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A Mid-May Battle with Nebraska Longbeard

by Jace Bauserman | March 15, 2024

Deck: Regarding spring turkeys, May is a feast or famine. It was famine on this Nebraska hunt, but persistence and hard work typically produce a payoff in the form of a beard, spurs, and vibrant fan.  

 Epic is a word that is used too loosely in the hunting world. Still, I can think of no other adjective to describe my 2023 spring turkey tour.  

 I'd notched tags in Florida, Nebraska, Colorado, and Virginia, embarking on a thrilling single spring Grand Slam run with archery tackle. Yet, the thrill of the hunt was still coursing through me, and I wasn't ready for my spring run to be over. I never am.  

 Luckily, I'd snagged two tags the day Cornhusker State turkey permits became available. I still had one in my pocket for a mid-May Central Nebraska rendezvous with some awesome friends.  



Jason Putting up a tent



 As a backcountry public land hunter, I was thrilled to see the setup. Thank God, there was no fancy to-do lodge or top-tier hotel. Instead, I was greeted by hardwoods, cedars, and a grassy landscape. My hunting amigos, JJ Reich and Joe Arterburn, were unloading a trailer full of tents, chairs, etc.  

 The May sky was a milky color of gray, and the north wind carried a chill. Still, there was no dampening our spirits. As more hunters arrived at Nebraska Turkey Camp 2024, the grassy patch transformed. Soon, many tents covered the earth, including a large cook tent with a wood-burning stove.  


Camp tents up with cots inside


 We weren't exactly roughing it. Cots and sleeping bags provided by ALPS OutdoorZ kept us off the dirt and elevated our comfort. While I organized my gear, smells from the cook tent tickled my nose. Brewing Joe and the scent of various, wild meats cooked on a Camp Chef told me I could ignore the rest of my chores and fill my belly. The campsite was a haven of comfort, allowing us to fully enjoy the experience. 


Benelli Turkey shotgun and hevi shot TSS on a table with ear muffs


The cook tent was bustling with activity. Food was served, drinks were had, and lies — lots of lies — were told. Occasionally, a pair of hunters would disappear to the shooting bench to make sure their Burris red-dot-topped Benelli's were putting a smattering of Hevi-Shot Hevi-18 Turkey TSS #9s on paper.  



Paper turkey pattern with pellet holes and a box of Hevi shot TSS


Tested True 

 I can only tell so many lies, so fellow outdoor writer Brad Fenson and I spent a lot of time testing and tinkering. There was plenty of Hevi-Shot ammo to go around, and we did our best to burn through it. Brad and I shot Hevi-Shot's all-new 2-3/4-inch Reduced Recoil loads and standard 3-inch TSS loads from 20 to 70 yards. 

 Benelli's Super Black Eagle 3 Turkey Shotgun proved exceptional. Though a few red-dot modifications were necessary, this pistol-grip shooter with Crio Full choke was deadly. It absorbed recoil like a sponge, balanced like a dream, and filled me with instant confidence.  



Jason at a rest table testing the ammo with a Benelli


It was tough to beat — laughter from camp and shotguns going boom. Overly impressed with the Reduced Recoil rounds, I put my trust in them the following morning.  


Jason looking at the target showing the Benelli on point with the ammo



Day 1 

 Joined by my good friend and President of ALPS OutdoorZ, Dennis Brune, we watched the guide's rig's headlights bounce off the landscape. Occasionally, he tapped the brakes for a deer or two, but by the time the sun inched above the eastern horizon, we were parked off a cut cornfield, listening for an eruption from a dense thicket of hardwoods.  

 No such ruckus ensured, and we were off to the next spot. After walking out a ridge at the fourth spot of the morning and calling off into the most turkey-looking bottoms I'd ever seen with no response, I knew we were in for a challenging hunt. 

Mid- to late May can be a great time to be in the turkey woods, but it can also seem like a mission impossible. These birds were on the tail end of the rut, and they'd had plenty of hunting pressure. This didn't bother Dennis or me in the slightest. It just meant we'd enjoy more sun-soaked mornings and watch more black blobs fly up to roost while the Earth swallowed the sun. 

