Al Ward: Old friends enjoy Merriam turkey hunt in Nebraska

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Posted June 9, 2017 11:20 pm – Updated June 9, 2017 11:54 pm

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taco-al@taco-al.com

For my annual trip to northwestern Nebraska to hunt Merriam turkeys, I invited Delmar Tucking and Ed Grey to join me.

Neither of them had hunted the Merriam. Ed didn’t start turkey hunting until a few years ago — in his 70’s. He was a late bloomer.

It’s a 10-plus-hour drive to Whiteclay, Neb., almost on the state line of South Dakota. We met at Delmar’s house at 7 a.m. Delmar and Shirley had created Three Musketeers hats and nice, shiny silver swords for us. So, we had a photo-op before we headed out.

Shortly after we hit the road, Delmar realized he forgot to pick up his money for the trip. He was really into the photo shoot. Ed was the driver and just kept going. It was fun reminding Delmar he had very little cash with him and he needed to spend it wisely and we would let him run a tab.

Delmar knew a good restaurant in Paxton, Neb., called Ole’s Big Game and Steak House. Ole’s had mounts of elephant, zebra, giraffe and many more displayed. I had Rocky Mountain oysters and Delmar’s lunch went on the tab.

Driving north out of Ogallala through the Sandhills, we saw antelope and deer. The terrain is miles and miles of hills and grass. What amazed me was the amount of water in the low lands, and almost every pot hole or small pond had ducks on them. One large body of water had pelicans.

When we arrived at the Pine Spring Ranch of over 3,000 acres of hills, rock outcroppings and Ponderosa pines, we settled in the guest house. This ranch is my favorite place to hunt turkeys. The ranch looks like what you would see on the T.V. show, “Gun Smoke.” Yes, that show was popular a long time ago!

There also are many deer on the ranch. The ranch owner, Craig Bruns, plants a cross between rye and wheat called triticale, which is a great grain with lots of protein. The deer like the triticale and it makes good hay for the cattle. Last deer season, Craig shot a monster mule deer on his ranch. I have not tried my luck at deer hunting on the ranch.

When we headed up into the hills where I always set up my blind, it started to sprinkle. There a four natural trails that come together at a high point on the ranch. That’s the spot the turkeys seem to come to feed and cross over into the next valley.

It rained all night, and I wondered if we could drive up to the blind. It is over a mile up the hills, and we had lots of gear to carry with us. I was surprised that most of the water had run off and we had no trouble driving up the steep hills to the blind.

I had Ed and Delmar get in the blind and I set out my Merriam decoy that Dan Bell made for me, along with a hen decoy. I moved back and to the side of the setup and started calling.

We had gobbling all around us that morning. Soon, three redheads arrived, and when I yelped, I could see their heads pop up. Ed shot first and dropped his bird. Then Delmar made a good shot on a bird leaving, so they had a double.

We moved their kill out of sight and I started calling again. Three more toms came in, and Ed shot his second Merriam. He had filled his tags by 8 a.m.

I had Ed put his two birds on a fence, with him holding up the tail feathers. I positioned him so he was standing in Nebraska but the background was South Dakota.

Ed and I took the three turkeys back to the house. Delmar needed one more turkey to finish his tags. He used his box call and called in three toms. The toms did like my decoy and proceeded to flog and peck it. Delmar took many photos before he finally shot his last tom. My decoy was a little beat up but Delmar really enjoyed the battle. Delmar had his two turkeys by 10 a.m.

Ed and I headed back to the blind to get Delmar. I stayed to try my luck for my tag. I got in the blind about 11 a.m. and called and called. One jake came in early in the set and I passed as I wanted a mature tom that never materialized, so, I did not bag a tom this trip but had a great time calling in the birds for the two guys.

While I was trying to bag my turkey, Delmar skinned the turkeys to save the feathers. He left them on the deck and forgot to shut the gate. The big ranch dog enjoyed the fruits of his labor. The skins were not in the best of shape when the dog left. Delmar also saved the wing bones to make a wing bone turkey call.

I look forward to going back next year, and Ed and Delmar will be seasoned Merriam hunters — and they are hooked. I plan to fill two tags myself.

I hope you had a great turkey season. I know I had a great time and lots of good memories. Now, let’s go catch some fish.

The last week of the Kansas turkey season, Kai Allen (14), shot his first turkey. He was with Dailan and Daigan Kruger shooting from a blind. The bird weighed 21 pounds with a 10½-inch beard and 2-inch spurs. Kai shot the turkey 20 minutes off the roost with a 12-gauge shotgun. I know he will be out there again next year.



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