Nebraskaland April 2019

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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34 Nebraskaland • April 2019 before the season. After patterning the shotgun with a variety of shot sizes and powder loads, I reached a combination where I was comfortable, but the shot would have to be 25 yards or less. I was excited to try muzzleloader hunting, because it would allow the same mobility of conventional shotgun hunting with the added challenge of limiting my range. This decreased range meant I was going to have to get a tom to commit to the decoys and not hang up in the distance. After a long day of spotting turkeys, gauging their direction of travel, and trying to figure out how to snake along a creek or follow a finger of trees to reach them, I had yet to get in front of one. However, I had watched two separate toms use the same fence crossing. I decided to settle in and spend the rest of the afternoon within shooting distance of the crossing. There were two gnarly cedar trees to the west. Using hand pruners and a folding saw I created an opening at the base of the tree and stuck the cut branches in the ground in front of me. After creating my hide, I placed a hen decoy 15 yards to the left of me facing away. I did the same with a strutting tom decoy at 10 yards but turned him facing toward me. Toms often approach hens from behind and other males from the front. Setting my decoys like this would shorten the distance between myself and an approaching tom by making him pass between me and the decoys. I spent the next hour making occasional yelps with no response. It had been a long day, and with the lack of action I was beginning to nod off when I heard the unmistakable spit of a tom behind me. For those unacquainted with this term, a tom will sometimes make a "pfft" sound when it is excited or angry. It almost sounds like a muffled sneeze. Unlike a gobble which can be heard from a long distance, if you hear a spit it means a turkey is close by and fired up. I suspected a tom had snuck in behind me, so I shouldered my gun, waiting for it to appear. Ten minutes went by and I hadn't heard anything more, so I slowly turned and peered through the tree, but couldn't make anything out. Bridging my shotgun between my shoulder and knee to free up my hands, I used a slate call to make a few gentle purrs and whines. These soft calls often bring a bird the last few critical yards. From the corner of my eye, I was surprised to see the turkey approaching from the right instead of the fence crossing to my left. He ducked between two strands of barbed wire and accelerated his approach until he was just out of range. Slowing, he went into a strut and moved toward the tom decoy. At this point he was only 10 yards in front of me and looking my direction. When he turned to look at the hen, I aimed at the base of his head and pulled the trigger. A billow of smoke erupted from the gun and I couldn't see what happened. Then I heard the sound of wings beating the ground and raced to my feet. As the smoke settled, I knelt over the bird, having harvested three birds with three different weapons in one season. The Good Old Days This challenge made me realize how good the turkey hunting was in Nebraska. I had so much fun I made it a tradition and was able to accomplish the feat every year from 2007-2012 until I moved to attend graduate school. Two of the years I even switched out my compound bow for a recurve with the same success. Looking back, I couldn't have been luckier. I had no idea that Nebraska was quickly developing the best turkey hunting in North America. It led to a passion that continues today and taught me what it takes to be a successful turkey hunter. More importantly, it made me appreciate the amazing hunting in my home state. Since those days, turkey hunting has only gotten better. The turkey population has exploded over the last decade, and now Nebraska has the reputation of being a turkey hunting destination and welcomes hunters from around the world. With hunting opportunities in every county, nearly 1 million acres of public access, three permits available for the spring season and two in the fall, it's easy to understand why. Making things even sweeter, Nebraska's spring season is one of the longest in the country, so there is plenty of time to challenge yourself as well. Turkey hunters use a variety of calls, including slate calls, to lure in aggressive toms looking for a mate.

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