As Adam Switzer makes ready for the year’s first spring turkey hunt in the Sandhills of Nebraska three things are at the top of his list for a successful outing; his calls, his dog, and his gear. As the owner/operator of a professional outfitting business that draws turkey hunters from across the nation, Adam takes his preparation seriously. In fact, he never stops preparing. Throughout the year he constantly practices his various calls, works his dogs and keeps a mental inventory of the daily habits of many wildlife species on the Switzer Ranch, the home base of Calamus Outfitters.
I accompanied Adam to set up a blind to be used the following morning by hunters from Texas. The past week had covered the plains with snow and ice making spring calving on the ranch a bit more complicated but no one here is complaining. The past year’s severe drought has affected every living thing, testing the resiliency of the prairie and the animals and people that call it home. It is still hard to tell the full effect the hot dry year had on the turkey hatch, but a strong existing population will undoubtedly weather the dynamic conditions that define the Great Plains.
As we travel through the ranch on our way to Adam’s destination, he intermittently makes clucking noises with the call hidden in his mouth. I see various calls strewn about the back seat of his hunting suburban as well. A couple box calls, a worn slate call, and a wing bone call are at the ready. I ask what his favorite call is. “Depends on the birds,” he states, in a matter of fact tone. “Whatever their favorite is, is my favorite. And that seems to change every year.”
As we pull up to a stand of ancient cottonwood trees poking into the sky above mature cedars, Adam stops the suburban and slides out. Grabbing his pop up blind, he strides to his selected spot. Blind placement is key for the morning hunt. Because Adam has studied the birds throughout the year he has learned the daily habits and travel zones. He places the blind close to the cottonwood roosting area, angling the main opening towards the faint path nearby.
I ask about his plan for the morning hunt. He explains that the turkeys will make the first move. After listening to the birds, he’ll call softly as they become more active. The objective is to draw the big gobblers in to the decoy for the prime kill zone shot.
As I picture a large tom carefully approaching the decoy my thoughts are interrupted by the excited whines of Adam’s main hunting dog, Number 2. Contained in the back of the suburban, No. 2 pleads to investigate the area but Adam gently puts him off. Although dogs aren’t usually associated with turkey hunting like upland game or waterfowl excursions, No. 2 is never left behind. Not only does he find birds in areas that are hard for man to access, he is on call to quickly retrieve any wounded birds. Although that scenario is rare, as a guide Adam must be ready to deal with a variety of situations and it seems No. 2 is the main tool for most solutions during hunting season.
As we jump back into the suburban, now on our way to a patch of pasture that No. 2 will be able to stretch his legs in, Adam comments on the predicted weather. The early morning will be cold, but temperatures will rise somewhat quickly after the sun pops over the hill. He mentions that his hunters will need to be ready when they enter the blind. They need to be quiet and stay warm so their faculties will work when the time is right. Since the blind hunt can last from 5 minutes to 3 or 4 hours he advises his hunters to wear quality gear allowing multiple layers that can be quietly manipulated. One of his pet peeves is bulky outdoor clothing that makes loud swishing noises every time the body moves. “It’s hard to be stealthy when the birds can hear your coat from a ¼ mile away.”
We stop to let No. 2 have a romp before we return to ranch headquarters. As I watch him bound effortlessly through the bunchgrass, I survey the open hills. Waiting for spring to fully arrive, the sand drinks in every drop of moisture. I can smell the dampness play with the crisp air. A sharp-tailed grouse, and then another, is flushed by No. 2. Adam chuckles and calls him back to the suburban. Turkey season at Calamus Outfitters starts tomorrow.