The timber feels more comfortable nowadays; the air familiar and the sounds welcoming. Those sounds leave no doubt about my surroundings. I’m again at my second turkey hunting home: Missouri.
TWO DECADES OF TURKEY LESSONS
I’ve hunted spring turkeys in Missouri 21 consecutive seasons. I first visited the Show Me State in the mid-1990s, when it was the unquestioned titan of Eastern turkey hunting. And although Missouri’s turkeys have experienced some ups and downs the past decade or so, the state remains one of the country’s top spring gobbler destinations.
Replete with noted call makers and World and Grand Nationals calling champions, the state seems to live and breathe turkey hunting. Missouri has served me the gamut through the seasons, and I anxiously await its next lesson.
Steve Stoltz, world-champion caller and Knight & Hale pro-staffer, has been a big part of many of my Missouri turkey adventures. We first hunted together in 1997, when he was with M.A.D. Calls and Drury Outdoors. So, I felt right at home in April 2016 when I greeted Stoltz after a long drive and immediately headed out to roost birds for the next morning. As a bonus, videographer Nate Wilt joined us to film an episode for “Turkey Call” television.
“It’s looking good,” Stoltz said as we drove toward a large cattle farm. “I heard several birds in there today, and the weather is supposed to be perfect tomorrow morning. We might be in for a show.”
With everything seemingly in our favor, there was no telling what the morning might bring.
Wet, chilly conditions hadn’t been on our list of possibilities, but that’s what we awoke to. Still, as we nestled into several trees at the edge of a large pasture, optimism reigned. Good roost gobbling further buoyed our spirits, but most of the turkeys went quiet after hitting the ground.
“They didn’t go anywhere,” Stoltz said. “They love to work up to this high spot during the morning, so we’re in great shape. We just need to be patient.”
No problem. But after more than an hour of sitting in the cold, someone wondered aloud whether a move would be wise, and we pondered stretching our legs.
Then the lump appeared on the horizon.
“Strutter,” I said excitedly. “There’s a strutter right there in front of us, about 120 yards out.”
Stoltz uttered a few soft calls, and the bird paused to view our setup.
After a few more steps and pauses, the longbeard began a slow walk toward our setup. Minutes later, the turkey stopped just out of range and stood still, viewing our decoys for what seemed like forever. Finally, the Avian-X fake jake sealed the deal, and the gobbler marched into our laps.
I held fire until Wilt gave me the signal, letting the longbeard rough up the jake decoy and put on a show. When Wilt whispered, “Whenever you’re ready,” I squeezed the trigger, ending the hunt.
Stoltz, Wilt and I jumped up to congratulate each other, ecstatic about the turkey and also the chance to warm up. Patience had worked, despite the tough conditions, and another Missouri memory was sealed.
Our celebration was short-lived, however, when a gobble to our left interrupted the conversation. Apparently, our morning wasn’t finished.
MAGIC TIMES TWO
We scrambled to set up, with Stoltz sitting by my original tree as I crawled to the background, straining to stay low. Wilt kept his camera rolling, and Stoltz fired up his mouth call.
Instantly, a bird responded, obviously closer. Soon, a hen and two longbeards appeared just behind the brush to Stoltz’s left, and drumming lit up the humid air.
The birds stayed in the open, cutting toward our decoys, and then stopped beyond an opening that gave Stoltz a perfect opportunity. The gun roared, and a second Missouri gobbler went down. “Delayed double,” Stoltz exclaimed as he rose and pumped his fist.
Later, Wilt asked me to reflect on 21 years in Missouri’s turkey woods. I stammered through some thoughts on tradition and the many lessons the state’s great hunters had taught me. Ultimately, though, I chuckled and referred to the scene we’d just witnessed. The message seemed clear: If you can find better hunting in a prettier, more classic setting than Missouri, I’d like to see it.
And that’s why 21 years, God willing, will stretch to 30, 40 or beyond. As long as Missouri will have me, I’ll eagerly travel to soak up the best spring sights, sounds and experiences available anywhere in turkey country.