Several years back, my cameraman and I were putting the birds to roost the night before our hunt, along the White River in South Central South Dakota and with the sun going down, the gobbles I was getting using my shock calls sure seemed to be on the other side of the river.
Team Member and Outdoorsmen Adventures cameraman Chuck Doom had scouted the birds for us, saying, “They’ve always roosted on that side and just last week I was here and they used the trees not more than a few blocks away out in front of us.”
The following morning, on opening day, we arrived well before sunrise, Chuck my blank stare as it was obvious that the birds were no longer roosting on the north side; they roosted on the other side of river in the cotton woods near an old abandoned homestead.
With no bridges or crossings within miles, and the sun starting to come up, we didn’t have time to go around and he only mean for us to get across the swollen river.
The bank to bank rushing water gave us no place to wade across; our only choice was to cross on a wobbly woven wire fence.
Because of the high water, the fence was not only wobbly, it had caught all the trash washing downriver, giving the current a lot of stuff to pound against and not the safest way to get to the birds.
I moved up on the fence first to see if it would hold us, which wasn’t real solid, but tight enough to hold us and all of our equipment, with Chuck and the camera following up behind me, once he was sure I hadn’t tumbled into the river
By the time, I crossed; the birds were out of the tree and moving east, with one mature gobbler, a jake and a hen working away from their homestead.
As I looked back towards Chuck, who was still making his way across the river, I told him that he needed to hurry or the birds would be gone.
Reaching my side of the river, I took the camera from him and slid up along the bank and started calling, hoping to get the last three birds attention.
Note: I was younger then and asked if I’d cross a fenced during high water, my answer would be “No Way, Positively NOT.”
Chuck was just getting into position as the gobbler spun around and started working towards us, with the jake and hen in tow.
The gobbler was hot, gobbling his head off while his head starting changing colors from white to blue to red as it frantically searched for the gobbler that had invaded his territory, cutting the distance between myself and the abandon homestead very quickly.
The gobbler wasn’t wasting any time and if Chuck didn’t get set up soon, we wouldn’t get it on camera.
I whispered to him that the bird was coming on quickly and he needed to get the camera up and film.
He said he had to shoot through a downed fence and didn’t know how it would work, I said zoom out and get the footage as if he didn’t this red headed hot gobbler would be on top of us and too close to film.
Chuck gave me the thumbs up as the gobbler worked towards me, reaching the roost tree at about 30 yards, and not seeing the intruder, it was getting nervous.
Using my diaphragm call, I gave a warning putt, with the gobbler raising his red noggin high to try and locate the danger, giving me a perfect aiming point.
My twelve gauged barked, with the gobbler going down hard, flopping all over the ground, where the young jake with him, thought this would be the perfect opportunity for it to get a few licks in on the tom that had beaten it up earlier.
As I ran to the gobbler, the jake just wasn’t going to give up and was on top of the bird, pounding it.
I literally had to boot the jake off the gobbler, and he kept coming back, which made for some good footage.
When I raised the bird, I let Chuck know that it had three beards coming out of its chest and as I showed it to Chuck, his comment was, “Sure when you saw that tripled beard, you didn’t care if I was set up and got the footage, you just wanted to tag the gobbler.”
I had one heck of a time convincing him that hadn’t seen the gobbler’s beard before I shot it and if you’d ask him today about it, I’m sure he’d come up with the same story.
Now, each time I walk through my offices and glance up at that bird hanging on the wall, I remember how dangerous it was to cross on that wobbly wire and the trash hung up on it during high water, the way the gobbler acted and of course Chuck’s comments.
As this spring approaches, I’m looking forward to another turkey season, I have several places spotted where the birds are roosting, strutting and gobbling, so this week, I’ll get on the phone and lock things in.
Once I’ve my land lined up, I’ll begin to get my gear ready, which includes head to toe camo, including cap, facemask, shirt, sweatshirt, jeans, brown socks and a turkey vest to carry all my gear which includes a number of calls including diaphragms, slates, box, push button and shock calls, shells, lightweight stick in the ground blind, binoculars, gobbler fan, decoys, rain gear, then test firing my shotgun to check the pattern and finally cleaning my shotgun.
As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a good idea to do some preseason scouting from the road using your binoculars, staying as far away from the birds as possible, so you don’t spook them.
If you can get close enough to the birds without spooking them, I like to go with a locator or shock call such as an owl, crow and coyote howls, which startles or shocks the bird into giving away its location by gobbling.
