There are many things that might stand out on a hunt. The scenic beauties of the area where you are hunting, the weather or the trophy that you took on the hunt are just a few of the things that come to mind.
Sometimes, however, it is none of the above, but instead it is about the person with whom you are sharing the hunt. Yes, this is a story about a turkey hunt, but it is more about my friend Lewis than how I took my first turkey.
Lewis has a passion for hunting whitetail deer and for turkey and he was the first person I hunted with when I moved to Kansas. He reads and watches shows to glean new tips. And, unlike me, who just picks up his turkey mouth call a few weeks before spring turkey season, Lewis practices his turkey calls throughout the year. He is a perfectionist about calling turkeys and has even won a turkey calling contest.
Lewis does not get to hunt as much as he as would like because he has family and church obligations that come first. But we generally get to hunt together at least once a year. And when it comes to turkey hunting, he would rather just do the calling and let me hunt. He thrives on calling in the big birds and he seems to enjoy it most when he has someone with him to watch him toy with and finally reel in a big tom.
I had hunted with Lewis a couple of times before for turkey, but I had not been successful. He was confident that this day would be the day. He had a spot near where he grew up near the little town of Wetmore, Kansas that we would be hunting this morning.
It was late April and the plan was to go to the spot in the dark and try to roost the turkeys. We turned off the main highway and after driving down gravel roads in the middle of nowhere Lewis finally instructed me to park the truck and get out. There was no moon and it was pitch black as Lewis led me into the woods. Sure it was just rural Kansas and not the wild wilderness, but there is still something a bit eerie and exciting about heading into the woods in the dark.
We went up and down hills, through brush and thick cedars. We kept our flashlights off except for a momentary flash to get our bearings and to make sure we were on the trail. Your senses come alive in the dark and it is amazing how well you can travel without the need for a flashlight.
Lewis would pause occasionally and using a call, let out an owl call. The idea was to make the turkeys respond to it so you would know where they were roosting. I had no idea where I was, but finally Lewis got a response from the turkeys and he whispered emphatically, “this way!”
His pace quickened as we moved silently in the dark toward a clearing. I had followed behind but not too close so as not to get smacked by a fast moving limb released by Lewis. We soon arrived at our destination. It was just a small opening surrounded by timber but according to Lewis, this was the spot. He set up the decoys and then we took cover. I placed my back against a hardwood that had a little cover in front of it. I was anxious as I awaited the turkeys arrival when the sun came up which was going to happen very soon.
Lewis set up about ten yards behind me to do the calling. It was perfect and I was excited about the prospect of getting my first turkey. As if scripted, as the sun was slowly rising, the turkeys gobbled. I was delighted, at least for a moment.
“Oh no,” Lewis gasped. “We have to move now!” Lewis started grabbing the decoys and urging me to follow him as he raced through the woods. For a big man, Lewis can move fast when we are hunting.
As we were moving he explained that the turkeys were nearby, but that there was a creek between them and us and they would not cross the creek. We had to get on the other side of it and quickly because we were running out of the dark and they would see us if it got too light.
Lewis grunted, “There, hurry, put the decoy out there in the pasture and then find cover. I will get back here and call. Don’t worry about finding the perfect spot because they are right there in that tree. Just find cover quickly.”
I crawled under the barbed wire fence and out in the pasture and hurriedly put out the hen decoy. We had tom decoy but there was no time to set it up too. I returned and settled against the t-post of the barbed wire fence that separated the timber from the pasture. In the middle of the pasture about 100 yards away was one lone tree on top of the hill. The tree was silhouetted by the rising sun and from where I was sitting I could see four birds. I just hoped they had not seen me as I put the decoy out.
Lewis began calling and they called back from the tree. It was now a bit after official sunrise and you could clearly make out the birds in the tree. They gobbled for awhile from their roost and then I watched as they flew down. Once down, they wasted no time in moving toward us. It was four toms and they were fired up. Each would fan their tails from time to time.
I had never experienced the roar of the thunder chickens like I did that morning. All four would gobble in response to Lewis’s clucks and purrs and the sound of their gobble would actually vibrate my body and reverberate in the woods behind me. It had my heart racing.
Our plan, despite the little pre-dawn detour, was working out brilliantly. The turkeys were coming just like we wanted them to come. They were following a little path that would lead them right to me. Suddenly things changed, they decided not to come on the trail they were following; the trail that would lead them right into shooting distance, but moved to the right a bit.
No problem, I just need to shift a slight bit and I will be able to make the shot, I thought to myself. The lead tom must have seen me move because at 40 yards, the outer limits of my shooting range, he stopped coming toward me. He didn’t seem overly alarmed, but he lead the other three toms off to the right away from me. To add insult to injury, he kept saying, “puck, puck, puck…..” I swear he was mocking me those pucks.
I did not have a shot at them. The hunt was blown or was it? The toms were in a single file and just before the last turkey took the final steps over a little embankment that would have put him safely out of my range, he stopped and stretched out his neck to look back. Why did he do it? I do not know, but it was a fatal mistake as I was able to squeeze off a shot from my shotgun and dropped him.
Lewis’s calling was superb that morning but what impressed me more was his knowledge of the land we were hunting. It was pitch black, but he new exactly where he was at every moment. He knew exactly where the turkeys were in relation to that creek; surely his years of hunting this area as a kid were imprinted in his head. Sure, it was his home turf, but I could not have done it and was thoroughly impressed at how easy he did it.
Some guys just have a knack for knowing where they are and making the right adjustments at the right time. Fortunately for me, Lewis is one of those guys and he was my guide that led me to my first turkey. But as I said at the start of this story, it was nice getting a bird, but it is not the turkey that makes this hunt memorable; it was watching Lewis work his magic that I will remember.