Gainful Gobbling

By David Urich | March 2, 2010
From Missouri Conservationist: Mar 2010

At 4:15 in the morning of the turkey season opener, I was lying on my stomach on the living room floor with a rubber ball under my chest. I was limbering up so that I could put my boots on. Now that I’m approaching my sixth decade, bending over to lace up my boots is a feat I need to negotiate carefully. Several years ago, I hurt my back and it hasn’t been the same since. In the early morning, my back is the stiffest and I must loosen up gradually to ease into my boots. This requires that I get up a little early and follow a foot-into-boot insertion process that was prescribed by my wife, Jen, a physical therapist and my personal back manager.

Unfortunately, she won’t get up at 4 a.m. to supervise this involved process and lace up my boots for me. Nor will she fix me a hearty breakfast as a precursor to the turkey hunt.

It is only a matter of time before I will need to buy slip-on boots for early morning hunting departures.

After I finally limbered up enough to tie my boots, I prepared a snack to take with me. The night before, Jen baked scones to take to her coworkers as a special treat. Good for me that she was diverted by other activities while the scones baked and the bottoms burned. This meant that I could have as many as I wanted for my turkey hunt. Two seemed appropriate.

I arrived at the Manito Lake Conservation Area in Moniteau County as the sun was rising. I was a little later than I would have liked, but the boots and back took longer than I’d planned.

I stepped out of the truck and was immediately greeted by a thunderous gobble on the other side of a small barn next to the parking lot. The turkey hunt had begun even though I wasn’t ready. I grabbed my gun and camo coat and trotted up to the barn hoping my back was agreeable to this sudden early morning jarring. Then I crawled on my belly along the side of the barn and peeked around the corner to see a lone tom turkey strutting and gobbling 20 yards from me. The bird was well within shotgun range, but I decided I would call him for a closer look and to test my skills.

Besides, I don’t like to shoot a turkey unless I can see the whites of its eyes and smell its bad breath.

Calling with a box call while supporting my weight on my elbows was tricky, but I managed. The turkey gobbled furiously, but he stood his ground. Obviously, I was dealing with an arrogant tom turkey that was demanding the hen come to him.

I hate arrogant turkeys.

I’m not a bad caller so I should have been able to bring in a lone, gobbling bird. The turkey turned away from me and slipped down the hill, gobbling continuously. It was over and I had failed, which happens frequently in turkey hunting. It was now time for Plan B.

I have a favorite spot on this conservation area where four fence rows converge, funneling turkeys into a small opening. I often sit there late in the morning, calling to entice turkeys. I gathered up my stuff at the truck, including my two burned scones, and made the nearly 1-mile walk to my spot. Although I have never had a male turkey show much interest in a decoy, I set mine out. Given this morning’s failure, I wondered why I continue to even bring one.

After settling into my spot, I decided that it was time for a breakfast scone. It was reasonably good, despite being somewhat charred. I nibbled around the burned parts as I kept a wary eye on the decoy.

My breakfast was interrupted by clucking and rustling in the grass. There were two hens standing next to my decoy. How could I have not seen them approach? Admittedly, I wasn’t completely attentive, but I wasn’t totally out to lunch or, in this case, breakfast.

One of the hens was uncomfortable with the decoy and moved away. The other hen started calling and walking around the decoy, evidently asserting her dominance.

Her calling was terrible! She had obviously not studied any of the turkey calling videos I’d learned from. But, to her credit, she was effective. Three toms responded to her calling and they were getting closer. This hen apparently didn’t like my decoy and was announcing this for all to hear.

I love an arrogant turkey.

There was nothing for me to do except watch. The hen eventually moved behind me and continued to call. This was accommodating because it would make it much easier to deal with the first gobbler that showed up.

I love an accommodating turkey.

Progress was slow; the toms were not racing in to the hen’s calling. Since the hunt was proceeding nicely without any need for my involvement, I figured I had time for the second scone.

Once again, my meal was interrupted by a massive gobble from behind the fence row 30 feet away. It was time for action! Before I could do anything, a big adult gobbler stepped out in front of me in full display. He was totally enthralled with my decoy. Actually, it was the first time I ever saw a gobbler display for a decoy.

Of course, I wasn’t ready at all. The gun was across my lap, my camo head net was in my pocket and I was only half done with my second scone. Plus, I had poured a hot cup of coffee to help that scone slide down better. Nevertheless, my breakfast had to be put on hold. It was time for me to step up and be a hunter.

All the hen had left me to do was to slowly raise my gun and pull the trigger. I did exactly that, and during the middle of breakfast I harvested my first turkey of the season.

I gathered up my things and tagged the turkey. It was at this point my little voice popped up in my mind to review the hunt and point out areas where I could have improved and been more effective.

My little voice and I go way back. Typically, after a hunt we banter back and forth reliving the day’s events, comparing them to past hunts. Basically, my little voice expressed disappointment in my hunting this morning and concluded that I was lucky to have even seen a bird, let alone shoot one.

I had forgotten my shotgun sling, but I remembered that I could take my double barrel apart and put it into my hunting coat. This would free up both hands to carry the turkey. There is a physical principle important to turkey hunting that dictates that turkeys gain weight as they are hauled back to the vehicle. This weight gain can be described precisely and mathematically. The formula is the number 25 (which is the universal turkey constant), multiplied by the distance from the vehicle in feet, divided by the age of the hunter, times the average number of visits per week the hunter makes to the gym, cubed.

My turkey weighed nearly a metric ton by the time I carried it almost a mile back to the truck. I was surprised it didn’t smash the tailgate when I heaved it up into the truck bed.

As I pulled out of the conservation area parking lot, my little voice suggested that a prudent hunter would complement his wife on her tasty scones without mentioning the scorched bottoms. Maybe I would become eligible for fresh-baked, unburned scones next time. Most of the time my little voice is right.

I hate that.

Also In This Issue

A weekend spent searching for trout on one of Missouri's blue ribbon trout areas
A weekend spent searching for trout on one of Missouri's blue-ribbon trout areas.
Aerial view of trout chases at Roaring River.
Roaring River hatchery has been raising trout for anglers for 100 years.

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Writer/Editor - Tom Cwynar
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler