Wednesday, March 28, 2012

2012 Nebraska Opener

Man! Cabin fever was really starting to set in, a trip to Nebraska for their opening weekend of turkey season was the perfect prescription. We went out and hunted with my cousin, Chad. This was an exceptionally good opener as the weather was extremely nice and the large winter flocks are already starting to really break up.

The season opened on Sunday. On Saturday the local range was having a 3D shoot, no better way to warm up for turkey season than hitting the range! We had a great time, and the weather was almost too nice.

Dad bearing down on a javi

 Chad whipped up on all of us 

 Ashley has pretty solid form for a newer shooter!

On to the hunting! 

Day 1:

We have hunted this place quite a bit so we were familiar with how the turkeys moved about this property and where their main roosts were. We came up with a plan that we thought would be solid. 

The first morning of the hunt I sat in the blind with my Dad while Danny and his girlfriend Ashley went a few hundred yards down the field in the opposite direction. There were extremely large flocks roosting at both ends of the field, as well as large flocks in adjacent properties. They all usually converge in this corn field to do their morning feeding before heading up in the open hills to spend their days.

Here's a look at our general plan and how we set up on opening morning.
As you can see, we did not want to set up too close to the roost. These birds are in their gigantic winter flocks at the moment, but they utilize these roosts throughout the year. We wanted to hunt them a few days in a row, so we tried to coax some in after fly-down, and once they left the field we went and hunted somewhere else until the following morning.

The vocalization was intense, the first three hours of the day was non-stop hen talk. The toms and jakes were yackin' it up as well. Before they flew down the gobbling sounded like a constant thunderstorm. Once they hit the ground the gobbling slowed down more and more as the morning went on. After a few hours of being on the ground they all but quit gobbling.

The toms were not really that callable. They were perfectly content to stick close to the hens spitting and drumming their hearts out. As we have done in the past, we called a lot hoping to bring the hens our way. Our plans worked out well.

After an hour or so of observing the turkeys they finally made their way to our end of the field. Once some of the hens got close we picked up our calling tempo which brought them to within feet of our decoys. Naturally, some jakes and toms followed them over.

I am not picky on shooting turkeys, jake or tom it does not matter one bit to me. With a few jakes at 15 yards and a nice tom at 20 yards, I shot at the jakes. I think I had a pebble in my shoe which was greatly distracting me ;) so my first shot went high/left by a few inches. The jakes all ran out a few yards further and were now standing next to the tom, 20 yards away. I quickly grabbed another arrow and put it on the string. This time I took aim at the tom sitting there strutting.

I usually aim straight up from the legs, at about beard height. My arrow hit him a little behind the legs. The turkey gimped out 75 yards or so with blood absolutely pooring out of him. He bedded down and died a very short time later.

I was shooting my Rampart longbow and a Sasquatch broadhead. I'm a big fan of the largest broadhead I can find for turkeys. I think that it paid off on this tom with my "less than ideal" shot placement.

A big ol' Sasquatch broadhead. I am sure happy I had this wide broadhead on the end of my arrow, it did its job.
I love when the guys are waiting at the truck, and I round the corner with a bird on my shoulder! :) I love it just as much when I can see another bird on the ground at the truck. The camaraderie is one of the best parts about hunting!

A few hundred yards down the field Ashley was getting quite the introduction to turkey hunting. Ashley played DI softball at Purdue University, and she is one tough gal. Danny was just four days out of shoulder surgery, so Ashley was the one who had to carry in the pack with two chairs and the blind.

Wave after wave of turkeys came past the corner of the field where they set their blind. Turkeys can be such easy targets to miss. On Ashley's first shot her arrow sailed harmlessly over the turkeys back. A little while later another jake came by, this time she got some feathers. She was stepping it in. The third jake that came by didn't have a prayer. The third shot was so perfect that the turkey didn't even run 3 yards, it died on the spot.

This was Ashley's first successful bowhunt, or any hunt for that matter. She has been practicing like crazy, and is quite the shot by now. Once she got her nerves under control the turkeys had no chance!

Ashley was shooting a Rampart recurve and a big ol' Magnus 4 blade broadhead. She got her first bow late last winter and has become a great shot in the past few months. 

I was so glad I got to be there on Ashley's first turkey hunt. I only wish I could have been in the blind with her and Danny.

Day 2:

The following morning it was my Dad's turn to shoot. We set up in the same field directly opposite of where we were the first morning. There was some thick fog that allowed us to cross the field, completely confident in doing so without spooking any roosted turkeys.

