SANDS turkey hunt |

SANDS turkey hunt

Tony MorrowTony Morrow of Elba, Neb., and Jeff Bunke of Grand Island, Neb., with his trophy Rio Grande Gobbler.

We held our annual SANDS (Sportsmen and Women Assisting the Nations Disabled Sportsmen and Woman) spring turkey hunt at Calamus Lake, April 18-19. We stayed at the Calamus Outfitters Lodge up at the northeast corner of the lake. They have a fully handicapped-accessible facility and they offer guided hunts of all types along with fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, etc. They even have a general store right between the lodges.

Jeff and I first set up in the Jones Canyon area early Saturday morning. We got Jeff into his all terrain extreme fully camoed wheel chair and we headed up into a canyon off of an alfalfa field where the turkeys had been seen strutting nearly every morning.

I loaded my double bull blind, decoys, camera and Jeff’s gun on my back. I then walked on up into the canyon with Jeff following close behind in his Extreme Machine. The turkeys were gobbling all around us while we were setting up the blind. We got settled in just as the sun was cresting the east canyon ridge. What a wonderful site! I gave a series of calls on my box call and we heard gobbles all around us! We were surrounded by gobblers. I settled down into my calling routine – a series of yelps, purrs and cutting using the box, slate and my mouth calls all at the same time … I felt like a one man band.

Finally the rumble of a big gobbler came closer! He was just around the corner of the canyon. If he just comes around the corner he will see my strutter B-Mobile decoy (Bubba) and come on in. I would call and he would cut me off with a loud echoing gobble as he came closer and closer. Finally there he was strutting right up the canyon towards us. He was at 75 yards, then 60 yards, then in range at 45 yards.

Jeff was getting ready for the shot. Suddenly the Tom came out of strut and was walking away from us to the right. Jeff tried to adjust but could not turn far enough to the right. We both watched in frustration as he walked out of range. He had seen something that he didn’t like. The sun was bearing down on us from the east so maybe the glare off of the gun barrel, our glasses or the video camera scarred him away. We don’t know but what an exciting morning we had. I call it a catch and release. We loaded up and headed back to the lodge for lunch.

After lunch we headed to a windbreak just on the east side of the lake. We had seen some gobblers there on our way to lunch. We pulled in the gate, swung around next to the trees and I started to unload Jeff. I looked over my shoulder and saw several turkeys in the trees. I told Jeff that we would have to do this the old fashioned way and load him in his conventional wheel chair (Old Blue) as I would not have time to unload the Extreme Machine. I got Jeff out of the suburban and into Old Blue and I flipped him back on two wheels and drug him backwards through the shelter belt, over logs, brush and into the cedars on the north side of the shelter belt where it opens up into the rolling sandhills on the east side of the lake. I spun Jeff around in the shade and faced him towards the pasture. Jeff suddenly raised his arm and pointed towards a ridge 75 yards away.

“There they are” he said excitedly.

“Don’t move!” I exclaimed as I hurried back through the trees to the vehicle to grab Jeff’s gun, possibles bag and the Double Bull Blind.

I crawled back through the trees, popped up the blind, loaded and handed Jeff his gun and set the blind over us. I took several minutes to regain my breath, and asked Jeff where the birds where. They had walked back over the ridge into the pasture. I told Jeff not to worry and that they were not really spooked. I explained that we can give them some time and I will try to call them back. I told Jeff to relax while I dig the sandburrs out of my knees and hands. Fifteen minutes had passed and I saw a red head out in the tall grass in the pasture.

I started purring and clucking on my slate call. His head came up and he went into a half strut. He was coming our way. I kept on calling softly and he came across the pasture from 200 yards all the way up to a lone cedar which stood 50 yards out in from of us. I could see him standing in the shadows next to the cedar so I told Jeff to get his gun up and focus on the east side of the tree. I kept purring and doing soft contented hen sounds on my slate call. Suddenly he stepped out from the cover of the cedar and took several steps towards us then he stopped at 45 yards and raised his head, looking right at us.

“It is now or never” I whispered to Jeff.

Jeff used the support on the side of the blind to steady the gun.

“Put your bead right on this head” I whispered intently, “just squeeze the trigger when you are on him.”

Jeff tried to calm his breathing, lined up the bead and squeezed the trigger … BOOM!

I watched as the big bird jumped into the air, took a few steps and went down.

“Wow, you got him!”

I ran out of the blind and sprinted to the tall grass where I had seen the bird go down. There he was. I picked him up and ran back with him to Jeff and the blind. We were both so excited! The bird was a 4-year-old Rio Grande with 1-inch spurs, 10 1/4 inch beard and weighed in at 23 pounds, 5 ounces.

What a trophy and what an exciting hunt we both had. It is memories like this that make the SANDS program so successful.

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