The Perfect Season
Turkey hunting is a growth sport in Missouri. Conservation Department Wildlife Research Biologist Jeff Beringer estimates the statewide turkey population at 500,000 to 600,000, and Beringer said the population is still growing as turkeys move into previously unoccupied habitat.
Beringer noted that turkeys also are multiplying to "amazing densities" in parts of northern Missouri, which already has the densest turkey population in the state. I had hunted turkeys years ago without much luck, and so I had given it up. My wife's brother, Wayne, owns timbered property in north Missouri where those "amazing densities" of wild turkeys live, so I decided to try again. I bought a spring turkey-hunting permit, found a box of Double XX magnum shells in the basement and started piling stuff in the car. The last week of April found me at the house on Wayne's property, ready to hunt.
I was alone in the house, a mile off the paved road in a part of Missouri where livestock far outnumber the people. The house is surrounded by the ghostly remains of a farming operation - a towering blue silo, a hog farrowing building where voices echo in empty stalls, and small, mysterious wooden buildings slowly rotting into the soil. Somewhere in the dark, a door on one of the outbuildings banged shut in an April breeze. I rolled over in my sleeping bag, punched up my pillow and tried to sleep. I was on a hide-a-bed in the living room of the house. I had expected that my partner would already be there.
Sitting up, I looked out the picture window over the couch. In the daytime, the window afforded a view across a wide river bottom that had been cleared to grow crops. A quarter-mile across the field rises a levee that borders an unseen river. Rolling hills edge the flat land along the river, and they are crowned with forests of oak and hickory. The woods are home to white-tailed deer and turkey. You can see it all in daylight. At 11 p.m., however, the view was reduced to a swatch of solid darkness.
The house, with two bedrooms and one bath, sits on a rise overlooking the bottoms. At dusk, I had sat on a slab of concrete at the edge of the yard, flicking ticks off my pantlegs while listening for a turkey to gobble as it went to roost. The house had long ago been