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'Show Me'.... A Lesson in Humility

For many years now, I have been blessed to be able to travel out of the state of Louisiana to turkey hunt different species of turkeys and experience the majesty and beauty of our great country. Although I have mainly ventured to neighboring states, this year I was invited to travel to the heartland of north Missouri for an opportunity to harvest one of the larger sized Eastern gobblers that are known to inhabit the 'Show Me' state.

My hunting partner and traveling companion Troy had been fortunate to hunt this same farm last year and convinced me that it was worth the trip. He and I have turkey hunted together over the last twenty years, most of the time we are together on the hunts but separated while hunting so that we can guide our children or others. This hunt was somewhat a reunion of the hunting team that started some many years ago chasing turkeys together in the hills northwest of Clinton Louisiana. We were both looking forward to turkey hunting together as a team once again while in Missouri, employing our combined knowledge, methods, and turkey hunting prowess that we have attained on these mid western birds. We were confident that years of experience and wisdom would make it easier to fill of our tags if the conditions were right and the birds were willing.

The terrain in northern Missouri is that of rolling hills with areas of steep creek bottoms branching out like fingers, filled with tall majestic hardwoods. The fields are mainly old corn or bean fields placed on the tops of the hills and they fall off sharply into heavy timber. You can literally look across the tops of the fields from hill to hill and see turkeys walking in green pastures and in fields a mile away. I was surprised to find this area so hilly; we had to work hard to carry all of our gear, trudging slowly at times up and down the creeks and hills in search of birds.

The first morning found us running late due to unexpected vehicle trouble. We quickly decided to scrap our first plan and to start our hunt right near the camp on the surrounding property. We had planned to save that spot for the last day of the hunt because we knew that there were birds nearby, Troy had seen birds near the camp during the afternoon in the past. Missouri only allows hunters to hunt until 1:00 pm each day throughout the turkey season so it is imperative to get on birds quickly and not waste any time. We ended up making our first setup on a food plot opening that was full of clover between two gobbling birds at first light. One bird hit the ground and moved away from our position gobbling his head off getting further away while the other stayed put across a ridge and then got quiet after the sun came up. A hen eased in slowly and seemed to pay no attention to our decoy set up other than some initial clucks as she walked through the plot and out the other side with no gobbler following her.

Troy suggested that we strike out and walk the rest of the property and make something happen. As we crossed a hill, we heard a bird gobbling loudly, a far distance away. We trudged directly toward the gobbling bird crossing the deep ravines and hills until my partner spotted him sitting on top of a hill crest. We crawled swiftly the rest of the way and set up near a fence line overlooking the field ahead. The bird topped the crest of the hill and gobbled at our persistent calls for what seemed like an eternity. While we sat there, we heard two other gobblers answering our calls in the distance over our shoulders. We decided to move on them because we were quickly running out of hunting time for the day. We easily found another willing bird and set up on the edge of a wooded hillside near some open fields. The bird's thunderous gobbles sounded like they were coming from the valley before us as we eagerly waited, contemplating his arrival and discussing the shot. After a while, we realized that he was not coming so we moved slowly trying to determine his position. Oops! He spotted us from 400 yards away from the field while we were still moving through the woods! These birds defiantly were sharp eyed and could see into the thin timber looking for the slight movements of a hen.

Our last ditch plan was to move to the edge of an open field that we had spotted earlier and sit tight and call, hoping a roaming bird would hear our pleas. Just as we were picking our spot, we heard a gobble coming from the valley below, although it was late in the day, the action was just beginning. As soon as we started calling we spotted another huge gobbler crossing the field in front of us. His thick beard was hanging down like a brush but he was not the least bit interested in our calls. He had his mind set on traveling the ridge. Minutes later, a hen crossed in the same area but turned and headed out of sight. We were running out of time, by now it was high noon and we did not have a bird.

Just then I spotted movement through the brush to my right. Through my binoculars I could see a big tom headed toward us coming down the fence line at a distance. He was coming on my side. I only had a small gap in the brush where a clean shot would be possible. Troy turned with me as we both realized that there were multiple birds. As the two toms came into view into the gap, Troy was discussing a possible double shot. Just then they stopped and one bird turned and changed direction. At that moment I pulled the trigger...NOTHING! I pulled it again...NOTHING! I shucked out a shell and pulled again! I almost threw my gun at them! Troy saw this and asked me what was wrong. I told him that my gun would not shoot! He asked me if I wanted him to shoot and I said yes, my gun won't shoot!....BOOM! As the bird on the right tumbled, the other bird next to him gobbled and just stood there for a moment, I pointed at him this time and pulled harder on my trigger..NOTHING! As the tom ran off I spotted another bird that had been trailing making a total of three gobblers that had come in quietly to our calls. I was furious and upset that I had a gun malfunction. I threw my hat down into my chair! Mumbling a few words, I immediately tore my gun down and pulled out the trigger mechanism. Apparently, while crawling around on the other set up, a piece of stick or dirt had lodged itself right in my trigger so that it would not operate. I fixed my gun and sat in disbelief at my awful luck, licking my wounds pretty hard.

