Bowhunting Nebraska Wild Turkeys

An annual turkey trip to the Cornhusker State becomes a battle to overcome illness, bad weather and an old nemesis.

Bowhunting Nebraska Wild Turkeys

I sent one more Easton FMJ downrange just to be sure. The shaft buried in the 12-ring of the Rinehart turkey target and a sly smile spread across my face.

I’d spent months kicking a bad case of target panic, buck fever, whatever you want to call it; working tirelessly to build an effective shot sequence system. My mental checklist was in place: bow held level out front, perfectly angled grip, smooth draw, two anchor points hit, focus and execute. I hadn’t hammered a trigger in months. My confidence was at an all-time high.

The miles rolled by quickly. They always do when I’m burning up the blacktop to that first spring hunt locale. The radio was up. I may or may not have been singing along. A few phone calls were made to my wife as well as some buddies. A lone deer about ended my trip prematurely as it sprung across Interstate 80.

Terron, my Nebraska amigo, was blowing up my phone with trail camera images of turkeys mingling along field edges, and texts that read, “Herman’s is better than ever. We are going to continue our streak of killing on opening day 3 years in a row. Of this I have no doubt.”

These texts, which I read only at gas station stops, made my heart flutter with excitement. I love turkeys and turkey hunting, and this little Nebraska honey-hole and time spent in the field with the Bauer Family is something I look forward to with great anticipation.

We wasted no time. Terron was waiting at the door for me, camera cards in hand.

“We have all day to scout,” Terron said. “We don’t need to, but we have time. Let’s go pull the cards and then go take a stroll through the deer grounds and look for shed antlers.”

I swear, for me, those special moments leading up to hunt are some of the best. I didn’t have a care in the world. My bride was keeping the home fires burning, things were great with the kids, and all I had on my plate was to go pull turkey cameras and scout for deer sheds. Does it get much better?

It hit me fast. One second I was walking through the woods with a few antlers in hand and the next I was feeling faint, nauseous and dizzy. Then came the chills. My knees, in the matter of a few minutes, were sore. Terron, noticing something was wrong, looked at me and asked, “Dude, you OK?” Of course, I lied. Gotta play the tough guy role, right?

That night, back at the Bauer household, my fever peaked at 102 degrees. I felt awful, and so did my little buddy Liam, Terron’s 2-year-old son. He was on fire as well, and the two of us huddled together trying desperately to shake the chills. I crawled under the covers that night wondering if I would be able to answer the call in the morning.

With plenty of time to scout the day before the hunt, the author and his hunting partner spent the day checking trail cameras and searching for shed deer antlers.
With plenty of time to scout the day before the hunt, the author and his hunting partner spent the day checking trail cameras and searching for shed deer antlers.


I chased down 800 mg of Ibuprofen with 8 ounces of orange-flavored Emergen-C. Yuck! My fever was down, but my body felt like I’d gone three rounds with Conor McGregor.

Under falling rain and whitetail-rut-type temperatures, Terron and I went back and forth about where the Double Bull pop-up blind should be placed. We wanted to get to what we’d dubbed in past years as “the cedar”, but didn’t want to risk the chance — no matter how low it was — of getting picked off crossing the barren field.

The decision was made to sit on the perimeter of the proverbial X and simply call the birds within bow range. We’d done it the year before in identical conditions and figured we’d simply do it again. After all, they are birds with brains the size of a pea.

“I just knew it,” Terron said as the last of the 60-plus bird group waddled across the middle of the field on their way to midday loafing grounds. “We should have just got here earlier and made to the cedar.”

Terron, when it comes to bowhunting success, takes things very seriously. Mistakes don’t sit well with him. Typically, I would be right there with him, but the rumbling in my stomach and the pounding in my head told me a trip back to town was necessary. Our opening day success was going to have to wait until the afternoon hours.

Being away from home when you’re sick is never pleasant, and it’s even worse when it hits during a bowhunt that’s been planned for a year.
Being away from home when you’re sick is never pleasant, and it’s even worse when it hits during a bowhunt that’s been planned for a year.

Plenty of Time

After a nap, some liquids and a little lunch, we headed back to the field. The blind needed to be moved and DSD decoys needed to be reset. I was feeling a touch better. The regular dose of IB and Tylenol seemed to be working, and I even managed to respond to Terron’s, “Dude, this cold, wet weather in combination with your fever is a great recipe for an ER visit,” with some jabs of my own.

We didn’t call. We knew exactly where the birds were, thanks to the yelping of a few hens, and after observing their winter-flock behavior, decided it best to simply wait them out and let them wander into the field.

Hours passed slowly, and with each passing minute the temperature outside seemed to drop while the temperature in my body seemed to rise. The fever was rearing its ugly head, and I was shivering violently. Thankfully, with about 90 minutes of light left, a few hens appeared on the opposite end of the field. Those hens were followed by a gaggle of other birds, and as they entered the field and saw the decoys in the distance, the flock cranked up the volume. Hens were cutting and gobblers were, well, gobbling. I was still shaking, but the culprit of my shakes was now excitement and not the flu.

