I still had a tag hanging out there in Nebraska, but the pace at work and home has been exhausting and I didn't think I was going to bother chasing another bird. Worse, most of the public land spots I usually hit out here were ravaged by the early Spring floods, leaving many *still* underwater. But, with some hope further away from the rivers and weather this afternoon just too perfect , I relented and made a trip out to a tiny, but previously productive public land spot around 1:40 PM.
This would be a barebones hunt much like you expect to see on PA Gamelands: no decoys, no blind, no camera - just a vest (with a few calls, binos & rangefinder) and a gun. While I have had great luck with my private land spots using decoys and a blind to film prior hunts, this was just not the right setting for it. It's incredibly dense in a lot of places and I expected to move a good bit since I never scouted this area pre-season.
The area consists of a lake surrounded by mature timber with a few open meadows interspersed throughout. The first meadow I hit on the west side of the lake held no birds, but after changing calls to a Matt van Cise custom box, distant gobbles broke through the wind. The problem was that they came from the completely opposite side of the lake. The beauty of such a tiny public area is that it only took about 15 minutes and a careful log crossing over a creek to get to the other side.
A few cutts and yelps on the box call near where the initial gobbles rang out were met with another volley about 150 yards ahead. One more movement to cut the distance and one more yelp series revealed the birds at 65-75 yards and closing. Time to drop the pad, raise the gun and give them the silent treatment. About 10 minutes later, two Toms cautiously emerged, looking for a hen from the worst possible side - my left. As a lefty, I was extremely limited on that strong side. With the birds now at 28 yards, it took a rapid, but careful turn while they put their heads down to forage to get the gun in a useable position. Amazingly, they never detected a thing and one of the birds cleared the brush.
One 3.5" Long Beard XR #6 later, my 7th bird of the season was doing the flap dance. He sported a 10.25" beard and 1.25" spurs, and showed predominantly Merriam's plumage that transitioned to an Eastern coloration closer to the base of the tail.
Unfortunately, it was nearly 90 degrees by the time I got out of the woods and I had no time to take him to taxidermist to get him weighed without risking spoilage. All I know is that he's big. The fan is easily the biggest I've ever taken, virtually as wide as our refrigerator!
The cool little bonus? There were a couple of morels right at the base of the tree that I shot from. Nice little snack to toss into tonight's dinner.