We went, …we called, …we saw…and my 33 seasons of experience, and $300 worth of decoys and calls, got kicked around by a bunch of birds with penny-sized brains.
Only in the turkey woods.
Last weekend longtime friend Ed Schulte and I headed to his boyhood home amid the cornfields, pastures and meandering South Loup River of central Nebraska. No stranger to the Merriam’s/Rio Grande hybrid turkeys of the Nebraska and Dakota prairies, I was confident.
We’re talking hit the baseball off the top of the tee with three swings confident.
I was to take care of the calling and equipment, while Ed took care of lodging and hunting grounds. That meant staying with Ed’s relatives, Don and Diana Axmann.
With a feed and seed business, and a lifelong resident of the area, Don had us set to hunt three great properties along the South Loup. When we showed interest in another place, Don’s quick call got access there, too. That’s the way we were treated, both by Ed’s large family, friends of the family and complete strangers.
The people were as refreshing as the weather was blustery on two of our four days.
The first evening we just scouted properties, located several groups of gobbling toms at sunset and I got to know the Axmann’s. Judging by the dominance of red and Husker memorabilia in his basement, it was quickly obvious that Don was addicted to anything Nebraska football. Quiet on the outside, his dry since of humor is appreciable.
Diana reminded me of her sister, Ed’s wife, Ronda – friendly, talkative, positive, perpetually happy, and very talented in the kitchen.
Goal #1 was to call in a tom for Ed, who’d only ambushed turkeys in the past. With plenty of mouth, slate and box calls along, and a pair of ultra-realistic, decoys, I figured no problems.
Hunters plan, turkeys laugh.
And really, the first day went well enough.
The morning’s hunt never had a chance thanks to a guitar string-tight barbed wire fence that probably dissuaded enthusiastic toms from coming our way. It happens when you’re hunting an area for the first time
No biggie. That afternoon I lured in a nice tom that came in at a bad angle and was probably within the fringe of shotgun range. Figuring he’d come on in and give Ed a shot, I held off the trigger. The tom simply turned and slowly strutted away. Coward.
Towards evening, Ed got to see a nice tom come to calls and decoys. He made the shot, which left us a day-and-a-half to get me at least one bird.
We had two hunts at some of the prettiest prairie turkey habitat I’ve ever seen. Amid the mile-long stretch of timber along the South Loup was a 20 acre or so plot of alfalfa totally hidden from any roads. About 20 turkeys, including at least five longbeards, were in the field when we checked it. Farm trails seemed perfect travel routes to and from the field for turkeys in the area.
The first afternoon at the spot we set-up along the edge of one of those trails and had a hen in our decoys within 10 minutes, but the toms in the area showed up late and didn’t want to play. We moved our blind to where they’d been that evening.
The next morning, our last of the hunt, the air was filled with gobbles when the birds were scattered amid three roosting places. When they hit the ground, though, – silence.
We had two henlesss longbeards pass along the field oblivious to the decoys and calls. A mixed flock of about two dozen hens and toms showed no reaction, not even yelp, gobble or strut to my calls, an hour later. Even four lone jakes, probably the most gullible creatures in hunting, totally ignored calls and decoys that had fooled so many birds, through so many seasons.
I did a made move-and-call dash through the woodlands during the final minutes of the hunt. Nada, but tt least I went down swinging.
We wondered if it was the weather, or hunting pressure we didn’t know about, or just turkeys being turkeys that day and flipping me the feather.
No problem, really. The beards and spurs will be a bit longer next spring, Ed and I know two properties better and still have at least two more to explore.
Hopefully next year the turkeys of central Nebraska won’t again be so rude.
The people and the country won’t let us down.