The second morning we only saw about half of the birds that we saw the first morning. The turkeys took their time flying down from the roost. I am not sure but I think that the thick fog may have had something to do with it. They also took their time making their way in to our field, but they eventually did.

One of the first groups of hens to enter our field had about five toms with them. Two of the toms broke from the group and charged in at our decoys. I had out a Primos Jake-Mobile decoy. The first big tom ran up to it and postured a bit, as if he was going to get to spurring the decoy.

I was about to freak out because Dad was taking his sweet time picking an opportunity to shoot him. I had the video camera running and the turkey wasn't far from leaving the video screen. I hate when somebody urges me to shoot, so I generally try not to do that to others, but my nerves got the best of me as I told my Dad three times to "SHOOT!"

Well he finally shot. We have had a lot of discussions about where to shoot turkeys, and heck, my Dad even wrote an article about it for this blog a year ago. But when you're in the moment sometimes it can be easy to forget to really pick that spot. Dad hit this turkey exactly where he was aiming, problem was, he aimed too far forward and shot the turkey right through the breast. When they are in full strut it can be very deceiving where their body is.

You can see where Dad hit this turkey. His shot was far too forward. He should have aimed straight above the turkey's legs.

I was convinced that he missed and only shot through feathers, but Dad insisted that he hit him. The turkey ran away and joined the main group out in the middle of the field. Around 20 minutes later we noticed one turkey had separated itself from the main group and was just standing there, not looking around, not pecking the ground, just kind of standing there. I started to think that maybe Dad was right, maybe he did hit that tom. Through our binos we kept an eye on that bird. Not too long later and he went up this small hill and bedded down. That was a good sign, and for the first time after the shot I got excited that Dad got him.

The hill across the field where the bird bedded down.

Zommed in and you can see him better. 

After the turkeys left the field Dad circled wide of that hill and came up the back side. I went towards the turkey, which hobbled to the top of the hill. Dad was waiting there for him with a Simmons tipped arrow. 

Here's Dad punching his tag. The old man was right...again. He sure did hit that turkey, but it goes to show how important shot placement can be for turkeys. Had the main flock not been in an open field it would have been easy for this tom to find a better hiding spot, where recovering him would have been much more difficult.

Dad was shooting his Hawk recurve. He shot this turkey with a Sasquatch broadhead and finished him off with a Simmons Shark. Another testament for big broadheads on less than ideal shots on turkeys.

Dad and I with his tom.

We are headed back to Nebraska next weekend to hunt again. On April 2nd I turn 30 years old. My wife loves to remind me of it too. On my 10th birthday my Dad and I were hunkered under a cedar tree where he shot a turkey with his Bighorn recurve - my first turkey hunt and one heck of a birthday present! Since then that recurve has made its way to several owners in several states, and then by pure happenstance it is now back in my hands. I'll be shooting that same Bighorn, exactly 20 years later, to try and kill my own turkey with it. We should have a fun time!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Voice Calling Turkeys

Wrestling has been a passion in my life right alongside traditional archery. The NCAA Wrestling Championships were in St. Louis last weekend. I haven't missed one in 14 years, Danny and I make the annual trip to watch the tournament no matter where it is.

This year we drove out there with a friend and his two sons (two of the best youth wrestlers in the country). Like us, this family lives and breaths two things - wrestling and hunting. Of course driving through Kansas and Missouri brought up a lot of turkey stories.

Wyatt is ten years old. He is an extremely accomplished wrestler for a young man of his age, and he is also a hunting fanatic. He has called in and killed turkeys with his voice, and it is no surprise! Check this out!

Early Turkey Season Bow Hunting

Written By Chad Graham

Here in western Nebraska the Cardinals have begun to sing. Every year the arrival of cardinals gets my blood pumping as they remind me that turkey season is near. Since I am lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time watching and hunting turkeys I thought I would submit a blog about the pros and cons of early turkey season. This blog may be beneficial for first time turkey hunters and for the customers of the shop planning to hunt early season in Western Nebraska or Kansas.

The first thing to realize is that the turkeys will most likely still be in large wintering flocks for the first week or two of bow season. This varies from year to year and is dependent upon the weather. Last year the turkeys did not leave their primary wintering area until the second week of the season where I hunt. There was not a turkey to be seen in one of my prime "opening weekend" spots. Two years ago Tommy and I had 5 shots opening morning at the same place. Some scouting a day or two in advance will greatly enhance your chances.

