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Misses make marvelous memories

April 18, 2014

Sometimes a turkey hunt goes exactly the way it should. Mornings like those are memorable, make no mistake about that.


My son’s first turkey, which gobbled with every step except its last one, is a prime example. Another is a triple-bearded gobbler I called across a quarter-mile of close-cropped pasture practically into the lap of the man I was guiding. And yes, I’ve had a good many hunts with happy endings during which I was the shooter.


It seems like most of my most vivid and longest lasting memories involve misses. The best — or possibly the worst of these — was shared by the third man I’d guided in three successive days. The first two were back in Sedalia in time for a not-too-late breakfast, and I had no reason to doubt that the hunt’s final scheduled morning would be any different.


When we stepped out of the truck, two toms were busy trading tree gobbles exactly where I thought they would be. I positioned my hunter where I knew the turkeys would pass and started calling. After three hours of the turkey version of point, counter point, I surrendered the field without ever seeing my opponent.


By the following morning, I’d developed a whole new strategy. My hunter and I set up an ambush along the route the two toms had taken the previous day and settled in for a totally silent wait. About an hour later, the two toms ducked under a barbed wire fence and started walking slowly toward us on a course that would make them about 35 yards out and maintaining a 6-foot interval when they passed.


I whispered that my hunter should take the rear turkey whenever he was ready and I would shoot the lead bird on his report. When the moment of truth arrived, the silence was shattered by two nearly simultaneous shotgun blasts. Both gobblers were completely unharmed and beat a hasty retreat. The hunter looked at me and said, “Take me crappie fishing.”


Then there was the time I spent four colossally frustrating days guiding a “city feller” on his first turkey hunt. He was a nice enough guy, but, for whatever reason, he absolutely couldn’t see approaching gobblers under any circumstances. By the time he went home, I’d sworn an oath to give up turkey hunting.


Allegiance to that oath lasted only until I got up from an afternoon nap. First light the next morning found me back in the same woods I’d been hunting previously. The gobblers that had fallen all over themselves to charging in to my calls wouldn’t budge. Finally, a true longbeard begrudgingly started my way. He hung up at about 40 yards but eventually strutted into an opening. Of course I missed him. Why do you even ask?


At least on those occasions, somebody got to shoot. One spring many years ago, I invited a good friend of mine from Iowa down for a turkey hunt. We listened to invisible gobblers make the hills and dales ring for two days, during which time my friend’s faith in my abilities as a turkey guide was dwindling rapidly. And why shouldn’t he doubt me? I was beginning to doubt me.


The third morning, we set up near the head of a hollow peppered with mature timber but little understory. Not long after first light, a hen wandered down our side of the hollow and began scratching for her breakfast within 50 yards of us. Then a gobbler strolled into view on the opposite side. The hen immediately began to call and to display by flapping her wings. The gobbler completely ignored her efforts and eventually walked out of sight. Lloyd said, “I apologize for what I was thinking about you, but I’ve had enough.”


The morning after he left for home, I went back to the same hollow. I made about three series of calls and had turkeys coming in from three directions. This time I didn’t miss.


I could go on, but that would only intrude on your own memories of hunts that did or didn’t go your way.