I have a confession to make. When it comes to turkey hunting, I am the K.O.D. (the “Kiss of Death”), and that’s not a good thing. I don’t know what it is, but I haven’t killed a turkey since law school, which was over ten years ago. And it ain’t for lack of trying either. I have hunted all over Idaho for turkeys and I even made a trip to north-central Kansas this past April on a hunt that I thought was sure to break the curse. To my chagrin, I was plagued with bad luck the whole trip, but let’s start from the beginning.
On Wednesday, April 17th, at 3:00 a.m. in the morning, my good friend, Scott Johnson, his son, Brigham, and I headed from Idaho Falls towards Kansas. We did not even make it to Pocatello in my “trusty” green Subaru before the car started overheating something fierce. I had never experienced this problem with the car before. Upon reaching Pocatello, we realized that my car would never make it to Kansas so we opted for Plan B and called and begged our wives to bring us Scott’s truck to make the journey. This was at 4:00 a.m., mind you. Most wives would tell you to go jump in a lake before making such an inconvenient journey, but not our ever-supportive wives. Man, I love my wife! With the diesel Chevy Truck, we were back in business and resumed our journey east towards Kansas. But the worst was not behind us.
When we reached Rawlins, Wyoming, we found that Interstate 80 to the east was closed and we could not get a variance with the Wyoming State Police to keep traveling eastward by another route. We ended up having to get a hotel room for the night in Rawlins. I can honestly say that I have seen more of Rawlins than I ever cared to see and I have eaten at almost every single restaurant in that Podunk town. I will say that, despite our predicament, we all kept a positive attitude and kept a smile on our faces.
Fortunately for us, the roads again opened at 8:00 a.m., Thursday morning, but the roads were super icy and dangerous as there were countless semi-truck drivers that were also glad to finally be on the move. We were relieved to have Scott’s four-wheel drive diesel truck instead of my little Subaru for this harrowing leg of the journey. We proceeded with caution to Laramie to find, once again, that the Interstate to the east was closed. Argghhh! It was as if the elements had combined against me in getting a turkey.
We had no plans to drive through Colorado, but in desperation to get to our destination, we backtracked and took Highway 287 south to Fort Collins, Colorado, which was open . . . but just barely. Only a few miles down this road, we hit total whiteout conditions. I promised Scott, “It won’t be like this the whole way. Once we get into the canyon and the trees, we should be able to see better.” After a few more miles of white-knuckle driving, we made it to better roads and bluer skies. The trip to Kansas thereafter was uneventful, but long.
We finally arrived at our destination–our friend Sterling Monroe’s home–that evening and went to dinner at the local diner. Although we had lost a whole day of hunting, we were still in good spirits and excited to hunt the following day. That night, as we waited for Brother Shawn to arrive, Sterling showed me an article in a hunting magazine reporting that the world record for the length of a turkey beard was 22 inches. The bird in question had three beards, the lengths of which, when added together, equaled 22 inches. Sterling then said, “Shawn’s turkey that he killed here last year–the first hour of the first evening–also had three beards and the total length of them was 25.25 inches. It would have been the world record. I tried to get Shawn to mount that bird, but he wouldn’t do it.”
“Are you kidding me? That lucky sucker! What a knucklehead!” I said with a grin.
After a tiring day on the road, we all hit the sack around 10:00 p.m. and Shawn arrived around midnight. The following morning we all awoke to a solid breakfast prepared by our gracious host, Sterling. We discussed our plans for the hunt that morning.
Shawn and I were assigned by Sterling to hunt one blind set in the corner of an agricultural field next to a finger of trees and plum thickets with a hayfield on the opposite side of the woods. Before we left, because of my back problems, I thought to ask Sterling if there were chairs in the blind, but then thought that this was a given and did not raise the question. BIG MISTAKE!
Upon arriving at the tent blind and looking inside, we found no chairs in the blind. Now I don’t mean to sound like a wuss, but since my back surgery, I don’t do so well sitting and kneeling on the ground as my legs go numb. Shawn and I chatted quietly and passed the time and tried to call in a bird. We had one gobbler in the field behind us respond to our calls, but he seemed to be going away from us rather than coming in. Shawn and I talked about how he harvested and ate that world record turkey last year.
After about two and a half hours of sitting and kneeling, I was in terrible pain, and I finally said to Shawn, “Brother, I’m sorry to be a wuss, but I can’t sit on the ground anymore. I need to take a break and stretch my legs. Give me your keys so I can go sit in the truck for a minute.”
Shawn handed me his keys and I quietly walked back to his truck. I left my shotgun with the thought that I would return in a while. When I got the truck, I pulled out my iPhone and began to answer a few emails. I couldn’t have been there five minutes when I looked up and right in front of the truck was a long-bearded gobbler heading right for the blind. If I had my gun, he would have been a dead bird!
I instantly started texting Shawn to let him know that a strutter was coming his way. I just knew this was a dead bird and I waited with anticipation to hear the report of the shotgun. It seemed like forever, but I soon heard the BOOM! and I ran down to the blind to celebrate with Shawn his success.
“WAHOO!” I heard Shawn holler. “Brother, I am the World’s Luckiest Turkey Hunter! When I figured you were back at the truck, I decided to do some calling and I heard the unmistakable GBLGBLGBLGBLLL!!!! I knew he was coming. So I zipped up all the windows hoping to determine which way he was coming in. I unzipped the front window just a crack and there he was strutting as he came into the decoys. When he got to about 40 yards, I couldn’t wait anymore and dropped him. I’m the World’s Luckiest Turkey Hunter!” He exclaimed with a laugh.
“I saw that bird come right in front of the truck. I knew as soon as I saw him heading for the blind that he was a dead bird. Did you get my texts?” I asked.
“No, I didn’t,” Shawn replied. “If you would have been here, I would have let you take the shot.”
“I know, I am a wuss.” I responded lamely. The thought then crossed my mind that I may have blown my only chance.
We hunted hard the rest of Friday, with a chair in the blind, mind you. And, although I had a bird come within about 60 to 70 yards, I did not have the opportunity to pull the trigger.
Saturday morning, Scott Johnson harvested another nice long beard as he sat in a blind with Sterling and Brigham. Shawn and I saw and heard a lot of birds that day, but just could not get them to come to the call. In fact, that night we had a large flock of turkeys come pretty close, but we set up the blind in the wrong spot and when I tried to stalk them to get into range, they busted me. I’ll never forget the periscope-like head of the boss gobbler on the ridgeline in the gorgeous sunset as he clearly observed me army-crawling into position. Like I said, when it comes to turkey hunting, I am the K.O.D.
While I didn’t harvest a bird, I had a great time with my brother and friends in Kansas. Sterling was such an awesome host and we all had a great time together. Also, the rolling hills and wooded draws of Kansas are so beautiful and appealing to this bird hunter that the possibilities seem just endless. I love Kansas! Even with the setbacks, I will be back next year for the adventure, or should I say, “misadventure”? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: “The birds are just the bonus.”