April 2014 spring turkey season was drawing to a close. I was sweet-talking a gobbler on Turkey Creek with a diaphragm mouth call. He responded with enthusiastic gobbles but would not leave his selected parade ground. I searched for a narrow creek crossing, trying to get nearer to convince the old tom this hen was eager to mate. A small logjam in a bend of the creek offered a precarious crossing. As my pulse raced, I gingerly made the crossing safely.
Feeling confident now, I climbed near the top of the opposite bank when my right foot slipped in the sandy soil, sending me tumbling down the bank into the creek. The frigid water was the color of rancid olives. Struggling to regain my footing I leaped to the shore and crawled up the steep bank. I felt no pain until reaching a plateau above the high water mark. Now my entire right side cried out in pain from my ankle, knee, wrist, elbow and shoulder. I was bleeding from a silver dollar size abrasion on the back of my head and my right ear was dripping blood. Although painful, I quickly realized the head wound was not serious as there was little blood. Nothing was broken; my wounds appeared to be superficial and would take time to heal, reminding me of my clumsiness for weeks to come.
Tracing my fall down the steep slope fifteen feet below, the odd shape half submerged appeared to be my backpack. Climbing down the steep bank, I retrieved my pack, discovering my camera, range finder and binoculars, all wet and ruined. My hat and one glove were lost somewhere down stream while my smart phone remained in my vest pocket, wet and not working. I tried to phone my hunting partner Nate but my phone only flashed and blinked incoherently. Fortunately, the text app appeared to be working so I texted Nate, telling him of my predicament. Nate texted back immediately; he was on his way to help. When Nate arrived I was dabbing blood from my head, soaked to the bone, muddy, hurting and frustrated–ready to call it a day. Back at the lodge I skipped dinner, went straight to my room to care for my gun, my wounds and most of all my wounded pride.
My hunting partner Nate Swanson is the manager of Hunt Nebraska, located in south central Nebraska in the small settlement of Arapahoe. Hunt Nebraska offers excellent fair chase hunting for a variety of game, including upland game birds, pheasant, quail and chukar. Wild turkey and large bodied whitetail deer round out the big game species. There are over 10,000 acres of rolling grasslands, grain fields and timbered bottomlands to hunt along Turkey Creek, the Republican River and its tributaries. Pheasant, deer and turkeys are plentiful; it is not uncommon to encounter pheasant, a flock of turkeys and ten or more deer in a morning or evening hunt. Once you have hunted with Hunt Nebraska, you will want to return.
This was my third trip hunting with Nate, using one of my flintlock fowlers. I am the sole proprietor of K L Shelton Custom Kentucky Rifles. I’ve been building flintlock and percussion rifles, pistols and fowlers for three decades. For those unaware, the fowler is the predecessor to the modern shotgun. My fowler is loaded with eighty grains of black power and eighty grains of number six shot, both measured by volume, not weight. The smooth bore can also be loaded with a .600 round ball for hunting big game. Fowlers were first built by the French as early as the 17th century. British and American hunters soon learned the value of these weapons for hunting birds and small game. When loaded with a round ball they were also reliable in warfare and big game hunting. By 1700, fowlers were popular with frontiersmen as well as Native Americans.
Nate guides for numerous hunters each season. While guiding for me he became enthusiastic about hunting with a flintlock fowler since they offer a new and exciting challenge. Unlike modern shotguns that may reach out to fifty yards, using a fowler you must call the gobbler in close to twenty-five yards for a sure kill. Nate and I tried to hunt with fowlers in the 2013 season but the weather turned bitter with deep snow and strong winds. We only had three days to hunt and sadly had to empty our fowlers in a snow bank. Now it was the 2014 season offering great weather and another attempt to bag turkeys with our fowlers.
We saw several turkeys the first two days of hunting but never bagged a bird. We did, however, have opportunities. Nate called a gobbler in from over two hundred yards to seven yards but the wise old tom smelled trouble and slipped away in thick brush, never offering a shot. My opportunity came when I spotted two gobblers about a quarter mile east of my blind in an open grain field. I dropped into the creek bottom, stalking through thick brush and timbered bottomland. Thinking I was still a hundred yards away, I gave a soft cluck when the world erupted in a thunder of gobbles. Before I could find a tree to sit by, one tom came rushing through the brush, saw me and turned to run. In my excitement I rushed the 12-yard shot, pushing a cloud of smoke and a load of number six shot two feet over his head.
That brings us back to the ill-fated tumble into Turkey Creek described at the beginning of this yarn. The next morning after my fall I was stiff and sore but eager to make amends for my mistakes and get after turkeys once more. When Nate dropped me off near the edge of a harvested grain field, it was a moonless night–as dark as the inside of a mule. With flashlight clenched in my teeth, I gathered brush to make a quick blind among the trees. Nate chose to hunt an area a few miles west near a huge hundred-year-old cottonwood.
I had a lot of action early on as several hens took an interest in my calls. They would meander in, looking for the lonesome hen. When one was not found they simply drifted away, disappearing in the brush. Around 7:30 three hens came into view about a hundred yards north. I could see they were all hens so I made no attempt to get my fowler into position. The hens sauntered to within fifteen yards while I kept my fowler across my lap. BIG MISTAKE! At that moment two gobblers stepped out of the trees only fifty yards above me. The hens had me pinned down. If I moved they would spook and it would be over. I waited till the gobblers were within twenty yards before ever so slowly moving my fowler to my shoulder. One of the toms saw movement or smelled trouble and gave the alarm PUT-PUT-PUT you never want to hear. At that moment all the birds turned to depart. I quickly shouldered my fowler and threw a load of shot at the largest tom. Most of the shot caught him in the butt but a few pellets must have hit the head and neck as he went down in a heap. I quickly retrieved the tom, congratulating myself for turning around my bad luck from the previous day.
Within minutes I texted Nate with a short message, “I got one.” Some twenty minutes later while I was cleaning the bird, Nate sent me a text: “I got one, too.” As Nate described it, he had worked a gobbler with hens nearly all morning. The tom would respond but would not leave his harem, so Nate had to improvise. He dropped his pack, binoculars and all non-essential gear and crawled through the leaves up a slight rise to within twenty yards, waiting for the tom to offer a clear shot. As Nate gave a sweet hen call with his diaphragm call, the old tom stretched his neck to find the lonesome hen. BOOM. When the smoke cleared the gobbler was rolling in the dirt. Nate’s first shot with a flintlock fowler proved successful.
As I write this I still have some scrapes and bruises from my fall. My head wound is tender but no longer sore and my scrapes are nearly healed. Besides being hurt I lost a good camera, range finder and binoculars in the fall. Looking back I ask myself: was it all worth it? My answer is an unconditional yes; my friend Nate learned to hunt with a flintlock and we both got turkeys. It was a good hunt–a memorable hunt.–K L Shelton