How many arrows does a Bowhunter staff member need to take a Nebraska longbeard? Lots!
IT WAS APRIL 2007, and Bowhunter Sales Manager Jeff Millar and I were on our way to Gregory, South Dakota, to hunt turkeys with outfitter Dave Keiser and Double Bull Archery co-founders Brooks Johnson and Keith Beam. I had hunted with these guys before, but this would be Jeff's first experience bowhunting with the three "turkeys."
Dave was outside target shooting when we arrived. "Let's go look at some turkeys," he said, as we finished unloading our gear. "Keith and Brooks will be here later this evening."
Dave has leases in South Dakota and Nebraska -- we would be hunting on one of his Nebraska properties. On the drive there, he told us the birds were pretty vocal but still in sizable groups due to the cool weather.
Parking Dave's Suburban atop an open hill, we soon spotted birds -- lots of birds -- feeding and strutting on their way to their roosts.
"I'm fairly certain they'll roost in those tall trees along the river. At some point every morning, they always end up in that pasture there," Dave said, pointing to a large field across the river. "We'll get in here early and set up two blinds and quite a few decoys."
WAKE-UP CAME EARLY and soon we were paddling across the river in Dave's johnboat. Brooks and I shared a Matrix blind, and Keith and Jeff hunkered in a second blind 15 yards away. Our stuffed hen decoys and "turkey rugs" were strategically placed within 10 yards of both blinds. We were ready.
Not long after sunrise, two longbeards approached the decoys from the left. Brooks pressed "record" on his video camera, and I readied for a shot. The closer of the two birds was at 11 yards. I came to full draw, leaned to my right, and put my top pin on his wing. At the release, I watched in horror as my arrow sailed a good six inches over his back.
"Quick, grab another arrow!" Brooks whispered. I nocked the second arrow and came to full draw on the nervous tom, now 30 yards out -- and launched my second shot a good six inches low. This was more than the gobbler and his buddy could stand, and they hightailed it across the pasture.
"Keiser is going to have a field day with me when he hears about this," I whispered to Brooks.
At noon, Dave stopped by to check on us and drop off lunch, and he didn't disappoint as he quickly chimed in with some ribbing when we told him the story of the morning's hunt.
That afternoon, Jeff and Keith returned to the morning blind, while Brooks and I sat in a small clearing close to some roost trees. Two hours before dark, a dozen jakes slipped in from behind the blind.
"Take your time," Brooks whispered as I took aim at a bird standing broadside, 10 yards away. At the release, my arrow passed between the jake's legs, taking a clump of belly feathers with it. "You've got to be kidding me," I said, hanging my head in disgust.
After dark, Brooks and I met up with Keith and Jeff along the river where we learned Jeff had killed a beautiful gobbler. At least one of us can shoot, I thought, as we admired Jeff's bird and took photos.
THE NEXT MORNING we returned to the same lease and set up near a bunch of birds Dave had roosted the night before. The air was cold, and light snow began falling at daybreak. Soon we heard turkeys talking from the roost. Lots of turkeys.
Brooks and I watched an estimated 40 birds pitch out of the trees into the field 200 yards from us and begin working along the far edge of the field with no indication of coming closer. In a last-ditch effort to get their attention, Brooks started mouth gobbling.
It worked! The birds headed in our direction, and soon the entire flock was right in front of us. It looked like a barnyard, and focusing on just one bird was proving difficult. Finally I drew on one of the bigger toms and released. You guessed it -- another miss.
"Quick, grab another arrow!" Brooks said. This time my shot connected with a big tom. The bird ran and took flight, landing on the other side of the river. After waiting an hour, we quietly slipped out of the blind and went back to the truck with plans of recovering the bird later that afternoon.
Several hours later, we returned with Dave and one of his guides. The bird was lying where we left him. However, getting to him would not be easy, as it would require wading the frigid, deep river in my bare feet.
When I reached the bird, my feet were numb and caked in cow manure. Dave had waded halfway across and suggested I throw the gobbler to him. Have you ever tried tossing a 20-pound turkey? Let me tell you, it isn't easy, and my attempt at the turkey long toss resulted in my bird splashing down in the river several feet in front of Dave.
After crossing the river and putting on my warm boots, we took pictures of my longbeard, which looked a bit like a drowned rat. Despite my poor shooting, I had a lot of fun, and I hope to return to Dave's place in 2008... if he'll have me back.
Weeks later, Keith and Brooks sent me Double Bull's coveted "Accuracy by Quantity" award, which I now proudly display in my trophy room. Thanks guys.
Author's Notes: I used a BowTech Tribute set at 60 lbs., Easton Axis Full Metal Jacket arrows, NAP Gobbler Getter broadheads, Nikon binoculars and rangefinder, clothing from Mossy Oak Apparel, and a Double Bull Matrix blind. Jeff Millar shot a PSE Diablo, Easton XX75 Gamegetter arrows, and G5 Tekan II broadheads. His clothing was from Medalist in Mossy Oak camo.