This works extremely well late afternoon when the birds are getting ready to giving the hunter a starting location on opening day.
My spring hunts success can be cut short by heavy spring rains as several of the locations I hunt are on minimum maintenance roads or on farmer’s lanes. If you want to lose your hunting rights quickly, use four wheel drive and plow into your hunting location, tearing up their lane, as you’re not going to make any points doing this and will surely need to find a new place to hunt the following season.
I do everything to not upset the landowner and to get to some of my hunting spots, I’m required to hike in at least a half mile, which doesn’t bother me, unless something changes dramatically as by not tearing things up I’ll have a place to hunt next season.
In South Dakota there are several opening dates depending on where you have drawn your tag, below are those on the eastern side of the stats in areas where most of us hunt.
Those going after turkey with a bow will have an opportunity to do so on the 4th of April, with the archery season closing the end of May, on the 31st.
If you’re hunting the Spring Prairie turkey season you’ll have to wait until April 11, and end hunting by May 31.
Nebraska’s opens its Archery season on March 25, while those youth, after turkeys with their shotguns head out into the woods and fields earlier on April 11.
The statewide Spring Shotgun turkey season then, opens on April 18, with all seasons shutting down on May 31.
The early season can be a little tough to hunt as the gobblers have plenty of hen action at this time of the year, with at least some of the hens being receptive.
This is when you’ll have gobblers hang up, stopping just out of range, not wanting to leave their harem, if your calls sound sweet enough, you may get a gobbler to come on down, but if the gobbler won’t come, you may want to work on the boss hen.
She just like the boss gobbler runs the show and when a gobbler is strutting and moving to your call, then hangs up, that’s when I try to infuriate the hen to a point where she’s not going to take any more of the guff from this loud mouth hen.
As she calls to the hung up gobbler, this is when I start working on her, getting on her after each time she calls and with each call getting a little louder than she is and unless the gobbler returns to her, she’ll come over, ready to kick the tail feathers out of this hen trying to take her man away from her.
When I’m working the hen, I’ll use my slate call and once the hen responds, I’ll get on her with my diaphragm as I’m able to keep coming back at her, louder each time she responds.
Once I have the hen headed my way, the gobbler who was strutting and gobbling, will come out of the strut, seeing his hen is gone and if he can see her will either follow her or come in on his own.
Early in the season, I like to put out my Dakota Decoy gobbler and hen as well as another hen decoy that I place flat on the ground, resembling a receptive hen.
As the season progresses, in place of decoys I like to use a turkey fan, with a sharp dowel glued to it and stick it in the ground off to my left a couple of feet behind me.
The fan also allows me to stalk a bird that hangs up, holding it in front of me where I can close the distance between the bird and I, to get close enough for a shot.
I wouldn’t recommend using a fan, on public ground as you wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a gobbler and get a load of shot in your face.
When I do get in range for a head shot, , I use a load that puts the bird down, relying on Hornady’s 12-gauge 3” # 6 shot, 1 ½ ounce, 4 Dr E.Q. Nickel Plated Turkey loads using it with a modified choke.
This load travels at 1,300 feet per second, packing a wallop and if you aim just below the birds head in the neck area, you’ll have a super pattern putting the # 6 BB’s in the neck and head region.
One thing you don’t want to do is shoot at the gobbler’s body as the birds have a lot of feathers which can absorb the shot and not reaching the vital organs, only wounding the bird that will run off and eventually die.
Nothing gets my blood flowing more than an early morning gobble on opening day, and the sight of a full strutting gobbler coming my way, it’s been that way for me for over 35 years and will happen each and every opening day from this season forward.
Good luck this spring, and please try to bring a youngster out in the field with you as they’re our hunting future and a way you can pass on our hunting heritage.
Gary Howey (Hartington, Nebraska) is a former tournament angler, fishing & hunting guide, an award winning writer, producer, and broadcaster, and was inducted into the “National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame” in 2017. He is the Co-Host of the Outdoorsmen Adventures television series and Outdoor Adventures radio. The new Outdoorsmen Adventures series airs April 4 at 11:00 am on KCAU-TV, Sioux City, as well as on numerous local stations. If you are looking for more outdoor information, check out garyhoweysoutdoors.com, outdoorsmenadventures.com and like Gary Howey’s Facebook page and watch the shows on the MIDCO Sports Network, News Channel Nebraska and on the Outdoor Channels www.MyOutdoorTV.com