The hens wandered into the decoys first — 20 of them to be exact — and the most vocal girl in the group strutted right up to our DSD hen and yelped numerous times right in her face. Behind the army of hens stood four strutting gobblers.

With the video camera running, Terron let me know that he felt the hens were starting to get nervous. I agreed. Pulling back my 70-pound Mathews Triax, which is normally a buttery-smooth process, felt more like trying to bench press 225 pounds. The sickness, mixed with the cold, had zapped my strength.

A few of the hens spied movement. How could they not? Even cloaked in ninja gear in the back of dark blind, my bow wiggled to and fro as I desperately tried to reach anchor. By the time I got the bow back, the hens had retreated and the gobblers came charging. The four birds were less than 10 yards bowing up to our imposter jake.

For the first time in months, I completely lost mental focus and hammered the thumb-button on my T.R.U. Ball release. The result was a flat miss. The tom lost a few feathers and retreated, but his trio of buddies continued to strut around our jake. Frantically, I tried to load another arrow. This wasn’t a problem, but drawing back took me a pair of tries, and once again, as soon as my glowing-green pin hit ebony feathers, I hammered my release. The hit was low and a touch back.

The hens fled this way and that, and the pair of wanting-to-fight toms finally realized something was amiss and boogied. My bird walked slowly but steadily to a skinny tree row and laid down. I was confident the large-cutting Rage Trypan would do its job, but I was fuming inside. The bird was not going to die a quick death, and all the months of training and developing a solid shot sequence went right out the window when the moment of truth arrived.

Was it because I was sick and exhausted? Possibly. But except for not getting my bow back smoothly, muscle memory should have taken over in the moments leading up to the shot. My subconscious mind shouldn’t have let me punch that trigger. After collecting my bird and taking some great photos, I replayed the scene over and over again in my mind. With each replay came increased frustration.

With their decoys reset in front of the blind, the bowhunters waited. Finally, several hens, gobblers in tow, approached their ambush.
With their decoys reset in front of the blind, the bowhunters waited. Finally, several hens, gobblers in tow, approached their ambush.

Long Night

That night was a bad one. My fever shot up to 103, and my body ached everywhere. I tried downing fluid and taking meds, but nothing seemed to help. About 1 a.m. panic set in.

In late July of 2014, I battled a serious life-threatening illness. Though it would later be defined by my Infectious Disease Control doctor at Swedish Medical Center in Denver, Colorado, as a “super virus,” it was, in a nut shell, horrible and scary. The night I arrived via ambulance at the hospital, I was given a 50/50 chance of making it through the night. The West Nile virus I had contracted had weakened my immune system and now the West Nile had married with Spinal Meningitis. My fever was out of control and my body was shutting down.

By the grace of God, I walked out of that hospital 8 days later, but every time I get a fever, the memories come flooding back. So, I laid awake most of the night scaring the crap out of myself.

Somewhere around 4 a.m. I nodded off, and when my alarm sounded less than an hour later, I actually felt better. My fever had broken, and though I still ached badly, I had a little pep in my step.

Terron convinced me it was a good idea to forgo the morning hunt. Rain was falling hard, and he noted that the last thing I needed to do, especially since I felt I was on the mend, was push too hard. I agreed and fell back into a coma-like state.

Back in Action

My extra hours of sleep mixed with a heavy dose of MTN OPS Ignite paired with scoop of Enduro (I call it the Superman), had me ready for the evening hunt. My aches were slowly fading, and I hadn’t spiked another fever.

The weather was crummy, but when a pair of jakes wandered a little too close, the dismal weather conditions seemed to fade. I wanted redemption, a chance to execute like I’d trained, a chance to regain my confidence.

The jakes wouldn’t commit fully to the spread. I didn’t panic. I simply drew, anchored, focused my pin where it needed to be, and just like that, the shot was gone. The hit was perfect. The bird went only a handful of yards before piling up.

Jake or tom, it doesn’t matter to me. What mattered most is that I was able to execute during crunch time. I didn’t let being sick and one serious mental meltdown derail months of preparation. I got back on the horse that had previously bucked me off, and covered him like a PRCA pro.

For me, this is what bowhunting is all about. Being better today than I was yesterday. What matters most to you?

The author finally beat his fever and punched his tag on a Nebraska bird.
The author finally beat his fever and punched his tag on a Nebraska bird.

Author’s Note

I spent the months of January, February and early March 2018 going through my buddy Phil Mendoza’s Building a Bowhunting System course, which is available at Phil is an accomplished archer and an incredible bowhunter. This system provided me with the necessary tools to develop a tried-and-true archery system. And though I by no means have ice-water in my veins, this online instructional course has made me a better and more efficient bowhunter. I highly recommend giving it a go.


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