Nebraska is a great destination state for turkey hunters.
The state holds an abundance of birds, long seasons, and over the counter permits (even mobile friendly ones). I feel spoiled to chase our birds with such great success throughout the year.
There are several subspecies present within the state. Reintroduced into Nebraska were Merriam’s, Rio Grande, and Easterns. A majority have all hybridized but you can find isolated populations. The most noteworthy are Merriam’s located in the northwestern part of the state. If you want to hunt turkeys, without a care to what subspecies, there are equal chances across the state. However, there are quite a few differences in chasing these birds compared to other states.
My approach to hunting Nebraska turkeys is 2-stage
I start with a spot and stalk to close the distance to the birds and finish with more traditional turkey hunting methods utilizing calling and decoying birds into range. A good set of hiking boots and binoculars are a necessary for this style of hunting. The hilly, grassy plains create long lines of site. From one hilltop to another, a turkey is just as likely to see you, as you are to see them. Using the terrain to your benefit is key.
During the first stage, I use ridgelines, hills, and valleys to block my movements from the turkeys’ keen sense of sight and to close the distance
While crossing over the tops of hills and ridgelines, I make sure to never skyline myself at the crests. It is one of the easiest ways to spook birds. Lastly, you just have to take your time coming around corners and breaks in cover and terrain taking care not to bump the birds. Even if the turkeys you are pursuing are at a distance, they may have moved while you were sneaking around the backside of a hill. There is also a good chance of bumping into that one hen who is not with the flock, and she will inevitably run past the flock, spooking every turkey in the area. I can’t stress enough that it is all about sight. I wear a full ghillie suit all the time, every time I hunt.
Sight hunting coupled with hiking, means my husband and I don’t take much gear into the field. We hardly, if ever, bring more than two decoys. We have found that a full strutter decoy is very effective in this open environment. The larger decoy size means a bird can see it from a longer distance compared to a hen or jake decoy. Another advantage of using a strutter decoy is the extra high profile of the tail fan. Often, when we spot turkeys in the prairie landscape, the most visible part of the bird will be their tail fan when strutting. I also want to add that on the strutter decoy that my husband and I use, it has a real tail fan mounted to the decoy body. If we do bring another decoy, it will be a hen.
Once the distance is closed, the second stage is in effect and it is fairly easy to call in toms
I have the most success using yelps and clucks but only in moderation to avoid over-calling. I like to call just enough to keep a gobbler heading my direction but not so much as to give away my exact position. Often a gobbler will become spooked if he can make out where a call came from and there isn’t a hen standing there. Nearly every turkey-hunting veteran will have a story about spooking a gobbler by calling and immediately being busted by an extra wary bird.
Unfortunately, a lack of public ground can make it difficult to find places to hunt. However, there are large tracks of public land across Nebraska. Private landowners will let you hunt if you put in the work to get access. Do not let that deter you from experiencing a Nebraska turkey hunt. There are more times that you can hunt a turkey in Nebraska than you can’t. Long season dates provide ample opportunity to chase birds in both the spring and fall. It also gives you a wider window in trip planning. Spring 2019 archery season opens on March 25 and ends on May 31. Shotgun season opens on April 6 and ends May 31. The fall season opens on September 15 and closes on January 31, 2020. You can purchase and harvest up to three bearded turkeys in the spring. In the fall, you can purchase up to two permits and four birds.
Nebraska’s highly variable and unpredictable weather can pose issues when packing for a Nebraska hunt. It can either be 70º and sunny or 20º and snowing. There was a blizzard opening day of shotgun season in 2018. Nebraska also had snow the first and the third weekend of May 2017. Plan ahead by watching weather conditions before leaving for your trip. I always wear layers no matter what the weather is.
Lastly, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) makes it easy for hunters to access permits.
All turkey permits are over the counter. Residents and nonresidents alike only need a permit and habitat stamp. No hunting licenses are required. Hunters can purchase and print permits online.
You can also purchase a turkey permit on your smartphone in the field through NGPC’s mobile permits program. Visit outdoornebraska.gov for more information on permits, season dates, and public land information.