Driving down the highway on a sunny day this late winter, I caught a glimpse of movement inside a heavy shelterbelt near a deserted farm place off to my left.
Appearing for a short period of time and then gone, the next second disappearing from sight.
Whatever it was, it didn’t seem to be in any hurry, so I slowed down, hoping to get a better look at it, and as I got closer to the end of the tree belt, a gobbler, a Tom turkey, appeared, fanned out, strutting, slowly moving back and forth as it turned in circles doing its best to get the attention of any hens in the area.
The males, Toms, the gobblers spend the entire year, in anticipation of the early spring breeding season and even though it was early March, because of the sunshine and warmer weather, it appeared as if the gobblers were practicing, getting a jump on their spring mating season.
When you see gobblers out doing their thing, strutting, dragging their wings on the ground and gobbling, there’s always a dominant bird, proven to be at the head of the pecking order by either appearing very huge and impressive when he’s strutting, frightening other gobblers away or by coming out on top of a battle with other gobblers.
Not far from the big Tom at the end of the belt, were two smaller gobblers, close enough to the bigger bird to keep an eye on what was going on, but not close enough to make him want to come over and kick their tail feathers.
These were the lesser younger or less aggressive birds, the follower gobblers that stayed close to the dominant bird, strutting from time to time, hoping that in the event a receptive hen shows up, the dominant bird will be too busy with a hen to notice that they’re running off with other hens from his harem.
Turkeys, always alert, use their excellent eyesight, tremendous hearing as well as their running ability to spot and escape danger.
From the time they’re in the egg, throughout their life, predators are after them, the nest robbers, skunks and raccoons, coyotes, bobcats as well as winged birds of prey owls and hawks and man.
Turkeys are a different breed of bird, with several different subspecies found throughout North America, including the Merriam, Eastern, Rio Grande and the Osceola.
The Merriam wild turkey is a bird of the Rocky Mountain region and the neighboring prairies states of South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, n ow found in fifteen states, and according to the Grand View Outdoors web page, Nebraska is listed as number ten in the top ten states to hunt turkeys.
According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Eastern wild turkeys are the most widely distributed subspecies east of the Missouri River. They’re also the most abundant. In fact, you can find them in 38 states and numerous Canadian provinces.
The Rio Grande wild turkeys are found in western desert regions of Texas, in Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado , with the Osceola wild turkeys only found in the peninsula of Florida
These along with numerous hybrids help to make excellent turkey numbers in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa and throughout our nation.
I started hunting turkeys several years after I moved from Watertown, South Dakota to Nebraska and had no clue when it came to hunting turkeys, as I’d never seem a wild turkey before, so a couple of friends and I headed to Central Nebraska to give it a try.
Back then, Nebraskans were required to carry a call with when hunting turkeys, so I’d bought the least expensive one, hadn’t figured how to use it as I wasn’t sure this was something I would like to get into.
Well, our first hunt was a bust, didn’t have any idea what I was doing, but then and there, I decided, I wasn’t going to be beat by some silly bird.
Unfortunately, that silly bird beat up on me for several years, until I decided, what I was doing wasn’t working and learned more about the bird and how they acted throughout the year.
Since then, I’ve taken gobblers in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, Kansas, Missouri and Mississippi.
I learned that when hunting during the spring, there are no set rules as turkeys are just like any other critter in Mother Nature’s world, including man.
There’re days when it seems like no matter how you approach a hunt, the birds seem to be turned off, in a bad mood, while at other times, it’s just the opposite, strutting up a storm, willing to respond to all most everything and that mood can change from day to day, week to week.
As I paid my dues, coming home empty handed many times, I really started studying the bird, educating myself, on the use of numerous types of calls, the art of camouflage, turkey decoys and set ups, allowing me to be a more successful hunter.
Like many turkey hunters, my original call was a box call, simple to use, once you had the rhythm figured out or until you were hunting in damp conditions when the chalk needed on the box got wet it didn’t work well.
In between calls, I did my best to figure out how to use a diaphragm call, but that would take some time.
While working on the diaphragm, I used a slate call, it worked pretty well, but not so hot when it became damp.
When I finally figured out the diaphragm call, it became my go-to call as no movement was needed in order to use it as it fit inside your mouth.
I’m not saying that it’s the only call I use as every pocket in my turkey vest has some type of call and it seems as if one gobbler will react to a certain call, while others want something different.
Learning how to hunt turkeys, isn’t all that complicated, you need to figure out how to limit your movement and if you aren’t able to do it, these sharp eye birds will figure you out, give their warning putt and the games over.
Believing in camouflage since coming out of the Army, I camo everything from the top of my head to my boots and everything in between, including a camo stick in the ground blind I carry with me, as it gives me and those, I take hunting with me an opportunity for a little movement as they’re bringing their shotguns into position.
Knowing where your load is going to hit, the spot you want it to once you pull the trigger is very important and over the years, I patterned my 12 gauge, it took me awhile trying several manufacturers shells and I wasn’t satisfied until I found a shell that would pattern, putting numerous knockdown pellets into the bird’s noggin and neck on out to thirty yards.
Now I have that load, Hornady’s 3” # 6 nickel plated 4 dr. 1 ½ ounce turkey loads, and once I draw a bead on the bird and fire, it’s game over.
I have quite a collection of decoys and they’re times when decoys can make the difference between filling your tag and not, but once a gobbler is drawn towards a decoy and the hunter isn’t hidden well enough and sees him move, it doesn’t take these birds with such a small brain to figure out that something isn’t right, avoiding them after that.
The Nebraska spring turkey Archery season opens March 25, 2021 with the shotgun season opening April 17 and the seasons not closing until May 31, 2021.
South Dakota’s archery season is open from April 3, 2021 through May 31, 2021, while the states spring prairie shotgun season running from April 10, 2021 through May 31, 2021.
Spring turkey hunting is an exciting sport as bringing a gobbler to a call is the opposite of how it’s supposed to work, with the hen going to the gobbler and once you see a gobbler all fanned out coming towards you, I’ll bet that this will be a sport that you can’t get enough of.
Gary Howey is an award-winning writer, producer, broadcaster, former tournament angler, fishing and hunting guide and in 2017 inducted into the "National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame”. He developed and was the Producer-Host for 23 years of his award winning gary Howey’s Outdoorsmen Adventures television series. He’s the Host of the award-winning Outdoor Adventures radio program carried on Classic Hits 106.3, ESPN Sports Radio 1570 in Southeastern South Dakota, KWYR Country 93 AM and Magic 93 FM in Central South Dakota, As well as on KCHE 92.1 FM in Northwest Iowa. If you’re looking for more outdoor information, check out www.GaryHowey'soutdoors.com , and www.outdoorsmenadventures.com.