Opening day of Missouri’s 2016 turkey season, the third Monday of April, as always, finds me hunting with long-time friend closest friend and high school classmate Tom Brown. Tom arrived at my house, 4:45 on the dot. We did the quick usual transfer of gear, gun and hot coffee mug into my truck and headed south….south to Gunn City, Missouri. On the drive we always catch up on family, work life, and things of minor importance. Tom, has spent his entire career in law enforcement. As always, he has a funny zinger or a story about an incident was involved in while on duty. Sometimes you just can’t believe what people do or get themselves into. One of things Tom has a knack for is remembering odd names of people and places. Tom commented on the drive that his mama always referred to Gunn City as Pistol Gap, a euphemism for its small size. A forgotten town in our home county, Cass. As he said, his mama felt you could safely fire a pistol bullet north down the middle of the two-lane black top between the south and north incorporated limits of this tiny agricultural community. The gap merely being the width of the two-lane black top that separates the local gas and grocery social hub on the west side from a few old homes to the east. The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, and Mr. Brown is no exception. He got it from his mama.
We are hunting this morning on about 90 aces of bottom land along Camp Branch Creek about a mile southwest of Pistol Gap. This is one of my favorite places to hunt, due to several factors. It has an interesting history, is very easy to access, and and probably because it has been a very challenging place to hunt. The property is bound on the north by the abandoned rail bed of the former St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad, know as the Frisco Railroad. The rail bed now serves as an access road for a local farmer and the occasional hunter. Presumably this was a narrow gauge steam engine line. A few years ago, while departing a hunt on this property, I had a conversation with an old farmer. It was painfully apparent he wanted to know who was doing what, when and where, even though I was not parked or walking on his land. I think after the first few minutes, he was self assured I was no “perceived” threat. As like many old men, they got a bone to pick with someone from way back when. He discussed the disdain he had for the landowner I hunted on, and the local land history. I successfully engaged in conversation diversion to get his mind off of whatever he was upset about. All I recall is something about my landowner taking government money for growing weeds. The local history lesson was the better part of the tailgate chat. He told me about the one room house on my landowners property, now nearly collapsed, where two bachelor brothers lived for years. This house was right along the abandoned Frisco line. The brothers were apparently quite wild and know for their drunken stupidity. The more interesting thing I learned was that the Frisco line had a water tank stop about a half mile west of the old house. Near this stop, was an old hollow tree that served as sleeping quarters for hobos and vagrant travelers wishing to steal a free ride on the railroad. Apparently the tree hollow was large enough to hold a few men and a small fire. Now with all old men stories, things tend to be over-exaggerated. I suspect the hollow tree could probably allow one or two men to sit in with a small fire, assuming it was vented, but I doubt if the tree was big enough for sleeping stretched out. I shall tell big stories someday, but for now will recognize the thin vale that always grey’s the truth.
Mr. Tom and I arrive at 5:30 as planned. We parked by the old bachelor house, walk about 30 yards south along the woods road past the house and west bank of Camp Branch Creek, then set up about 15 yards east off the woods road. It is a blue bird perfect morning, 45 degrees and no wind. This is the year I have decided I am tired of decoys, seen their devastating effects first hand on hanging up gobblers. This is further bolstered by recalling past hunts and wondering why the gobbler wouldn’t come further. I also hate carrying them. Besides our guns, the bulkiest pieces of equipment is a simple compact 24 inch tall camo screening with stakes. I like it a lot. The gobbling activity this morning is very light, and very surprising given the good weather. The first and only gobbler fired off about 6 am across the creek. I give a soft tree yelp knowing full well the hunt might well be over given the barrier between us and the turkey. I estimate the turkey is less than 100 yards away. The creek and all the “weeds” the old man bitched about two years ago are my only nemesis on this property. To put things plainly, my landowner planted much of his bottomlands in switchgrass years ago and refuses to burn it. He planted many trees and volunteer sycamores have invaded. Quite plainly this 90 acre property is horseshit habitat to hunt in because it is impenetrable to turkey and hunter. I think the grass also hampers deer usage as well. Most of the property except the mature hardwoods along Camp Branch Creek, is a damn jungle. The jungle is great turkey nesting and rearing habitat, but not when you are hunting. A herd of goats sent by the late Lovett Williams would be heavenly manna right now. It is hard to not get frustrated about lack of management. None-the-less, you hunt what you got. The west 15 acres along the creek is accessible and the best place to hunt from what I can tell. Weeds aside, the 50-foot top of bank width of Camp Branch Creek is really my biggest nemesis. Invariably, the gobblers usually roost across creek after nearly four years of hunting this property. Besides wind, creeks might as well be the Grand Canyon to turkeys. To add insult to injury, my landowner owns about 1.5 acres of land across the creek, right where the birds roost, and we have no means of accessing this sweet spot. I have envisioned many times about building a rope bridge, or wooden walkway plank just so I can set up in this isolated piece of turkey heaven. If only, in only…..Another cold-blooded turkey gobbled just once around 6:10 am at probably 200 yards to the west, again across the creek. By 6:15, both gobs shut down. So I start with some gentle yelps and clucks, nothing to agressive. At 6:45 my friend and I observe a hen fly down from in front of us from across the creek and sail gracefully through the woods to our left at about 50 yards. We didn’t see exactly where the hen landed, but assumed maybe one of the gobblers would soon come to the edge of the creek and hang up and start gobbling again. Three years ago I called in a group of jakes roosted across the creek, but right on the edge near the channel. These jakes pitched down on the opposite side, then sailed over Camp Branch like mini pterodactyls, a rowdy bunch. I know the odds are low because of this chasm, but again you hunt what you got. We called sporadically until 9:30, but nothing so much as walked in or yelped or gobbled. It was a classic west Missouri hunt; the gobbling often ceases at 6:30 am. I believe midwest Eastern’s are not nearly as vocal as those Rio’s I have hunted in Texas. We cease hunting at 9:30. Three years ago I called in a silent walk-on gobbler at 8:30 from the south along Camp Branch for an 8-year old boy to miss at 15 yards. I know killing a bird here is possible and I shall return again this year several times to try again.