After one day spent along the Niobrara River of north-central Nebraska, I found myself with a turkey tag already filled. My first morning hunt had been a success, and to top it off, on my walk back to camp, I’d picked up a matching set of shed antlers from a 140-class, 5×5 whitetail deer. Yes, my first day in the Cornhusker State had been a HUGE success!
Rather than making a 50-mile round-trip drive into the nearest town to purchase another turkey tag, I decided to simply spend some time hanging around the area where we were camped, while scouting for deer and looking for shed antlers. I’d always been intrigued with this area as a possible deer hunting destination and I wanted to do a little more research into the possibility of such.
A bonus to turkey hunting is you often can find shed antlers.
Spending some time driving roads less traveled, Peg, Lulu and I enjoyed the quiet solitude of the Sandhill country of Nebraska. After making numerous stops to check on the availability of hunting access, I quickly came to the realization that the cancer of commercial hunting had already established its grip on the area — most of the quality habitat was leased by outfitters. It was clear that the only places that I would be able to deer hunt in this region would be public land. Oh well, I already knew of numerous such spots from my turkey hunting experiences — I’d just have to stick with them for deer also.
Midmorning of our fourth day in Nebraska found a case of wanderlust beginning to grip yours truly. Deciding that it was time for a change of scenery, Peg and I set about breaking camp. In short order, the Claypool clan was rolling down the road, heading north into South Dakota. Always ones to enjoy new scenery, Peg and I smiled and chatted about our blessings as we rubbernecked down the highway.
Commenting on how this country was at least two to three weeks behind in the progression of springtime growth compared to where we’d came from in Oklahoma, we were glad that we’d waited until early May to make the trip. Up here, the trees were just starting to burst into bloom and much of the rolling grasslands were only now beginning to green-up. As a matter of fact, we’d just passed a deep ravine whose north-facing slopes had yet displayed a few remnants of snow! Today, however, the sun was shining down, warm breezes were blowing and life was good!
Scouting A Creek Drainage
My first choice of South Dakota destinations was a parcel of state land that bordered a meandering, prairie creek drainage. Pulling into the spot in early evening, camp was soon established once again. Lulu soon returned from a hunting foray with a face full of quills — clearly, she’d discovered a new creature, porcupines! Grabbing some needle-nose pliers from my tool kit, Peg and I firmly held our hairy friend as I pulled quills from lips and nose. In short order, things were back to normal, and Lulu was off on another hunt — hopefully, this time, with a different quarry in mind!
Since this was entirely new country for this group of Okies, I figured that we’d spend a good deal of time here, exploring the wide-open spaces that stretched in every direction. With land status maps in hand, we jumped in the Ford and headed out on a drive to familiarize ourselves with the immediate area. I would start hunting soon enough, but for now, we’d entertain ourselves for a few days by simply driving through some very lightly populated country.
Springtime turkey hunting is also a good way to find/scout new deer hunting locations.
As the evening set in, it became quite clear from the darkening Western sky that we were in for a dose of thunderstorms. Quickly departing the remote dirt roads that we were traversing, we no more than made it to a firm gravel bedding, than the sky opened up — lightning flashed, thunder rolled and rain came down in sheets.
Making our way back to camp, the refuge of our camping trailer was a welcome respite from the raging weather. Finally, the storm moved away, opening the sky to a gorgeous sunset. As we marveled at the colors and shapes of the Western sky, we knew that tomorrow would be a new day, and our explorations of the South Dakota prairie would continue!
Please read more in Part 3.
For a fine selection of Turkey Hunting gear, click here.
Eddie Claypool provides tips on bowhunting, with an emphasis on whitetails. Claypool has harvested 63 Pope & Young-class recordbook animals including 35 whitetails (Coues included), 16 elk and eight mule deer. All the animals were taken on do-it-yourself hunts.