Seeking cover behind a tree, Maxine Wehling hen yelped as she called a turkey grazing across a river, roughly 140 yards away. It was spring turkey season and Wehling had paid attention to the animals’ migratory and feeding patterns throughout the year to figure out where she could find them.
“I was by the river and did some soft hen calls, just with my natural voice, and I had a gobbler fly across the river to me,” she said.
As the turkey fluttered over the river and approached Wehling, she readied her 12-gauge shot gun and sat quietly. Between her and the turkey was a pelican, so she had to be patient before taking her shot.
“You have to be flexible and go with what happens,” she said. “Don’t get into too much of a hurry.”
Since she was little, Wehling had a passion for the outdoors, but didn’t have many opportunities to go hunting after her father died.
“I know I pheasant hunted with my dad when I was maybe age 12, but then, I didn’t really get another opportunity until in my 40s,” Wehling said. “I had a cousin show me everything about turkey hunting and I was a natural and just fell right into it.”
While honing her newly found turkey hunting skills, Wehling said patience turned out to be most important.
“I learned about being patient with myself because it does take an intuitive sense,” she said. “You can’t get every skill right away.”
One skill Wehling discovered after beginning to hunt again was her ability to hen yelp, using her voice. She used to raise wild turkeys and as she cared for them, one day she tried to emulate their calls. She said it’s a great tool to have in her back pocket while in the field because she can stay very still while calling.
Besides turkey hunting, Wehling also enjoys hunting deer and trapping small animals like skunks, raccoons, bobcats and red fox.
“I’m trapping right now,” she said. “I just caught a skunk and she’s beautiful.”
Wehling caught a skunk in one of her traps and quietly crept up to find the animal sleeping. Staying 15 feet back, in case of spray, she took the animal and is having the skunk made into a pelt.
During the summer months, she likes to fish using live bait and trolling walleye.
“There’s just something every season outdoor and I love it,” Wehling said.
Aside from her interest in hunting, Wehling said her interest in photography has further enhanced her passion for nature. Grabbing her camera and looking through the lens, she captures the personalities of the animals.
“I combine that with hunting because I just love being quiet and capturing animals in their natural, playful habitat,” she said. “When they’re not pressured and you can have that beautiful privilege of sitting quiet and watching their habits, it’s different than when they’re stressed.”
Deer and turkey are her favorite animals to photograph because of their mannerisms and expressions. During her time sitting out in nature, Wehling likes to reflect on life.
She is also an avid rock collector, having around 100 heart-shaped rocks from her adventures. Even on the hunts where she may not see an animal nor harvest one, she said, “There’s always a gift if you’re open to having it.”
In a sport historically male-dominated, females like Wehling are gaining skills from their fathers and heading out into the field.
Still, the number of hunters has seen a decline over the years, but Micaela Rahe, a Nebraska Hunting and Shooting R3 Coordinator said the industry is focused on recruiting women into the sport.
“Currently, women are the fast growing segment in the shooting sports industry, so it’s time to think about how we can introduce them to hunting,” Rahe said.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln research information of all license buyers in the state and found the percentage of women hunting deer was 11%, pheasant was 5% and turkey was 7%.
Rahe said they are seeing a higher participation of female deer hunters before age 40 and the highest age category of female waterfowl hunters in 20 to 25 years old. Across the state there is a 30% increase in female hunt permits sold between 2010 and 2015. There has also been a 50% increase in female waterfowl hunters since 2010, bringing the number above 1,500 permits sold to women.
The average age of a female deer hunter was 28 years, pheasant hunter 30 years and turkey hunter 23 years.
One of the young hunters in the valley is Kaylee Spreier.
For Spreier, hunting has been a bonding activity for her family across three generations. Spreier first went hunting with her father, Scott at the age of four and had an important job when they went waterfowl hunting.
“I would go hunting with my dad and his friends and when we went bird hunting, they would send me out to get the birds,” she said. “Now that I’m older, I give them a hard time.”
At the age of 12, Spreier and her father Scott went hunting before school in the Gering valley for deer. From that hunt, she learned patience and took home her first deer.
“We went out before school and I went to get my deer and I got the day off of school,” she said. “I learned to respect weapons and the animals. It’s a privilege you get to go out and do it.”
Spreier added, “I would say the hardest part would be patience. It is pretty hard for me because when I see the first nice buck, I want to shoot it, instead of waiting for one that’s bigger.”
With help from her dad, Spreier pulled her deer through the field back to the pick up.
Spreier has gone hunting around Lake Minatare and in Morrill County, south of Bayard. While she has gone goose hunting quite a bit, Spreier said deer hunting boosts her adrenaline.
“The adrenaline rush is crazy,” she said. “I start shaking and I get heightened senses. If I get it, I’m really excited, but my dad is always there telling me to relax.”
While Spreier’s first deer was a memorable moment, she said her most rewarding hunt was one she went on with her younger sister Brittney. Hunting for deer in the corn fields and surrounding hills of the Gering valley, Spreier let her sister have the first shot at a passing buck.
“I gave her the first shot on a big buck and she got it,” she said. “It was fun to watch and see her succeed and enjoy something I do.”
Hunting continues to be a way for the Spreier family to bond, despite them growing up and getting involved in other activities.
“Even if you leave without shooting anything, those moments are just amazing,” Spreier said.
Spreier would recommend hunting to anyone because “it’s something fun that can bring you and your friends and family closer together.”