As I reflect on my Nebraska turkey hunt I realize I've learned some very valuable lessons this season. Lessons from hunting eastern turkeys solo in North Carolina and hunting Rios and Merriams in Nebraska with friends. I am often very hard on myself, always second guessing my hunting tactics, not speaking up when maybe I should or thinking "I should have done this...or that...". But when I return home from hunting outside of my comfort zone whether it's new land or with new people, I find my confidence increases and I should give myself more credit for the knowledge I do have.
Lesson 1: Get to know the land you're hunting. It makes a HUGE difference when you know where the birds are roosting and what they are doing during the day. Plus it's important as a hunter to make sure you're hunting only where you're legally allowed to. Knowing the property's lines is extremely important for a hunter, no matter what the game.
Lesson 2: Do't be afraid to make a move on them and do it FAST! Basically, the moment you spot that tom or hear him gobble your timer starts. And you only have a certain amount of time before your opportunity maybe gone for good. Each moment you aren't making a move is time wasted. But e careful!! Wild turkeys see in color and have excellent daytime vision that is three times better than a human's eyesight and covers 270 degrees. So use your natural surroundings as cover to either get in front of him or simply get closer.
Lesson 3: Sometimes natural cover isn't available or isn't thick enough to use as a buffer between you and a bird. When these moments happen, fanning is there to help you gain some ground. I've encountered several birds I've only been able to gain ground on thanks to a fan. Not always, but more often than not they will be confused but interested enough to stick around and let you get within range (if not run into your lap!).
Lesson 4: Practice patterning your gun at ALL distances! Full disclosure, I patterned my Beretta A350 Xtrema turkey gun at 30, 40 and 50 yards. When this guy (featured above) decided to give us a show, I kept letting him come in (for photo purposes). Knowing my shot pattern would be extremely tight at 5-10 yards (and seeing other miss because of that) I aimed for his body...but I rushed my shot and with the short distance ended up missing. You wanna talk about pissed off? I wasn't pleasant for a while after this moment. Thinking through the tragic miss I believe my shot was just low and left. If you've never missed a turkey you haven't shot at enough of them. But I can tell you, from now on I'll be practicing at 5, 10, 20, 30, 40 AND 50 yards!
Lesson 5: Have back up locations. If you screw up, which at some point you will if you hunt turkeys long enough, the key is finding new birds. You can't hunt recently educated or scared birds (or any game for that matter). So find new birds. And make a move on them. Again, referring back to lesson 1...this is another reason why it is so important to know the land you're hunting. #JustSayin I can tell you based off my own mistakes.
Lesson 6: Don't step on the fan of a flopping bird. #EnoughSaid
Lesson 7: Don't just slay your prey; respect them; dissect them; learn what they've been feeding on. And always remember the true trophy is the ability to get your hands dirty while knowing where your meat comes from! #ProudHunter
Lesson 8: Find people who inspire you and make them your friend. :) Hunting is very much a social lifestyle. Contrary to what all the anti-hunters think, hunting is very much about living not killing. It's about connecting with family and friends. Making memories. And truly experiencing the world around us.
Lesson 9: Occasionally while hunting that 'ol Tom he will get hung up just outside of range. It helps to have a partner who can stay back about 15-30 yards and call. The gobbler will be looking for who's calling and not paying you as much attention. This allows you to lay the hammer down when he least expects it.
Lesson 10: Not all birds are created equal. Based off my personal experience I would say Eastern turkeys are the hardest, in conjunction with the terrain I typically hunt, no doubt! Rios appear to be just plain stupid. While Merriams fall somewhere in between an Eastern and a Rio. And then there are bearded hens, which just aren't normal at all...clearly a bird of another feather...pun intended. I'm sure I'll have some people disagree with me on this...and I'm sure it's different depending on the state you hunt and the area. But this is based off my personal experience of hunting. (below are the turkeys I harvest this year)