After having hunted with my friend Tom Brown on Missouri’s opener, I selfishly scheduled a few solo pre-work morning hunts at Camp Branch that week. My friends wedding anniversary also happens every year during the first week of the season, so he tends to be unable to go hunting until after the first weekend of the season. Due to weather on the second day of the season, I decided the weather forecast looked much better for Wednesday, so I worked at home on Tuesday, dreaming of gobbling longbeards across the chasm of Camp Branch Creek. On Wednesday morning, I again depart at 4:45 for Pistol Gap. This morning, I set up a little further south along the woods road along the creek. At 6 a.m. the first gobbler fired up, about 90 yards across the creek, again! But that gobble was followed up by a double gobble from another longbeard roosted near the first. Then number one gobbler fires off again, and the second gobbler cuts him off with double and triple gobbles. This went on for several minutes, then clearly I hear two more gobblers fire off a little further south of the first two and further away to the west, maybe 150 yards. The roosted quartet gobbled at least a couple hundred times for nearly 45 minutes, and I occasionally yelped. The last gobble was around 7 a.m. At around 7:30, I yelped again and one of the closer gobblers fired off from the ground. I suspect with all the gobbling, several hens have wandered in to all the ruckus. I estimate that the second peak of gobbling is occurring right now, and that to hunt these birds would require sitting until 10 or 11 a.m. after the hens loose an interest and I don’t have time to stay that long. I depart Camp Branch at 9:30 knowing there are four gobblers in the area and optimistic. Maybe one or two of those gobs will get his ass beat by the dominant bird and change roost sites to my side of the creek. The next couple of days I am unable to hunt due work schedule changes and weather. I am hoping my son will be interested in a Saturday hunt at my friend Chuck’s place in Nevada, but again the weather is bad and Chuck has family in town.
Pistol Gap – Opening Day Missouri Season
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.
Stranger 157 – Leavenworth County, KS
I left the Purple Cow Ranch on April 14th mid-day and drove to a favorite hunting spot outside of Tonganoxie, Kansas arriving perhaps at 5 pm. The property is nicknamed by the owner as Stranger 157. Nothing really magical about the name, so I shall dissect. It’s 157 acres of glass flat bottomland along Stranger Creek, a major stream in Leavenworth County. While 80% of the ground is wide open and cropped, there are decent tree borders along Stranger Creek and several fingers of mature woodland. There ain’t nothing Strange about the property except the behavior and actions of the annual turkey hunter, namely me. While I can not divulge the location of this land, I can say that pre-season scouting paid off handsomely. I located a big winter flock of hens and gobblers in mid-March, which mostly appeared to stay on Stranger 157 during the entire Kansas season. In fact, the property had a bumper crop of turkeys that I have never seen since starting to hunt there three or four years ago. During the balance of the season, I estimated 4 gobblers and 20 hens were regular customers on the property.
The plan was to glass the east field from the west field entrance to see if I could roost some birds. Several hens and one gobbler were observed in the southeast corner of the east field in the early evening. And pretty much in the same general place I and friend had been seeing birds in strut pre-season. Confirming their presence made optimism soar after being un-successful at Purple Cow Ranch. Even though Stranger 157 is only 50 minutes from my home, I hate getting up early in the morning. It’s probably the only thing I hate about turkey season. I am not a morning person. I was in a quandary about whether I should drive home, to warm bed and wife, or sleep in a tent or my truck. Being a minimalist, or gluten for punishment, whichever you choose, I decided to stay out there on the property for the night. Parking my truck in the east field right by the field access road, this was my “motel” literally. I elected to sleep in the rear seat of my truck rationalizing that I would get more total hours of sleep and be there literally first thing in the morning. I rolled out my sleeping bag in the rear seat about 9 pm, crawled in, and try reading the latest news on my cellphone and thinking about the setup tomorrow morning. Now I don’t know if it is just me, but a particular thing happens to me during the turkey season. The night before a hunt, I get a little amped up and find it is hard to fall asleep. I think about the best setup, will I get enough sleep, where birds are likely roosted, the sunrise and legal shooting time, weather forecast, how long it takes to