Success : Encounters : Should I Stay...

By Will Nelson

2:00 pm March 24th… then, the situation before me: “should I stay or do I go”? The weather outside was gloomy. The forecast didn’t look much better… was a turkey really worth all that?

I drove through some of the worst cloud bursts I have ever experienced. Rain mixed with hail and snow came down so fast that my wiper blades were unable to keep up. Only able to drive 30-35 miles per hour, I had my nose pressed against the wind shield for several hundred miles. Visibility was limited-a white knuckle event for sure! I was questioning whether or not I had made the right decision (driving twelve hours round trip to hunt for 4 hours). By way of cell phone, my good friend Marty Killion, from Lamarie, Wyoming, was giving me snow updates and the thoughts of glory as I traveled. In retrospect, his was a comforting voice<at least when I had cell coverage. I arrived later than planned and slept on the most uncomfortable couch. Saturday night through Sunday morning was entirely sleepless! Through it all, I remained positive... I was trying hard to practice what I preach.

Early Sunday morning, Rich Walters and I were off-although, running 45 minutes later than planned (Rich had slept through his alarm clock and I had no clue of the time). Without coffee or donut, we jumped into a well ‘brushed in” double bull blind just as the sun was peaking over the horizon. Luckily the turkeys, the reason we were there, had already flown their roost. The first twenty minutes of the hunt were incredible-beyond words. I admired the beautiful sunrise and abundant wildlife. Sadly, I had failed to pack my camera-something I have never done! It has always been like a part of my body. I guess I didn’t notice that it was absent.  I missed photo ops on sand hill crane, deer, an owl, a hawk, three gorgeous wood ducks, and multiple strutting gobblers. I was kicking myself then and still kicking my self now! How could I have been so forgetful?

While glassing deer 200 yards out in a pasture, I noticed a line of turkeys running in the direction of the blind. I announced their presence and ready my equipment for a shot. The inside of the blind was still dark and it made locating equipment difficult. The fact that I was in panic mode didn’t help either. By the time I was ready, the turkeys were only six feet in front of the blind. A big tom (the one in the photo) gave me “the” perfect broadside shot from 12 yards. I drilled him! He ran off with 4 inches of arrow still inside his chest. Five other toms pursued him for 70 yards. When he stopped, the five brutes started jumping on and spurring his failing body. He ran off again and the toms continued the chase. He finally made it to a tree line of cedars (where we found him tucked in and dead).

The five toms broke off their bullying way and ran back to the main group-approximately 40 hens and small jakes still scratching around the blind. Rich had me ready another arrow. I had two tags, and Rich wasn't planning on killing a bird that day. He prefers to call in birds and loves to watch them strut. At this early stage of the spring ritual, the bird weren't receptive to calls-Rich preferred to wait. One of the five toms stopped 19 yards in front of the blind. I drew and shot. It was unbelievable! I missed-low! The turkeys ran off! It was difficult for me to understand. At 19 yards, that should have been an easy chip shot. I felt so stupid!

There were, however, turkeys still scratching behind the blind. Three of the twelve were jakes. I made the decision to shoot one, and from a mere six yards I blew an arrow right through the unlucky gobbler. He leapt into the air and flew off and out of sight. I completely lost track of him.

Not wanting to reveal our location, we waited until every turkey had moved off before exiting the blind. The wait lasted about an hour. I was terribly anxious to gather my downed birds. The search for the Jake became our first priority. Long story short, the search was going to be nothing short of a shot in the dark. We looked and looked and looked. Without really being able to see him, we hadn’t a clue where he had flown-Nebraska is big! Where do you begin? We checked in and around and under every bush in the general direction of his flight. We looked in every possible place we could legally look-nothing! An hour’s effort was abandoned.

We walked off in the direction of my first bird. Of course, I had that “what if we cannot find that bird” lump in my stomach…

We moved thirty yards through cottonwood and cedar trees along the edge of a slough. Rich spotted about 50 turkeys milling around in an adjacent corn field. Multiple toms were in full strut. It was a spectacle to witness! The thought of getting a shot crossed both our minds. We maneuvered forward. Ten yards of slough, a barbed wire fence, and seventy yards of real estate separated us from the birds. We glassed profusely! We were both paralyzed when a hen walked out right in front of us! She moved from right to left 20 yards away. We were literally two frozen statues! Our presences went undetected (our Enigma camouflage had done its job)! She was followed five minutes later by a band of hens and jakes. Neither Rich nor I were ready for their approach-our bows were lying on the ground. They paraded 25 yards away and then walked back in the direction from which they came. Again, not a single bird noticed us. That event sent a signal to my brain. That little voice said “hey stupid, get your bow ready!” I listened and made ready!

It didn’t take long before I noticed red heads moving through the grass. Two jakes were walking the fence line, taking the same path as the previous birds. They ducked in behind a cedar tree and I drew my bow. They broke cover and stopped. The first jake, sporting a four inch beard, gave me a frontal wishbone shot from thirty yards. I released and the arrow center punched him. It exited through his back severing his spin. He dropped like a ton of bricks. The excitement wore off quickly when I realized he was on the opposite side of the slough (Another story).

With bird in hand, we made for the one still in the bush. It didn’t take long. We found the first bird dead. He expired within five feet of entering the tree line. What a dandy bird! The lump in my stomach dissolved. It was time to celebrate!

We started back towards the blind to gather our gear. “Wait”, said Rich! There were turkeys scratching and eating new emerging grass shoots around the blind (the reason they like that spot so much). The hunt was back on!

We tucked ourselves back into the tree line and belly/elbow crawled to within 25 yards of 30 birds. At one point, we were in sight of multiple hens and jakes. We moved when they milled. We stopped when they lifted there heads. I felt the “alert putt” was eminent, but that never happened. We managed to make it to a large brush pile. Rich popped up and made a super shot on another tom. It was his first ever effort to spot and stalk in on a turkey and a fitting end to four hours of hunting!

Will Nelson
Erie, Colorado