The “Bestest” Turkey Hunt Ever

Turkey season is always something we look forward to at Outback Outdoors, especially since it comes right at that time of the year when cabin fever seems to be reaching its frenzied peak. I am usually tired of shooting indoors at fake critters and ready to get outside and try and whack a live one.

This year, like in years past, I was excited to spend some time in the field calling into bow range what we like to call “feathered elk,” but this season it was going to be different because for the first time my wife Sandy and 6 year old daughter Avery were going to be joining me in the turkey blind at Swanson Lake Ranch (near Stratton, NE) for the opening day of the 2012 Nebraska turkey season.

Honestly I wasn’t sure how this hunt was going to play out, as I made the decision to NOT bring a cameraman along, but instead make this hunt a family affair. Wanting to still capture the adventure on film, I nominated my wife to be our official camera gal and gave her a quick overview on how to run the camera. Before we left I forced myself to make this hunt about the family and the outdoor experience and have the footage be secondary.

We loaded up and headed out late Friday and arrived at the SLR cabin ready for bed. The next morning I was up with the sunrise and after a quick scouting peek at a couple of spots to make sure the birds were still there, I made a hearty breakfast and we all got ready for a day of work in order to be ready for the bowhunt the next morning. Throughout the day Avery and I worked side by side gathering the decoys, delivering chairs for the blinds, and setting up another pop up blind in a great afternoon spot for the next afternoon. I went over and over the list of things that I wanted to have with us to “enhance the experience;” items like

  • Fully Charged DVD player with headphones
  • 4-5 DVD’s (Little House on the Prairie, Veggie Tales, and Annie to name a few)
  • Heater body suit I had borrowed from my good friend Shawn Greathouse… I did NOT want Avery getting cold and uncomfortable on this first bowhunting adventure with Daddy!
  • snack
  • Hansens Soda
  • Rambler – Avery’s favorite stuffed dog

After getting everything organized, including the special items for Avery, we headed to bed with the alarm set for O Dark Thirty.

It was quite an adventure sneaking into the bale blind with the family in the dark. This blind was set up on some farm ground about 150 yards from a row of big cottonwoods that was a primary roosting area. We were settled in and set up in plenty of time to hear the first turkeys start to wake up. It was awesome to watch Avery’s face as the birds started getting vocal. With 4 or 5 gobblers going nuts right in front of us, I had a good feeling about the morning. I had set up a jake and 4 hen decoys right by the blind and assumed we would be in a great position once the birds pitched out.

Right on time the birds flew down into the field. Soon we had two jakes heading our way and they came within 40 yards of the blind. Not being picky I got ready to whack the first jake as Sandy ran the camera. Honestly the shot was not a very difficult one and maybe I was overconfident and already imagining what a great hunter I would be in my daughter’s eyes when I shot this first bird. Regardless of the excuse, I missed. I shot back and just ruffled the feathers and the 2 jakes were gone. “You missed,” my wife said matter-of-factly. I couldn’t believe it. “Oh well” I responded trying to sound like I didn’t care, “That is why they call it hunting and not killing.” Knowing me all too well, she just smiled and we went back to watching the bigger flock that was still down the field edge to our right.

The larger flock headed out of the field never coming closer than a couple hundred yards and try as I might with my calling, I could not get them to head our way. Wondering if that was the end to our morning hunt, I called a few more times over the next half hour and soon I was answered by a gobble back in the trees. A lone tom stepped out into the field about 250 yards away and went into full strut. We were back in business!

45 minutes passed as I coaxed the lone gobbler in closer finally coming into 40 yards. Again Sandy started running the camera and Avery watched wide eyed as I came to full draw after ranging the Tom at 37 yards. The shot felt good and the bird was hit hard. With the arrow still in him he limped to the edge of the field and out of sight.

Normally I would wait a little while before going after a bird that I did not see go down, but with the family getting a little anxious we got out, and I picked up the trail. Avery and Sandy waited at the blind and I found the bird huddled up under a brush pile with the arrow still lodged in his side. He looked to be quite expired. “What a great opportunity!” I thought to myself to go get Sandy and Avery and film the whole recovery and teach her about properly recovering a shot animal. I headed back to the blind and we once again picked up the birds trail. Sandy hung back and ran camera as Avery and I lead the way and I explained every step including the importance of having an arrow nocked and ready in case I needed to shoot the bird again. We walked up to the turkey tucked under the brush and I asked Avery if she saw anything. After a few seconds of searching she spotted my bright orange fletching and pointed him out. “Do you want grab him?” I asked trying to see how hands-on she wanted to be. “No” she responded firmly and so I set my bow down and went to grab a leg on the Tom and drag him out of the brush pile.

An explosion of wings and broken branches startled me and I stepped back just as the turkey cleared the pile heading the other way. “What a moron!” I said under my breath as I beat myself up over not having checked before to make sure the bird was dead. With camera rolling on this whole debacle, I grabbed my bow and headed after the re-energized wounded tom.

I could not believe what had just happened, here I was trying to teach my daughter safety, good ethics, and the how-to’s of a turkey bowhunt and I had made every mistake in the book! I looked and looked for the bird but soon ran out of blood and lost the trail. I had lost my turkey and even more embarrassing and humiliating had done it in front of my family all captured on camera and in HD for posterity!

Dejected we loaded up our stuff and headed back to the cabin, at least we had a great spot for our afternoon hunt and hopefully a chance for me, my family’s supposed “great white” hunter, to redeem myself. That afternoon we got in the blind at 3:00pm and set up Avery’s DVD player to watch a show. It wasn’t long and 2 nice big jakes came cruising towards us. The birds started to circle our 3 hen decoys and then turned and headed off into the brush behind us. I gave a few soft yelps and a sensuous purr and the birds came right back out heading towards the decoys giving me a great 25 yard shot. This time I was determined to stop the turkey dead in its tracks and end this hunt on a high note.

Sandy got the birds in the camera and I took one last range on the larger one. I drew and settled my 20 yard pin a little high and let the arrow go. The bird immediately hit the ground and started flapping. I dove out of the blind and ran towards the downed bird. There was no way he was getting away this time! By the time I got to him he was dead and I had bagged my Nebraska turkey with my family.

I can’t express how awesome the whole hunt was having my family, especially my daughter, there in the blind with me for the whole thing. For the first time they got to experience the entire hunt in person, rather than watching it re-lived on TV. Avery jumped right in as we set the bird up for some pictures and filmed the recovery interview retelling our adventure for the camera. This was definitely the BESTEST TURKEY HUNT EVER!

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