Luke Korpela heard the gobbler first. Luke told his dad, Carlton’s Ross Korpela, he was sure he had heard a gobble in the distance.
Soon, the gobbler called again. But it was a long way off.
The Korpelas — Ross and sons Luke, 10, and Jack, 8 — were bowhunting with other friends and friends’ kids in northern Nebraska about 10 days ago. Ross shoots a bow. The boys shoot a crossbow.
All three of the Korpelas were sitting in a tent blind that morning. It was Jack’s turn to shoot, and he was sitting on his dad’s lap. With the gobbler so far away, Ross Korpela knew he’d have to reach out to make his call heard. He poked his box call out the window of the blind and ripped off some high-volume yelps.
“Sure enough, the bird fired off,” Korpela said. “In fact, it double-gobbled. I told the boys, ‘Let’s just be quiet and watch.’ ”
In a few moments, the gobbler appeared, running across the picked cornfield, still a good distance away. Korpela watched him come through his binoculars.
“He went into a dip about 200 yards away, and we couldn’t see him,” Korpela said. “I gave him another call. He gobbled again.”
Jack was ready with his crossbow. He and Luke had practiced a lot back home. They had each missed a turkey last year. Luke and his dad had each shot a jake, or young gobbler, on this trip. Now, they all waited to see if this gobbler would keep coming.
“He still had one fence to cross,” Korpela said.
Korpela switch to a more subtle slate call and gave the gobbler another hen yelp.
He crossed that fence and kept coming. All the way.
“It was like 2 feet away from us,” Jack said. “It was cool. Then it went to our decoys.”
Korpela uses both a jake and a hen decoy to attract gobblers. The real gobbler was having none of that jake carrying on with the make-believe hen. The gobbler marched to the hen and turned, presenting young Jack with an excellent opportunity.
“As soon as it turned, he made a good shot,” Korpela said.
“I was, like, ‘Did I get it?’ and Dad was like, ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘Yes!’ And I was excited,” Jack said.
The bird was a beautiful tom, Korpela said. Jack ended up shooting two toms during the trip, making a total of four for the Korpelas. Among eight hunters on the trip, they shot seven turkeys.
They hunt Nebraska’s rolling farm ground, with lots of crop fields. Trees are mainly confined to the creek beds and gullies. This is the party’s seventh year of hunting in the area.
Korpela and hunting friend Pat Day of Esko had heard Nebraska offered good turkey hunting, but they had no connections there. So, several years ago, Day had an idea.
“He said, ‘Let’s just call the local barber shop, because he’ll know everybody,’” Korpela said.
It worked. The barber told the hunters to come on down. The local farmers would offer places to hunt.
“We’ve established a nice relationship,” Korpela said. “We go visit them every spring. We stay in a farmer’s refurbished barn. He rents it out.”
Along on the trip this year with the Korpelas were Day and his son, Bard, now studying at Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids, and Bard’s friend Derek Bloom, originally from Carlton and now at school in Bemidji; and John Adkins and his 12-year-old daughter, Haley, of Carlton.
Luke Korpela said there’s plenty to like about making the Nebraska trip.
“There’s a zip line you can sit in and go along,” he said. You can play catch with the football, and look at the cows and stuff. You can play hide-and-seek.”
He can think of only one downside to the hunt.
“You get kind of tired of waking up so early,” Luke said. “It gets harder and harder to get up.”
The first couple of days of the trip were warm and calm, and the turkeys were relatively active, Korpela said.
“After that, it was cold and windy,” he said.
For three days, the birds were unresponsive and not active. But the last day of the hunt was nicer, and the birds were active again, Korpela said. That’s the day Jack shot what has become known to the Korpelas as “the long-call bird.”
Nebraska is a youth-friendly place to hunt turkeys, Korpela said, especially with bows. The state holds a two-week-long archery-only turkey hunt at the beginning of the season. There is no minimum age for turkey hunters, and a youth permit — even for a nonresident — is just $7. Korpela bought the boys two tags each.
Crossbows are legal for youths. Korpela thought that was the way to go for his boys.
“They can’t pull a (compound) bow that I think would be good for hunting,” he said.
After the boys missed birds last spring, they did a lot of crossbow practice in the yard at home, Korpela said. It paid off.
“Every bird they shot, they shot bull’s-eyes,” he said. “That’s why we practice in the yard and practice our calling, so when it comes to game time, they’re ready.”