 That was the story of Day 1. We spied a few toms and jakes and busted a few beaks loose with our calls, but no longbeards came in range.  


Man looking for Turkeys in a mountian scape


Day 2 

The second day of our hunt was more of the same. We heard a couple of birds thunder on the roost, but it was over the second they hit the ground.  

 I spent most of the day alone, slithering through the hardwoods and cedars, glassing off massive bluffs into golf-course-looking bottoms, bouncing calls down deep chasms. Each time, I shook my head. I'd never trekked across more turkey-looking dirt, and aside from spying an occasional flock in a cattle pasture or glassing a lone hen as she made her way to her nest, turkey sightings, and sounds were few and far between.  

 Glancing at my Garmin at the end of day two, I saw that I'd walked 9.76 miles and climbed 2,180 feet. I'd gone walkabout but had little to show for my efforts.  

 Luckily, my guide, nice enough to turn me loose for the day, picked me up off the side of a no-name dirt round an hour after dark. I was tired and hungry, but his words quickly rejuvenated me.  

 "I found some birds, bud. I roosted them and know exactly where we must be in the morning." 


Day 3  

 The morning of day three broke clear and crisp. The orange glow cast enough light into the isolated pocket of cottonwoods to see a pile of ebony bodies in the branches. Minutes later, the trees came to life. I was serenaded by a barrage of gobbles for the first time on this trip.  

 Sadly, the birds wanted nothing to do with my sexy — or not so sexy, I guess — hen talk. Most boisterous birds were jakes, but the pair of gobblers in the bunch rounded up a small flock of ladies and pushed them in the opposite direction.  

 I went into elk mode. The toms were gobbling often enough to keep tabs on them, so I followed at a distance, using the terrain to hide me and my optics to keep tabs on the meandering butterballs. 

 The birds hooked into a deep, open drainage. My only play was to scurry down a steep slope, hit a cut in the bottom, and try to get shotgun close.  

 When I'd marked the birds' position on my HuntStand App and planned my route, reinforcements arrived. Dennis, our guide, and a few other hunters made their way up the hill to me. This was a nice bonus. The stalk would be slightly over two miles, and the crew could stay on the vantage point and give me hand signals. This hunt, as I like to say, "was getting western."  

 The knee-high grass was sopping wet, and the drainage was muddy. Intermittent rains during the week were to thank for the damp, slippery conditions. Still, I eased along. I hunched over when I could but often crawled on all fours. My Benelli was a mess, but my experience with all Benelli models I have shouldered over the years told me that no matter how muddy or wet the shotgun got, it would still perform like a champ.  

 Finally, I reached the pin I'd dropped. All that was left to do was navigate up a steep bank, glass the gobbler, hope the bird was in range, and send a load of TSS.  

 I had zero trouble getting up the bank, but when I glassed the open pasture before me, all I spied were cows. Quickly, I snapped my binos toward the vantage point, hoping to get some hand signals, but the drainage I'd used for cover took me too far to the right and out of their view.  

 Down but not out, I sat silently, hoping the tom would bust loose one more time. Fifteen minutes later, he did. The flock had doubled back and was heading back up the drainage.  

 Removing a shotshell from the chamber, I rolled down the bank and took off on a dead sprint. For some reason, mostly because I believe hard work is always rewarded, the tom started gobbling like crazy. I was able to get ahead of him and slip up the bank.  

 He caught movement as I slipped over the barrier and made a bee-line retreat, but it was too late. My Benelli thundered, and the bird crumpled. My rangefinder told the tale. The shot was 61 yards, and the bird never even flopped. 


Tom the Turkey


 Over the still Midwest air, I could hear the crew's hoops and screams as they watched from their vantage point. Later, back at camp, it was hugs, high-fives, and more lies — so many more lies. Lord, I love spring and pray there are many more tough hunts like this one to come. And I won't turn my nose up at the easy ones, either.  


Hunter and turkey's



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