Thirty years ago today, I shot my first turkey. I was a senior in high school and had never hunted anything before.
However, I was committed. I even missed my senior prom to go turkey hunting. When a sophomore friend called and suggested I take her, I bluntly informed her I was going turkey hunting instead. Her response was priceless.
“Turkey hunting!” she screamed into the phone.
Then I heard her tell someone in the background, presumably her mother, “He’s going turkey hunting!”
In her defense, turkey hunting in central Nebraska was in its infancy back in those days. Someone going turkey hunting was akin to someone going to the moon, a foreign concept.
ope体育In my defense, I’d asked her out earlier in the school year and she’d turned me down, so I’d moved on — to turkeys. Besides, I’d already struggled to scrounge up the money for a permit and one box of Federal Hi-Power shells from Dub’s sporting goods store (remember Dub’s?). When you don’t have much money, those were big investments.
ope体育It should be noted that for the rest of my single life, I continued to avoid dating girls during turkey season. That is, until I was engaged to my future wife. She was the exception.
After school on April 27, 1990, my cousin and I drove up to north-central Nebraska to hunt turkeys. We got snowed on that first afternoon but didn’t see any birds.
The next morning we were back at it. My cousin shot a turkey early on, but it took me awhile longer. Walking across a pasture, we spotted a trio of toms in a small woodlot. After slowly making our way towards them and negotiating a barbed wire fence, my cousin stayed behind to call on his slate call while I crawled forward behind a brush pile.
ope体育When I got closer, I eased up and peeked over the brush pile, only to see three turkeys running towards me. I quickly sat down and got ready. Soon, a red gobbler’s head appeared above the brush pile.
I waited until he walked behind a tree, then raised my shotgun and aimed for the other side. When he stepped out from behind the tree, I fired.
ope体育I was using my dad’s old 20-gauge single-shot. I’d never fired a gun before that spring. Since no one was willing to take me shooting, prior to the season I’d gone out to a WMA by myself, set up a pop can and fired the shotgun at it.
Not only did I miss, but the recoil nearly sent the gun flying out of my hands.
Undeterred, I loaded another round, tightened my grip, and again took aim at the can. This time the can got ventilated.
“I can do this,” I thought.
And so I did. Running to my flopping gobbler, I grabbed him by the neck, getting my camo glove all bloody in the process.
ope体育When I shot that turkey, it was only the fourth or fifth time I’d ever fired a gun. In retrospect, my introduction to guns left a lot to be desired. I’ve hopefully done a better job of introducing other new shooters to firearms. Regardless, at the moment of truth, instinct kicked in and I made the shot.
My cousin’s calling also helped. That fall, we went back up north and each bagged a turkey again. Then a two-year dry spell set in until October of 1992 when my dad and I shot a pair of fall gobblers in tandem (my dad’s first turkey).
You have to realize, turkeys were not as widespread back in the early 1990s. Between here and Omaha, only 500 shotgun permits were available each spring. It wasn’t until 1993 that I managed to draw a shotgun permit for what was then called the East unit. I bagged a nice gobbler that spring.
In the meantime, one either had to travel or take up bowhunting, since archery turkey permits were much easier to attain. So, in 1991 I bought a Browning compound bow at Cabela’s and began bowhunting turkeys.
Shooting turkeys with archery equipment wasn’t any easier back then than it is now. I wouldn’t arrow a gobbler until the spring of 1998.
ope体育Turkey populations steadily grew and expanded over the next 20 years, although they seem to have recently leveled off or slightly decreased. Thankfully, I got in at the ground level. The knowledge I gained during those lean years has proven useful these past three decades.
The most important lesson I learned was persistence. Persistence — along with its sister attribute, patience — kills more turkeys than all the fancy new equipment in the world ever will.
A couple years ago, I decided it was time to “pay it forward” as they say, and took on a new hunting partner. He killed his first tom at the tender age of 15. A natural like myself, he proved his initial success wasn’t merely beginner’s luck by bagging another gobbler last spring at age 16.
ope体育It’s been an interesting 30 years. A lot of turkeys have died. A lot of miles have been logged, a lot of gasoline burned, a lot of gear purchased, a lot of boots worn out.
Still there’s nothing like being in the woods in springtime, a shotgun rested over a knee, a call in the hand, a heartbeat pounding in the head when a gobbler suddenly sounds off nearby.
ope体育It’s not hard to guess what I’ll be doing for the next 30 years.
Camp at home this spring
With camping facilities currently closed at state parks and anticipated to remain closed through May, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is encouraging families to do the next best thing — camp at home.
The new Camp At Home Nebraska initiative invites campers to pitch a tent in their own backyard. Participants can take a picture of their “urban campground” and submit it to social media using the hashtag #CampAtHomeNE. Those who send a message directly to the NGPC’s Facebook or Instagram accounts will be automatically entered into a drawing for prizes, such as mini camp lanterns or a grand prize two-night stay at a state park — once facilities reopen.
ope体育This program gives stuck-at-home campers something to look forward to once restrictions are lifted. For more details and suggestions on backyard camping activities, visit .
Free fishing day May 16
ope体育For those needing to get out of the house, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is again offering its annual Free Fishing and Park Entry Day on May 16.
On that day, anglers do not need a fishing permit to fish, and park visitors do not need a vehicle sticker to enter a state park or recreation area.
Be aware that many campgrounds, playgrounds and facilities will likely still be closed on May 16. However, general outdoor activities like fishing and hiking remain available. The NGPC encourages anglers and park visitors to follow all precautions recommended by the CDC. Visit for updates.
Jarrod Spilger writes an outdoor column for The Independent.