walk in, and an endless list of needless worries that prevent good, and preciously needed, “few” hours of sleep. Lord knows we turkey hunters should forget about sleeping until after the season is over, but the body doesn’t typically want to cooperate. You need sleep to be awake while hunting. You need to make it to your paying job location once in awhile, function and try to earn money while not losing your job in the process due to absences. Other trials of high importance during turkey season is getting along with your family because your some damn tired and grumpy all the time. And they are tired of you being absent. It goes both ways I suppose and a truce of tolerance is achievable within the family after a multi-year break-in period, particularly with an understanding wife. She deals and I try to avoid being a grump grump. I don’t know if these bedtime fits of anxiety happens to other turkey hunters, but it does me. I wish I could just get rid of it. I need to find a saint to pray for intercession in the aid of desperately needed sleep during the season. Miracles do happen with prayer, but not always on our timeline. Now that turkey season is over, I have a task noted to research for a patron saint to help a man sleep. Now I will say that I am an average size male at 5′ 9″, but the back seat of a truck is stupidly uncomfortable. I could not fall asleep to save my soul and by midnight, I had finally dozed off. Somewhere around 12:30 am, I see the bright glow of headlights in the truck cab from someone driving slowly down the county gravel road next to the field. I didn’t think much of it at first, but looking at the window and through the brush along the field edge, I observe someone spotlighting from a Ford Truck. It was not a Chevy, Dodge, or Toyota. I could tell by headlight shape. They were spotlighting deer or other wildlife I suppose, which didn’t bother me. But I also know this area is known for heavy poaching activity, so I was on alert. I don’t think the spot-lighter saw my truck, and he drove on down the road. About 45 minutes later, having barely dozed off again, I am awaken by headlights again. This time it was a truck starting to drive into the field I intended to hunt and right towards my truck. Instinctively I turned on the dome light in the truck cab as a warning and instantly Mr. Truck quickly backs out of the field and back onto the gravel road. I don’t know if the guy thought my truck was abandoned and maybe he could break in and steal or whether he was poaching. I swear people have no regard for trespassing. I am glad that a simple dome light warning was all it took to ward off whoever the hell was trespassing or contemplating a break in. Otherwise, Mr. Truck and Mr. Ruger Nine were probably going to have an unpleasant encounter. Now that my nerves are completely fried, sleep was not only not an option, it wasn’t even a passing thought. I was cramped up, thinking about some idiot night owl and fretting about not sleeping. I think I managed to drift off around 3:30 am and woke to the sound of gobbler ringtone around 5:15.
With the arrival of a sunlight at around 6:00, I geared up and headed out before dawn. Having done pre-season scouting on this field and my good friend Paul living nearby doing morning and evening scouting was a huge help. We knew the birds were generally using the southeast corner of this field on either side of a long narrow tree line that runs north to south. I set up on west side of the tree line with the intent of having the morning sun to my back, setting out a hen decoy. Between 6 and 6:30, there were two gobblers that were absolutely on fire. One was in the southeast corner, just like I expected and the other was just a 150 yards east of him roosted along Stranger Creek. I called a few times, just to make contact. The bird in the southeast corner flew down around 6:30 and went into strut and gobbled a lot on the ground surprisingly with a hen in plain site. The other gobbler turned down the gobbling by 6:30, but I knew he was moving towards me because he mistakenly gobbled about 100 yards to my back. This gobbler made a wide swinging loop around me to the north and appeared in the open field I was in. He proceeded, with much dignity, and a renewed interest in gobbling, to go smack dab in the middle of the field so that God and every hen in a four square mile area knew he was present and ready for action. This bird absolutely put on the full Monty of half-strut, full strut, and gobbling for at least 45 minutes. Meanwhile, the first gobbler in the southeast corner must have got his feelings hurt by this impressive display because he retreated in the wood edge. By this time it was about 7:30 a.m. The gobbler in the middle of the field was tiring and a few hens appeared on the south edge of the field, so he retreated. Having hopes dashed as two hot birds had departed in a matter of 45 minutes, I