to where we thought the bird might be.  Mitch signaled to stop, and suddenly the bird burst out from the trees and ran 15 yards in front of us.  Mitch immediately signaled not to shoot; it was a Jake (a one year old male turkey).  Feeling a little dejected, we headed back down the drainage.  We explored a couple more drainages with no luck.  There were a lot of cattle roaming around in the area, I don’t know if that had any impact on the turkeys or not.

We came to a dirt road, and as we were walking along Mitch stopped and said “Did you hear that?”  I said “No.”  “I think I heard a gobble,” Mitch said.  Just then a gobble came from right above us on a steep hill.  The side of the hill was cut out by water; it was a vertical wall about 15 feet high.  Mitch held his turkey fan up to help hide us, and just then the Tom appeared about 25 yards up the hill.  “Shoot him!” Mitch said with excitement.  “Are you sure?” I asked, because the muzzle of my gun was about two feet to the side of Mitch’s head.  “Yes, shoot him!” Mitch said.  So I shot him.

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My Nebraska turkey.

The bird fumbled around on the hill, and then started tumbling down the hill side and over the vertical wall, landing right in front of us.  Mitch held the bird down as it took its last few breaths.  “Congratulations, you got your bird!” Mitch said as he extended his hand towards me.  “Thanks, and thanks for being my guide,” I replied, shaking his hand.  I put the bird in my vest and we headed back to the truck.  On the way Mitch commented about the ringing in his ear.  I felt bad about that, but he said it was the only way to have a chance at that bird without scaring it off.

Once we got to the truck Mitch took some pictures of me, we loaded up our gear and the bird, and then headed back to the lodge.  It was a very exciting hunt, and I had a great time with Mitch, he is a good guy that I hope to hunt with again someday.

I ended up going home that afternoon, kind of sad to be leaving that place.  But I had a great time hunting and observing the land and the animals.  I had a successful hunt, I learned a lot from Mitch, and I made a new friend.