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Approaching 150 and Twenty Years of Turkey Hunting: Part 3
Go West Young Man: Chapter 1
In the spring of 2007 my wife, Emily, and I headed 520 miles a little north and mostly west to the eastern Kansas town of Fort Scott. This was my first hunting trip that was west of the mighty Mississippi. A friend of mine, Rick, had been hunting Kansas for years and had been trying to get me to come out there for sometime. We arrived in Fort Scott around noon on that very hot day in May. Rick had some private land that we could hunt, but he was not going to arrive till around noon the following day. So he told us about a public hunting area to try out that he had hunted turkeys on before. After we ate lunch, got a hotel, and suited up in our turkey-hunting garb, we headed to the woods.
Dozens of Ticks
The ground we were hunting was called Hollister Wildlife Area. It is a public hunting area managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks that is made up of about 2000 acres. For the next three hours or so we slowly crisscrossed one section of the property calling and glassing along the way. We did not see or hear any turkeys, but we did see plenty of tracks and droppings around some of the fields that were planted in milo. As we were headed back to the truck we stopped one last time to call and glass a field between the truck and us. Again no turkeys, but what we did notice was literally dozens of ticks crawling all over us. I think it goes without saying that this was the end of this day’s turkey hunt. My wife started making noises that I have never heard before. “Take me to the hotel,” she demanded! So for the next quarter mile she squealed and danced through the field and finally into the truck.
As we left the public ground we looked into a private pasture that bordered Hollister and saw a large group of turkeys with two long beards in the flock. “Look, Turkeys!” I yelled out to Emily. It would not have mattered to her if the world record gobbler was out there. All she cared about was getting those ticks off of her. With much protest from my wife, I drove by the pasture again to assess the area. I knew that it was a good possibility that they would roost on Hollister. With lots of yelling and squealing in my ear, I drove slowly by this field a few more times watching where the turkeys would go when they left the pasture. My hopes came true and the turkeys headed out of the pasture directly toward the backside of the WMA a few minutes before roosting time. I told Emily as we headed back to the hotel that we would be in business for the next morning. Later on that night Brad Paisley’s “tick song” became a reality to us, regardless if we wanted to check each other out or not we did. I have never before or have not since had that many ticks on me after a hunt.
After an extensive night of extracting ticks, we made the long walk to where I thought the birds would be roosted a good fifteen minutes before normal gobbling time. Just as we were looking for a place to sit down and wait on the first gobble of the day, a gobble echoed out into the darkness. “Wow these birds gobble early out here,” I whispered to Emily. I knew we needed to get between the private pasture and their roost to have any chance to harvest one of these gobblers before they made it back on posted land. Being still dark, we were able to swing around the roosted birds and get setup in a point of the woods that jutted out into an opening that was sure to give us a shot. My only fear was the birds flying directly down into the private pasture. Pretty much the entire flock of two gobblers and around a dozen hens answered my first calls of the morning. A few short minutes later turkeys started flying down just around the point we were setup on. Things were looking good. Then I saw the first turkey of the day, a hen making her way to the pasture. Then another hen and another until all the hens were directly in front of us, with a couple getting too close for comfort. Finally, the bigger gobbler of the two thundered out a loud gobble just around the point to announce his presence to the world. He then walked the same path as the hens did, but this time directly in line with my shotgun’s bead and my 12 gauge put him on his back.
Since that mid-May day in Kansas, I have been back to the Jayhawk state to hunt turkeys every year, tagging out every time. I now pay a farmer to hunt turkeys on his 2000-acre ranch, but still make a trip or two the HWMA for old times sake. Also since that year I have hunted turkeys in several other western states; from Merriam’s in Wyoming to Rio’s in Oklahoma. However, Eastern Kansas is no doubt my favorite western state in which to hunt turkeys; maybe my favorite state period for hunting turkeys. Eastern Kansas has such a diverse habitat that has a lot to offer turkeys and turkey hunters. From prime cattle pastures to numerous crop fields, from flat ground to rolling hills, and more trees than anywhere else in Kansas. I also have been fortunate enough to go on a couple of archery hunts for whitetail out there and brought home my largest kill ever, a 170-inch 11pt, in 2010. You can say that Eastern Kansas will always have a special place in my heart.
The Cedar Tree
This year’s Kansas turkey hunt was no different. A group of my friends went out there at the end of April and brought home six gobblers. One particular day we hunted that week, however, may be one of my best days of turkey hunting ever. The day began with the Kansas wind doing what it does best, blowing hard. I told the guys that we probably would not hear as many gobbles this morning. However, I told the boys that these turkeys normally will come out into the fields where you can see them, unlike back home, so get somewhere on the edge of a field and sit tight. After dropping Austin and Rob off, Chris and I headed to the line of Sycamores, which is one of the most awesome places I have ever turkey hunted. Chris positioned himself on one side of the creek by the “Cedar Tree” and I was on the other side at the hay bales. We knew the turkeys would come to one of the fields we were setup on even if no gobbling was heard.
Finally, after daybreak, a turkey gobbled on Chris’ side. I thought to myself, “Looks like the Cedar Tree is going to pay off again.” For the past few years I have killed a turkey somewhere close the Cedar Tree. It was not long when another gobbled on my side, but was across the field I was setup on and on the edge of another field. It took me some time to get to him because I had to cross two creeks with very steep banks to get to the field edge where the bird was. By the time I got there the turkey had stopped gobbling and all I saw was a jake and a few hens. The jake may have been the bird doing the gobbling. I have heard many jakes gobbling like a big boy in the past out there. Either way I was not going to shoot a jake so I checked out a couple of other fields. With no luck, I made my way back to the hay bales. Just before I got there I heard Chris shoot. Then a few minutes later, I heard him shoot again. When I drove around to pick him up I noticed he was carrying a big gobbler in one hand and a hand full of tail feathers in the other. He later told me about his crazy morning hunt.
Crazy Morning Hunt
His hunt began as I mentioned earlier at the Cedar Tree. The turkey that was gobbling closest to him flew down and went away from him into a freshly planted soybean field. Chris made a couple of moves on the gobbler trying to cut him off, but the bird just keep moving toward the road. So Chris made a bold move and crossed the road to get on the other side of the gobbler. However, in order to do that he got into the creek and walked down the creek under a bridge to the other side of the road. Crazy! Then he made a big hook through the woods, back across the road, and crawled up to the field where he last had seen the gobbler. He was just in time to see the bird heading out the other end of the field and heading toward the Cedar Tree. Crazy! So Chris went back across the road, looped through the woods, back under the bridge, and up the creek back to the Cedar Tree. When he popped back up he could see several turkeys running all over the place. It was a large group of jakes chasing the big gobbler. He said he counted fifteen or so. Crazy! Then his luck finally changed and the group of jakes chased the gobbler into shotgun range and he rolled him. He walked up to the gobbler, picked him up, and carried him to the Cedar Tree to get his vest. Once he laid the gobbler down and turned to put his vest back on the bird got up and started running. Chris then lunged for the bird and all he got was a hand full of tail feathers. So Chris shouldered his gun and shot him again. Crazy!
There is much more to tell about this one particular day of hunting in Kansas. So please check us out next time for chapter two of Go West Young Man within the Approaching 150 and Twenty Years of Turkey Hunting saga.
God Bless and Happy Hunting.