We took pictures of Troy's bird and sat in disbelief, discussing what had just occurred. By now the time was rapidly slipping away. We decided to sit back down to finish the hunt and started talking about our hunting plans for the next day. I started calling loudly. You are prone to call more and try different things when you think you don't have anything to lose. Just then, right behind us on the tree line...GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE! They were right behind us closing the distance rapidly making a bee line to our location. I quickly turned my chair to face the decoys that were out in the field to my left. There they were! Three white heads coming up rapidly over the hill from down in the creek bottom near the edge of the field. As the big birds came up the hill and approached the decoy set up, they stopped suddenly and just stood there with caution. My shotgun safety was in the off position and I was pointing right at the bird all the way to the left. The distance to where the birds stood seemed far but they were in range for a shot. We could not see their beards as their bodies were still hidden below the slow rise of the hill. I questioned whether they were gobblers or jakes not being able to see the beards as Troy said to let them come closer. I could have fired and 'ground checked' them but I didn't drive fourteen hours to shoot jakes. What seemed like a long time took only seconds as they all turned back and to their left and moved slowly away from the decoys and farther out into the field. Now I could see that they were all three big adult long beards! I should have taken the shot but now it was too late, they were just out of range. We had just killed a bird, called up a total of six big birds in a matter of minutes in the last hour of the hunt almost tagging out on the first day. Wow, what a day of ups and downs.

The next morning found us up early, ready, and in the field with time to spare. As we walked to the spot that we originally planned to hunt, the moon shined so bright that I could have read a book in its light. Troy had killed a bird the day before and now it was my turn at the gun and a chance to redeem myself. We walked with stealth down the edge of the timber and paused at a spot waiting for the pending thunderous gobbling sounds, waiting to pinpoint the turkey's exact locations. Owls were hooting as the first gobbles came right near our location just where we thought they would be. We quickly set up our decoys and settled into the edge of the timber so that we could see behind us down into the bottom and out into the field in front of us. Then we waited to hear them gobble again. The birds closest to us were gobbling now and some other birds were sounding off farther in the distance in other directions. We started making soft calls so that the close birds could pinpoint our location and maybe fly down into the field in front of us for an easy shot.

As it got lighter I heard the sound of birds flying off of the roost. I looked behind me and saw some hens and what looked like gobblers pitch down into the creek bottom. Through my binoculars I could see three big gobblers strutting with hens walking around them. The big birds stayed there for over an hour. They would gobble now and then and would answer us when we called. I lost sight of them after a while but then heard them cut and fly the creek onto our side. Time went by and Troy and I were getting impatient. We decided to call louder. I asked Troy to use his little loud box call, he held it up high and hit it hard...GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE! It was working! The box call had gotten them excited. They had just been standing at the edge of the timber quietly for some time and now had heard this loud call. They must have worked their way out into the field in view of our decoy set up and seen the fan of the decoy because now they were quickly closing the distance, headed in our direction down the edge of the field. I was in the ready position with my safety off as I heard Troy say 'There they are three of them'. I was so anxious, ready to redeem myself from the mishaps that had happened the day before. I told Troy that I was going to shoot the first one that gave me a chance. There was a limb hanging low to my left and an opening right in front of me that would provided a clear and easy shot. As they came ever closer to our set up, they hesitated. They had been walking single file at a quick pace through the heavy dew but now the lead bird had stopped and was sticking his neck up. I had the second bird in my sights. The first bird turned and reversed his direction and at the moment I saw a clear shot over my barrel and BOOM! To my surprise, all three turkeys jumped up in the air. Two flew off and one ran to the left. I just sat there in amazement and disbelief, I had MISSED! I couldn't believe it, they were standing just 28 yards away and I missed! Troy thought that I had shot over the big gobbler's head and I didn't know what had happened. I was so hurt and could not believe it. Three times I had groups of three toms in front of me and no bird to show for it! I have to admit, I was having a tough time with it. My lip was dragging so much that it was hard to hold up my head. It was 'Three Strikes' and I was out!

