One of the best ways to become a good turkey hunter is to hunt new places. Each bird we call at is an individual, yet all turkeys show some of the same vulnerabilities and characteristics which make the strategy in the hunt quite interesting. I know the more I hunt new ground, the more able I am to use both the similarities AND differences to my advantage. That said there’s still times where turkeys are just…well…turkeys. They do exactly what you think they won’t, and seem to enjoy the agony they put us through the entire time. Either way, I would be hunting two new areas this spring trip, in two different states, with a new turkey hunting buddy. These are exactly the kinds of hunts where you re-learn old lessons, and start to forge new ones in the process.
This spring has been a tough one in terms of weather. No matter where you’re hunting, it’s likely that wind, rain, and cooler temperatures have been affecting bird behavior and activity levels. That said, the turkeys don’t dig holes in the ground when it rains. They’re out there, so if possible, you should be too. Wind in the Dakotas had been more the culprit out west, as IDO Pro Staff and Cameraman Ben Brettingen had experienced just the week before with “dust-bowl-like” conditions on account of winds gusting to nearly 50mph. We would be hunting some of his ground near the Missouri River and Platte Creek Lodge where we stayed, and our first day out there actually saw us with bows in hand. An early blind set yielded zero gobbles, so off we trod towards where we had heard perhaps a distant gobble. Before you know it, we’re on some gobbling birds in one of the many steep ravines that lead down to the impoundment of the Missouri.
We had a lone tom working his way down a long pasture that screamed “TURKEYS!”, along with some hens and jakes. Little did we know that by heading to the end of it and cutting them off that we’d lose touch with our tom for good. That doesn’t mean our sneak wasn’t fruitful, as before long we had a jake and two hens out in front of us while we sat behind two cedars and a fenceline. Ben has obviously pulled his full share of sneaks, as he moved behind me and crawled nearly 10 feet to get his bow up, draw, and arrow that jake at 20 yards, all from behind the sparse cover of two small cedars and a fenceline. Kudos to Ben, I don’t think I’m that sneaky! From that point on, a cat and mouse game, with over 6 gobbling birds (which we later found out to be jakes) kept us busy the rest of the morning.
Nebraska time. After a miserable stint or two some buddies had on public land in NE, we secured some private land through Tom at Platte Creek Lodge again. Tom’s friend Mick at Net’s Peak Outfitters in NE had some ground where birds were working and he graciously showed it off to us. It was impressive, and the bird numbers spoke for themselves. Our first morning there, we worked birds immediately off of the roost, and had one of them loop around for a long shot through some cedars. First bird in the bag before sunup. Then, after another bird we spooked earlier started firing up on his own, we led him right past our position with some aggressive yelps. He gobbled and walked, covering some ground. When he made a stand in one position, gobbling his brains out before eventually walking off, we made tracks to that spot. It’s been my experience that toms are biologically programmed to respond to a hen that plays the game right. She does her part by going to where he last sounded off, and me (she) sounding off and scolding the tom helps him to come back directly to that spot. After thinking Ben was handcuffed with gun under his body as he lay prone on a field road edge, I killed a beautiful Merriam’s bird right out from under him as the bird was mere steps from him being able to shoot. I felt terrible! Here I thought Ben would be happy that I made sure that bird didn’t walk off, but it turns out I stole it from him!
Ben’s turn. We worked some big draws that just looked phenomenal, but the wind was really affecting our ability to call over great distance. Box call time. We spent the next few hours dropping just below the edge of these ravines to call down into them, and eventually, I spotted a red head. Then another, and another, and many more turkeys to boot. With some pleading, one of the 3 longbeards, along with a pile of jakes and hens came within range and Ben made a great shot down a steep decline to the bottom of the ravine where the birds were. That was it for us. With another tag left to fill in SD, we decided NE had been great to us as we’d slapped 3 tags on gobbler’s legs, all before 11AM. The SD birds were less than cooperative, but we still had fun chasing them around, until our time there eventually ran out. I want to thank Tom, Mick, and Mick’s son Brent for showing us around and helping some out-of-towner’s tag some birds. Curiously, turkeys aren’t that “big a deal” out there, but no matter where I hunt them, they are to me!