Hunting & Heritage  |  04/18/2023

Sensations of Spring


“Dad, I’m really excited to be here”

By Colby Kerber

More snow covered the open prairies of Nebraska this winter than I can recall from the past decade. In turn, the anticipation for turkey season seemed to build much deeper than usual.

Spring has finally started to return in most parts of the country, and with it comes an important reminder to get outside and enjoy the beauty of the season. It is a short window of time where the earth begins to warm, and nature overloads our senses with gestures of renewal.

A front row seat observing the rejuvenation of the natural world is always one of the highlights of my year. But this last occasion was different.

Since the very first day the snow began melting from our rooftop, my son Jaxon had been asking when turkey season started. Over the past few years, he has been able to enjoy “hunting” turkeys via my tales. But this spring would be his first opportunity to truly experience a close encounter with one of nature’s most wary creatures.

Knowing that a successful hunt typically begins with a well-laid plan, I spent many weeks scouting the lay of the land while studying the birds’ daily routines. After discovering terrain features that concentrated bird movement, I knew exactly where we needed to set up. Since turkeys have sharp vision, and sitting still isn’t in my son’s DNA, I placed a ground blind prior to our hunt. Being comfortable and concealed is a big part of finding success for both introducing people to the outdoors and eventually harvesting game.

With camouflage laid out in orderly fashion next to the bed, my alarm clock began to pulse across the nightstand. Although it was still several hours before sunrise, the notification wasn’t necessary, as eagerness had me wide-eyed before it ever buzzed. It’s hard to beat a hot cup of coffee before those early morning hunts, but the bowl of Captain Crunch we shared that morning seemed to hit the spot. 

While driving to our destination, Jax and I discussed the hunting strategy, and how getting to the blind unnoticed was our main objective. With a full moon overhead, we crossed an open field under the cover of darkness. Anticipation was overflowing.

Suddenly I felt a tug on my shirt followed by a tug on my heart: “Dad, I’m really excited to be here.”

At that moment I realized I was just a small part of something bigger. The outdoors plays such a pivotal role in our lives and gives us purpose. Although it seems so small, that moment was etched deep into my memory.

After finding our way to the blind and placing a couple of decoys, we were in position to sit back and listen to the sounds of the woods awakening. As the sky started to light up behind us, an old raspy hen cut the morning silence from her perch. The gobbles that followed sent chills down my spine.

I never tire of hearing that powerful sound. It is something I hope to always treasure.

Once the sun was above the horizon, the turkeys began to pitch down into the nearby bottom. The birds all but disappeared amongst the trees as they went about their morning task of finding something to eat. The vantage point from our blind gave us great visibility as the birds worked the edge of the timber, leaving the roost while heading to the agricultural fields behind us.

There was an intent focus on Jaxon’s face as he watched the first group of hens working our way. Nature was in full display as the birds put on a calling clinic with clucks, yelps and purrs just a few short steps from us.

Early mornings can wear out any turkey hunter, and on this chilly morning a lack of sleep had caught up to this first timer.

As the turkeys shuffled leaves and walked past our setup, I glanced over to find my son suddenly drifted off in a deep sleep. Early mornings can wear out any turkey hunter, and on this chilly morning a lack of sleep had caught up to this first timer. With a huge grin on my face, I reveled in the moment.

A short time later, I caught a glimpse of a strutting bird on the sun-splashed ridge below us. I had a clear view of the tom as he approached closer with every step. My heart started pumping and hands began to shake, as the aggressive gobbler put on a show. I collected my composure, waited for the perfect moment, and released an arrow.

As Jaxon and I exited the blind, we examined the iridescent feathers that covered the ground around us. We admired the distinct colors from metallic bronze to green and purple revealed by the glistening sunlight.

Although I was able to fill my tag, there was so much more to it than that.

Many of us don’t go hunting to shoot an animal, but instead to experience nature, to get a sense of clarity, or to simply spend time with family or friends. Harvesting an animal is a bonus. The snacks. The laughter. The smiles. Those little things add up, and there was a far more satisfying feeling driving home with my son knowing I am more grateful than ever for the outdoor spaces that let us breathe fresh air and get outside.

Although I was able to fill my tag, there was so much more to it than that.

I’m not sure if I created a lifelong turkey hunter that day. But Jaxon's first real turkey experience was one I'll never forget. Our journey is just beginning, but I know it will continue: He already asked to go again.

Taking advantage of the abundant opportunities to explore outdoors doesn’t have to be about hunting. The next time you go outdoors, take someone new with you. Be an active participant in this thing called life. Take the time to appreciate the small things. And when you do, please share your story with us:

Take the Mentor Pledge

Colby Kerber is Director of Conservation Education for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.