Troy and I make good hunting companions. He is one of the most optimistic people I know and really did a great job pumping me back up and convincing me that we could get on another bird quickly if we just gave it our best. We gathered up all of our gear and struck out again to find a willing bird. We bumped a gobbler out of the grass while crossing the field on the way out and then another bird on the way to the truck. This was not helping me as I was still going over the miss and reliving it in my head. Why didn't I just wait? Why didn't I just let them come to the decoys for good video? We had done everything right. We got in early, we set up near the roost, we waited them out, we called at the right time, and then I missed! Whew, and it was getting hot too.

After a mile of walking up and down the hilly roads, we heard a gobbler sound off down by a creek all by himself. We made a move down to the creek and called. He cut us off. We decided to try and get closer to his location. We rounded a hill up to a box stand and set up. Nothing, he had enough of us or traveled to our original location. We had possibly made another mistake. We had called to a bird then left that location, rookie mistake. Just then Troy saw five or six gobblers on the hillside far to our right. We walked a great distance over to that fence line scaring off another gobbler and hen on the way. Man was I getting tired and frustrated. Now we were talking about staying another day so that I could fill a tag. It was getting late in the morning and not looking too good. We stopped and took a break and enjoyed some snacks and water near the edge of the property. We reminisced about all of the turkey hunting in the past where we had faced adversity and made lasting memories hunting right down to the last minute without giving up. We left that spot with a little pep in our step and decided to start making our way back to the truck.

As we got in a small bottom on the way back to the truck, we decided to stop and set up on the edge of an old food plot overlooking a creek bottom that we had passed on the way in. Troy and the land owner had taken a bird near this spot the year before and it would be a nice place to sit a rest and finish out the day's hunt. We placed our gobbler decoy on top of the ridge in front of us so that it could be seen from either side of the field and set up our blind and just relaxed. The time was around noon now and once again, we found ourselves with little time left to hunt. I reminded Troy of a hunt that I had made in Texas years ago where after not hearing or seeing a turkey for two days, I made one of my favorite videos during the last few minutes of my hunt. He said, 'You never know what can happen on a turkey hunt if you keep a good attitude and don't give up'. I told Troy that if a turkey were to come in on this set up, I would guarantee that I would shoot all of my shells if I needed to put him down. We laughed.

I decided to call loud and aggressively, the wind was blowing pretty well and I didn't have anything to lose. I made a first call and...GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE! A turkey answered me right back from the creek below and down to our left! Troy called and he cut him off with a gobble, I called and he answered with another! Bingo! Our last chance! We would surely have to make the best of it! The gobbler was answering but after a while, we realized that he was not coming he wanted that hen to come to him. This went on for some time and now it was well after 12:00 and time was running out. I started calling more and more, all the while scanning the tree line for any movement or sign of a turkey making his way in.

The gobbler was answering me just about every time but not getting closer. Just then I caught a glimpse of movement to my right...'DON'T MOVE' I whispered to Troy. As I turned my attention to the decoy, I saw a big black gobbler that was headed directly to the decoy at a quick pace, coming up from the hill in front. I slowly turned my gun from left to right and drew a bead on his long red and white neck as the big bird reached the decoy. I was ready! The bird was in trouble! All of my energy and frustrations from the previous hunts were about to be unleashed on this poor thing. The gobbler spotted some movement and quickly moved behind the decoy putting. As he cleared the decoy to make a run for it, I was on him like a Top Gun laser guided missile about to shoot down a Russian Mig. He moved quickly, trying to make a break for it, realizing his mistake. BOOM! He went down hard in the field, end over end. I ran to him like a flash and stepped on his neck just to make sure. This sucker didn't have a chance! Troy and I hooped and hollered in celebration. He helped me recover the bird and we relaxed and gave sighs of relief, what a hunt! It was now 12:29 pm. What a day. The sun was shining and it was beautiful as he helped me to take pictures of my well deserved prize.

Troy and I had a roller coaster of highs and lows over the two day hunt. We were both longing to stay and hunt more but our tags were filled for that week in Missouri so we decided to head back home. I know one thing, I will definitely try to make more trips back up to the Midwest, the birds are responsive and large and the scenery is beautiful.

We always try to reflect on what we have experienced and what we have learned on our turkey hunts, going over the details on the trip home. I had come to Missouri confident and maybe a bit too cocky. I got a lesson on this trip for sure that I will take with me on my turkey hunts in the future....a lesson in Humility!
Nice work on the video. Looks like a great adventure in Missouri. The CCR worked perfectly!
Thanks Tony for the kind words. I was surprised at the large size of these Missouri birds. The fans are much larger than Rio and Eastern birds that I have taken in the past. You can really see this in the pictures. Some buddies in camp took two other birds that were well over thirty pounds, one went thirty five. My turkey weighed around twenty six pounds, Big Boys up there....