did what the books say to do and that is sit still and be patient. However, I did slowly crawl out and took my decoy down, thinking maybe it was the problem. I did sling my gun for the 20 yard crawl just in case. Well this action was unbeknownst to me at the time, but was a smart decision. While crawling back to the tree line at about 8 a.m. my hope was renewed, with the appearance of yet a third gobbler from somewhere to the north, a gobbler that was silent on the roost. Being stranded on bare soil, with only my gun and and pot call, I merely sat down slowly. This gobbler went right to the middle of the field near where the other gobbler had been puttin’ on a show, and put on a show of nearly equal caliber, of shorter duration. He was about 150 yards away from where I sat. At about 8:15, several hens and the first two gobblers of the morning regrouped in the southwest corner of the field and the third gobbler made haste to join their party. These birds strutted for several minutes for the hens and most of the hens simply had no interest and walked off. However, one hen stayed around. This situation created an intense pursuit by the three gobblers and within minutes two of these gobblers were chasing this hen in circles; she couldn’t get away or it was a game of tease. Only the turkeys know the truth. I suspect she was not ready and was really annoyed. I yelped softly a few times and that peaked this hen interest. She broke away from this game of chase momentarily. I yelped again. She took off in a purposeful gait to an invisible yelp, seeking help from a sorority sister. Two love sick gobblers with no good sense joined in tow. I had used my range finder to scope the 45 yard distance of a shallow drainage ditch in front of me earlier in the morning. I knew that if these birds reached that shallow ditch it would be an ethical shot. As the hen and gobblers crossed the ditch, I think they got suspicious of the camo blob sitting in the middle of the field. They were swinging a little to the north, so I thought I had better take a shot. I picked the closest gobbler, took a deep breathe, focused on my target and shot. Immediately the gobbler starts flopping on the ground, so I knew he was hit well enough. I jacked another shell in and took off in trot to make sure he wouldn’t run off from a stun shot. The hen just stood there as I was trotting and finally realized danger was at hand and she ran off. Upon crushing this gobblers wind pipe with my foot to end his life, I notice he had two beards. I thought, wow that is cool, first multi-beard gobbler. Upon close examination, this gobbler had not two but “five beards”. I thought wow, this is the best morning ever. Giving thanks to the Creator for this marvelous turkey, I called my buddy Paul to share the good news. I even took the bird by Paul’s office to show him. So on day three of the Kansas season, a tag was filled. I went from a horribly uncomfortable sleepless night of anxiety to triumph, and enjoyed one hell of a beautiful spring morning in the process. Good gosh I love turkey hunting!!! As Tom Kelly says in Tenth Legion, I am glad I got to see it one more time! This turkey deserves more than an turkey fan mount; it is off to the taxidermist.
Gobblin’ Yarns – The Purple Cow Ranch
After suggestion from a Beaumont Texas native, and the best turkey hunter I’ve ever known, I am writing a journal during turkey season. I swore for years that I would journal turkey hunts, and all related side lines that happen during the season. Now is the time. I am not getting any younger. I have many hunts in memory, but none committed to paper. I saw what dementia did to my dad, and I don’t want this special part of my life to go undocumented. If for no other reason than for my wife Tracie and our kids, so they can read stories to me some day as I slowly eat oatmeal in the old folks home.
As the second part of the story title suggests, this is the first of, hopefully, many years of getting it down on paper (or digital these days!). Thank God for the PC! A yarn, my wife said, is kind of story telling – that is woven. Sometimes the yarn goes from beginning to end, on a short yarn, nothing to weave, not much to tell, you go from point A to B in no time flat in your story. Other times, the yarn is well thought out, organized, predictable, much like a scarf being knitted. And sometimes, the yarn is not woven, but rather, it’s like the damn house cat that went unsupervised with a ball of yarn, and not only played with it, but strung it through every room in the house, taking many twists and turns.
The start of spring turkey season 2016, started out with the house cat gone wild. This story, is factual, with a little embellishment, and names changes to protect those reputations that may or may not deserve to be protected. You get to decide if they are worthy characters or not, I am only reporting the facts. So here we go…….
