John's Journal... Entry 246, Day 5
THE GREAT MISSOURI GOBBLERS
The Saga Continues
Editor's Note: I've hunted wild turkeys in more than 30 states, and one of my favorite places in the world to hunt longbeards is in Missouri. This week I'll tell you why I love Missouri, and how Missouri humbled me. I assure you, if you'll come back each day this week, you'll want to be buying your own ticket to go hunt with Brad Harris, the Product-Development Manager for Field Line Calls in Missouri.
My love of hunting Missouri turkeys and hunting with Brad Harris has continued for the last 20 years since that first hunt. This year was another of those memorable hunts that will last for all times. Joining us on the hunt was Gary Williams. Harris had nicknamed him "Meat," because Williams used to work in a meat market. I explained to Williams that when we hunted together it really didn't matter to me who shot the turkey. "Look, we're supposed to get rain tomorrow, and it may rain the next day. So, if you get a chance to take a turkey, go ahead and bag him." About 9:00 a.m. we had two gobblers working and coming to us. Harris sat below Meat and me and called the turkeys. I faced the turkeys, and Meat sat to the right of me. As the turkeys approached, still out of sight, they began to walk to the right, gobbling. I knew I wasn't going to get a shot. So, I whispered to Meat, "The birds are going to come to you. If you get a chance, take the shot."
Now, Gary Williams is one of the most-humble and cordial fellows you will ever want to meet, and he insisted, "No, John. We'll get you to slide around the tree so you can take the shot." But I answered, "If I move, the turkeys are going to see me. So, you're either going to have to take the shot, or we're not going to get these birds. Please take the shot." Williams is an excellent caller and hunter and has won numerous turkey-calling contests. He bags turkeys in several different states each year. He is a veteran hunter with many longbeards to his credit. As I watched out of the corner of my eye, I could see the birds coming. They looked to be 10-feet tall. Both birds had 9-inch or better beards, and although the first turkey was closer, the second turkey was the dominant strutting bird. As the birds approached, they looked bigger and bigger. Finally Williams fired, but instead of going down, one turkey flew off and the other one ran away with Williams in hot pursuit. When Williams finally returned, he had to admit he just missed the gobblers. Although we hunted the second day and got close to a couple of turkeys, Williams and I were unable to score, but Harris bagged a really-fine gobbler. On the last day of the hunt, we got on turkeys early and had six different toms talking in the Missouri hills. The two gobblers that were closest were each on a different ridge from us. One was on the right and one on the left. Every time Harris would call, the birds would gobble but refuse to come to where we were. "Meat, you and John go to the ridge to the right," Harris said. "I'll keep the turkey gobbling by staying here and calling. Once you get on the same ridge that the turkey is on, you should be able to sit down and call him to you."
When Williams and I reached the ridge, we sat down together, him facing an old logging road and me facing the open woods from where the turkey should come. However, when the turkey started to approach, once again he walked up the logging road to Williams' side of the tree. "You're going to have to shoot him, Meat," I said. But Williams kept insisting he wanted me to take the turkey. When the turkey was at 30 yards, we both could see him plainly. I whispered to Williams, "I don't have a shot. Please shoot the turkey." But Williams resisted, "No, John, I have all week to hunt. I think that turkey is going to drift towards you. You just go ahead and take the shot." When the gobbler didn't see a hen where he was expecting to see a hen, the longbeard became nervous and started clucking. "Shoot the turkey," I ordered Williams, "I can't get the shot." I had my Remington 1187 on my knee, and I was looking through my Kahles scope. I saw the turkey step into my field of view. Quickly putting the bird's wattles inside the circle of the cross hairs, I squeezed the trigger. Just at the instant I fired, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Williams fire. But the shots were almost simultaneous. The bird went down like he had been hit with a ton of bricks. "Did you shoot?" Williams asked. I laughed and said. "Yeah, and you shot, too. We both shot at the same time at the same bird." Since I was leaving the next day, I went ahead and tagged the gobbler.
When Harris arrived, we hung my turkey in a tree and continued to hunt to try to get Williams a bird. At one time we had six different gobblers gobbling from every side of us, with none more than 70-yards away. But for some reason, none of the birds came in, but instead all eventually became silent and left. There was about an hour and a half of hunting time left when Harris suggested we go back and get my turkey out of the tree where we had left it, return to the car, get my camera gear and start shooting photos. After pulling the truck up to the gate and getting my camera gear out, we walked about 30 yards from the truck. Harris yelped about four or five times on his new Field Line prototype box call. The call really sounded good, but no turkey answered. We walked about 20-more yards into the woods and began to shoot pictures. I had laid the turkey on a log, and Williams and I were posing with the turkey while Harris shot photos. We were laughing and talking when we heard, "gobble, gobble, gobble, gobble." The turkey had gobbled so close to us that I dropped face down in the leaves. The top of my head was less than 3 feet from the dead turkey's fan. Harris had rolled over on his back and tried to become small. Williams leaned over against a tree. "Load up," Harris told Williams.
The turkey was so close, I was sure he would hear Williams putting shells in his shotgun that had been unloaded while we were taking pictures. But when the bolt slammed shut on Williams' shotgun, two turkeys gobbled really close - less than 50-yards away. "Yelp to them, Meat, so we'll know where they are," Harris suggested as he, like me, stayed frozen to the ground. When Williams yelped again, the two gobblers were less than 30 yards from us. Out of the corner of my left eye, I could see a jake and a longbeard in full strut coming straight toward us. I couldn't believe that the turkeys hadn't seen or heard us. But they were coming as straight to us as if we had them on a kite string. We were all in a little wad - Harris and I flat on the ground, my dead gobbler with his fan up, Williams sitting less than 1- to 1/2-feet from me and the dead turkey leaning up against the tree with his gun on his knee. In less than two heartbeats, Williams' shotgun reported, and I saw the longbeard go down. All three of us jumped up immediately and started running to the turkey. I couldn't believe that those two gobblers had come in as much noise as we were making. Then Harris explained, "Those two gobblers heard me calling on that box call, and they were coming in silent. When they heard us moving around in the leaves, they thought we were feeding hens. So, they just kept on coming. But I can promise you this; I've never been in the middle of a photo shoot and had turkeys walk in on me before."
Every year I go to Missouri and hunt with Brad Harris. I usually have not only a memorable hunt. This year was no different. We were field-testing the prototype calls that Field Line will be producing for next spring.