Past opening weekend success for Chad and Tommy 

Expect to find very large groups of hens with a couple toms mixed in. The majority of jakes and toms will be in separate flocks away from the hens. Usually around the end of March some toms will begin to intermingle with the hens, but many will remain in bachelor groups. I have often seen large groups of jakes together for the first three weeks of the season. Though they are in separate groups during the day, most of the time the hens jakes and toms will all roost in the same general area.

The turkeys will be just beginning to search out new food sources, further from their wintering grounds, which have most likely been depleted. If you know where the turkeys winter you will have a good idea where to start looking, they will not be far from where you saw them during late deer season. 

Early season I look for corn and bean fields which still have some feed available. The edges of feedlots and winter wheat fields are also good places to look for feeding turkeys early in the morning. Later in the season turkey food sources really expand and the feeding areas are more difficult to pattern. During the early season the turkeys follow a more set pattern and are very easy to ambush. 

I generally don’t like to set up right on the roost, especially in the evening, if I plan to hunt the same turkeys for more than one day. The turkeys tend to fly down from the roost, go to feed, and then they find a secluded loafing area to spend most of the day. I have seen turkeys travel 1/4 to 1/2 mile or more to their loafing area after they feed. On wide wooded river bottoms with cover they tend to loaf in thick heavily wooded areas. In areas along creek bottoms with sparse cover the turkeys loaf on open hills, away from roads and often a good distance from the creek bottom. Transition areas between the food sources and loafing areas are a great place to ambush the turkeys. By not hunting the roost and not disturbing the primary feeding area you will ensure at least a couple days hunting the same flock in the same pattern. If you only have one day, set up right on the food source before daylight and just outside of sight of the roost if possible. 

See those fans mixed in with all the hens? These toms were not callable, though the flock did 
walk past our blind this day, which was placed in between the turkeys feeding area (the corn field) 
and their loafing area (the wide open hills).

Generally there will be a small number of toms within a large group of hens. Expect those toms to be difficult to call in. If you don’t ambush them there is little chance of getting those birds. The smaller groups of rogue jakes and toms are a great early season target. They are not fired up yet  but be patient. Many times it has taken several hours to call a group in. Keep after them, they almost always come, maybe just out of curiosity. It will not be as easy to locate these smaller groups of birds as they seem to be less predictable, but it is worth the effort. 

On an exceptionally good opening day we were able to call in group after group of toms. After being within earshot of the main group of turkeys, the toms finally came to investigate our calling. It took them three hours to finally come in. This morning seemed to be a bust at first, but turned out to be one of the best days of hunting I've ever experienced. You never know what you might get, especially with good weather.

Hens can be extremely vocal this time of the year. I have often had success by making A LOT of noise, which has brought in the hens, who in turn bring in the toms. Be careful doing this though, and let the situation dictate the amount of your calling. That much calling can just as easily move the turkeys the other way. If hens are responsive then calling to them can sometimes be a good idea.

This small group of hens came charging in to our calls and two toms followed them, away from the main group. Tom Sr killed the bigger of the two this day.

Groups of jakes tend to travel around during the day, more so than the hens. Gobbling is mostly limited to early morning and dusk, so don’t plan to locate many birds gobbling during the mid day. Cover will be limited as the grasses and weeds have yet to come out of hibernation and the trees have not budded. This is to the hunter's advantage as turkeys stick out like a sore thumb, especially in the roost. Later in the season the turkeys will be much harder to find as they will be in small flocks and will be easily hidden by tall grasses, weeds and tree leaves. Even in early season your best weapon is a good pair of binoculars. Be sure to check the weather, cold rain really seems to limit turkey movements. I have seen turkeys sit in one place for 6-7 hours during cold rainy days. Extreme wind will play havoc on your blind, decoys and mutes out your calling. If you can only get away for one weekend I think it is best to wait for good weather, later in the season when the turkeys are more active.

Early Season Pros –

1. No ticks or mosquitoes.

2. If you find birds you get to see lots of them. Big groups of turkeys are fun to just sit and watch.

3. The large flocks are easily located, there is minimal cover to hide birds.

4. There are large groups of jakes and young toms.

5. The birds are not quite as wary as they are later in the season.

Early Season Cons –

1. Snow, rain and wind can ruin a hunt. Access can also be difficult.

2. The turkeys could still be in the wintering area and may not be in an area where you can hunt them yet.

3. Minimal gobbling – turkeys are not fired up.

4. It can be difficult to draw a gobbler away from the large groups of hens.

5. Once you bust the flock, you may be done for the day (or several days if it is at a roosting area).