by Jeff Johnston - Friday, March 28, 2014
It was 8 degrees, and the sun’s confusion was contagious. Justin Leesman and I sat in a ground blind overlooking a frozen stubble field, waiting with broadheads quivering on our crossbows from the cold-shakes. Unlike Leesman, I’d looked at the forecast and packed a wool coat, but even with it and my electric heated insoles, it hardly felt like spring. Now, I’m one to believe that if you’re hunting you shouldn’t be complaining, but this wasn’t a late-season deer hunt. Or was it? What kept us out there despite our waning enthusiasm was the fact that we couldn’t move.
We began freezing a full hour before dawn, so I’d had plenty of time to count the silhouettes of all 410 turkeys in the lone large tree on the other side of the field. I’d seen a flock of about 250 in Texas one time, and I thought that was special—but no kidding there were 400-plus birds in the average-sized cottonwood before us. The things were packed beak-to-bunion, so tight we thought the tree was a full-foliage oak when we trudged across the field in the dark. Now we couldn’t believe they were turkeys … and I couldn’t believe Leesman didn’t pack more winter wear in that oversized Alps pack of his.
I was worried, because often if you spook turkeys on the roost they won’t immediately fly away, but they darn sure won’t come your way when they fly down. Finally they rousted themselves and reluctantly began pitching down like popcorn. One, then another, then another, three, then four, then another one, then five, and you get the idea that it took forever when your fingers are being savaged by ice vipers. They were 100 yards away and out of range. Then bird No. 86 touched down, and he was a giant. He had an icy beard that drooped stiffly to his toes. His frosted tail fan was a kaleidoscope as it sparkled in the sun, and I wanted to warm my hands upon it sinisterly. Problem was, he was following his flock as it marched single file down the far fence line and away from us. They weren’t responding to our “grunt” calls, we couldn’t leave the blind and Leesman is not known for his luck.
Just as my partner asked if I could feel my toes (a hunter’s way of hinting he’s had nearly enough), a hen bolted from the line inexplicably and ran to the middle of the field. Out of 410 birds, the rutting boss gobbler ran to her, making a semi-circle to herd her back. When he did, I selfishly pasted the 40-yard dot of the Trijicon ACOG XB on his chest and eked the trigger.
The bolt struck like lightning, and he flopped once and expired. We streaked from the blind, briefly admired the trophy, field-dressed him quickly then ran back to the truck and fired up the heater.
Spring turkey hunting in Nebraska can be fruitful, but at times … very confusing.
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