I booked a turkey hunt on a working ranch in southern Kansas. It’s pen name shall be the Purple Cow Ranch and yes Kansas is where this happened. The story really starts with the booking of the hunt in late February. I found this ranch on the internet, and it looked good for turkey habitat from Google Earth views and website photos of the lodging choices found on their website. Just a wonderful place for R&R and solitude. I called the Ranch Manager, lets call him Barney. He said they had a lot of turkeys, so he quoted me a price and I got the dates booked. During our conversation, Barney casually mentioned that he was not a turkey hunter, but had shot one with a rifle last fall during deer season. I was aghast, a rifle shot turkey, first of all, is an outrage. Then shooting it out of season and likely without a legal tag that us regular conservation loving folks voluntarily pay for. Out of the faintest of sympathetic thought, I immediately remember my dad taking a shot at a turkey with his rifle during the Missouri rifle deer season some 20 years ago and knowing my dad probably didn’t know that it was illegal, I was willing to let it pass. However, knowing Barney was a rancher and land man, and was probably familiar with the game laws, it did send up a “Danger Will Rogers” warning flag.
During our call, Barney told me that lodging was handled by his wife, lets call her Thelma Lou, which I later learned from Thelma Lou at the very end of my trip that they were actually living together, and it didn’t surprise me. Barney referred to Thelma Lou as his “wife” several times during my stay. Barney told me that he would have her call me to reserve the River Cabin. Thelma Lou called me on her cellphone the day after I talked to Barney. She said the River Cabin was available, but she couldn’t take my credit card number to hold the room at the present moment because she was driving en-route somewhere. I told her I would call her back in a day or two and get the deal done. I tried calling Thelma Lou on a Friday and the following Monday, and left messages both times. I tried calling her on an alternative business number, no return call. Not hearing back from her for about a week, I text messaged Barney to let him know I had been trying to get a hold of Thelma Lou and that I was still planning on arriving the day before the Kansas regular season opener on April 13th. Barney responded to my text and said something like Thanks, we’ll see ya at the ranch. I left it at that, trusting Thelma Lou and him were well coordinated, as one would expect from a professional ranching husband and wife team. About a week before the season, my gut said to call Thelma Lou again, just to make sure I had booked the River Cabin for sure. I didn’t want to drive three hours with no place to stay. So I decided to call her, only on intuition mind you, based on the only phone conservation I had with Barney back in late February. Barney’s demeanor from our February call didn’t come across as well organized; but rather, laughable, a little high strung and really likable. I tried calling Thelma Lou twice; both times of which I was notified her voicemail box was full. In fact I tried calling Thelma Lou multiple times on an alternative phone number, the phone number for her Purple Cow Store in the downtown area of the nearby town. There was no answer ever at the store, not even an old fashioned answering machine to talk to. I couldn’t call Barney to confirm lodging, because he strictly said Thelma Lou handled the reservations. So on somewhat blind faith, not knowing for certain the cabin was booked, I headed out April 12th at 11:15 a.m. after days of packing and planning.
Now the yarn will take a slight detour for a moment, literally, as I’m heading down Hwy 169 through Southeast Kansas. I knew that I probably would being driving through a town called Chanute, Kansas on the way down. Chanute brings back many childhood memories. My deceased grandma, Helen Kepley, had live there for many years, working as a state inspector for nursing homes in that region. My mom and dad took us kids on regular trips to Chanute to visit grandma for many years. I remember her first house was near the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Yard, but could not recall exactly where it was at. However, her second house, the one that she and her third husband Ernest Kepley had purchased together in their retirement years, I remembered the address. 1530 South Malcolm. So using my phone GPS, I quickly drove to her old house and took a few pictures, then texted those to my sister and asked her if she remembered the house. She did. We both had many good memories of grandma’s house, her billiard table, the three-wheeled bicycle, the town swimming pool, go-cart track, and the old train at the City Park. The memories go on and on. So getting past the lump in my throat wandering down memory lane, deciding it was necessary to soldier on, I was back en-route to my destination, the turkey mecca known as the Purple Cow Ranch.
After about driving for 90 minutes, I arrive promptly, as planned, for check-in time, 3:00 p.m. at the Purple Cow Ranch River Cabin. I noticed a suspicious pair of muddy basketball high-tops on the River Cabin porch, as well as three or four dishes of half eaten dog food. I thought that is weird, and being naive, I thought, did someone that forgot their shoes, dog and dog food dishes? I decided I better call Barney and let him know I arrived. Barney answered, and indicated he was glad I made it, but that he was taking his new puppy to the vet due to a urinary tract infection. Clear instructions were given for me to go into town to the Purple Cow Store, and find Thelma Lou. She would be there and get me checked in. Barney then said he’d call me in an hour or so after the vet trip and he’d come meet me at the cabin and we’d go drive around the turkey haunts. So I turned around, went back into town, found the Purple Cow Store, went to open the front door, and it was locked!!!!! I couldn’t believe it, but it didn’t surprise me either based on my intuition about Barney, and now about Thelma Lou, a lodging proprietor who doesn’t return my phone calls nor cleans out her cellphone voice message inbox. I literally sat in my truck in the downtown area of a small Kansas town until 5 p.m., probably looking suspicious. I watched the little old ladies and a few old men, and other people of various younger ages, walk into the local pharmacy for prescriptions. I drove around a bit, still waiting for Barney to call me or Thelma Lou to show up at the store. Somebody please call me, any human contact is appreciated so that I would have a bed to sleep in that night. I decided to drive back out the River Cabin, with no Barney in sight. So I just waited it on my tailgate….feeling helpless, and about ready to fire up a cigar to relieve the boredom and anxiety. Being the prepared Eagle Scout that I am, I had my tent, cot and sleeping bag in case of such an instance. So as I am sitting on my tail gate a car drives past the cabin, then stops half way across the bridge over the local creek. The car backs up and pulls in the driveway. A woman gets out and introduces herself as Wilma. She said she needed to get her stuff out of the cabin and she’d be done in fifteen minutes. I’m thinking, where the hell is Barney or Thelma Lou? Am I being duped by incompetent operators or cons? Your mind wanders a bit far sometimes. Meantime, Barney finally called me around 5:30 and said he’d be there in a few minutes on a Kabota Tractor. An hour and a half late. I though, well I am annoyed, but at least I might see a real person associated with the operation for the first time, but hoping desperately that I would not to have to ride around on the wheel well of a Kabota tractor on rough cattle country roads, or worse yet, on Barney’s lap, (again the mind wanders sometimes!!!). Barney did show up in a Kabota, but it was no tractor. It was a nice two-seat ATV, one that looked pretty new. Impressive. Perfect. No unsafe wheel well ride like we did on dad’s 9N Ford tractor back in the ’70’s and 80’s. Nor would it be an extremely awkward lap ride with a complete stranger, namely an middle aged man. Had it been a pretty girl, well, I may have thought differently about the lap cushion arrangement.
Barney introduces himself, and says lets go take a ride on the Kabota…So I hop in. I have to describe Barney, a big 6′ 4″ middle-aged white man, with neck length unkempt gray hair and beard under his beat up blaze orange ball cap, arm tattoo of a naked girl, gravely smokers voice, brown old man loafers, high water jeans, and white socks. He’s not what I envisioned as Kansas rancher. He was no cowboy. I don’t think he’d even been to his first rodeo yet. I must report, though, that he was in full company attire, a Purple Cow Ranch jeans jacket. So we drive along the major local creek, in an extremely deep tree lined and rocky canyon, which was flowing high from recent rains. It was breath taking, you felt like you were in a Sedona Arizona stream valley. The hardwood trees, against the carpet of last falls leaf carpet and many rocky outcrops was striking, when compared to the adjacent prairie grass hills found not 200 yards uphill. Now Barney, I learned quickly, is quite a talker. In fact, his favorite conversational word starts with F and ends in K, followed by a natural guttural laugh. You can figure the two middle letters out with little problem, unless you’ve lived a sheltered puritanical childhood. My goodness! So we drove across the creek in the Kabota and proceed in four-wheel drive up a steep, rocky and severely eroded ranch trail road. Road would be an overly generous description. No big deal, I’ve seen this kind of terrain before. Apparently many of the roads on the ranch are eroded and muddy due to the owner’s numerous oil well leases and an indiscriminate oil company who didn’t properly rock surface their roads or oils pads, as required by state law, nor does any seeding or any kind of erosion control. It was atrocious. There was some road surface rocked, but not a lot. Barney complains openly about the oil company’s abuse of the land, and how the Kansas Corporate Commission is a worthless enforcement agency when it comes to these ruthless oil men. In my mind, I had to totally agreed with Barney. None-the-less, we tooted along in the Kabota. Not far down the road, a cooling system warning light comes on in the Kabota, and Barney again uses the F word for the fiftieth time. I didn’t blame him for that particular slip of the tongue. We both exit the Kabota, and he pronounces that it is probably the lower cooling system hose again. Indeed it was. It had blown off, dropping all the coolant fluid along the trail. Barney then says that the Kabota is only 4 months old and this is the second time this has happened. I was amiss, was I going to get to see any turkey areas after all the days bad luck? Barney said we were not that far away from the place he’d been seeing birds, so we’d walk the rest of the way and check a game feeder and camera. Then we started the LONG walk back to the cabin. On the way back, Barney in his childlike way of laughing and using the F word, said he had earlier in the day, broke the front axle of his personal HUMVEE luxury SUV truck. I thought, is this guy for real, or completely incompetent? How in the hell do you break a HUMVEE front axle, these are stout military vehicles. So we keep walking, Barney ahead of me 30 feet or so, describing the F’ing rattlesnake den to stay away from, but not pointing out exactly where it’s at. Barney points out that the state of Kansas was doing a study of their rattlesnakes for some kind of fungal infection that is spreading. I found that interesting. Then all of a sudden, I see Barney pull out a LARGE BLACK semi-automatic hand gun and he says something, but I didn’t hear what he said. I just saw a big gun in the hands of a weird dressed man, one I had know for barely 30 minutes, just he and I, alone, in the middle of nowhere. Your mind plays tricks, as I am overly cautious by nature. He pointed the gun at something that I later learn was an armadillo. I could see he was getting ready to shoot it, so I plugged my ears, as I wear hearing aids and don’t need anymore hearing loss from a stupid animal execution. Barney said he hit it, but offered NO mercy shot to end its suffering. He was conserving bullets. I kind of could see where he was coming from on that point, as I personally hate wasting a two-dollar turkey load to finish off a longbeard, when my foot, being the free tool it is, works quite well at crushing an old gobblers windpipe and spine. My mind at this point, was like, is this guy setting me up and going to whack me the day before turkey season opens? I mean really. Is this a way to act around a guest at your ranch, someone you don’t know? Don’t you want to set your personal bar of demeanor to be at a respectable level. Barney did point out good morel mushroom spots on the way back to the cabin, so he got a little bit of forgiveness from me. But the man wasn’t quite off the hook yet, nor was Thelma Lou.We get back to the River Cabin around 6:30 p.m. Thelma Lou was in her car, like a real live woman person, not the one that Barney had eluded to. Not the one I had tentatively written off as a fictitious gal contrived as part of Barney’s grand plan to take me out with his 9 mm pistol on the back 40. Thelma Lou, a kind and lovely woman appearing younger than Barney, greeted me extending her hand in apologia. I commented to her that I had tried to call her several times the week prior, and her rebuttal was that she somehow got locked out of or had lost the password to her cellphone and that she would have to go to a wireless store to have someone unlock. The next comment from her was telling. She said her dad, who owns the ranch technically, had been getting after her about this phone issue for quite sometime. Geesh….We all laughed and talked a little, I think finally getting comfortable with each other after the series of slips, tricks and falls of the day and my minds wanderings of the situation. They invited me to supper at a local BBQ house close to the ranch, so I took them up. Since they were paying for dinner with the $300 dollars I had just given Barney for hunting rights for three days! So much for having your dinner paid for by others. The best part of handing that $300 to Barney was that he either forgot he quoted me $250/day to hunt, or felt bad about all the mis-communication and equipment breakdowns and lowered the price. It was a bargain. It was appreciated none-the-less.
We met up with their friends Fred, Sarah, and the woman Wilma, the one whom I had met earlier in the day when she was cleaning out the cabin that was supposed to have been ready when I arrived. Fred and Wilma are married, and good friends of Barney and Thelma Lou. We all actually had a nice dinner conversation, and Barney and Thelma Lou turned out to be very interesting people. I found out that they had moved from San Francisco to the Purple Cow Ranch about ten years ago. Thelma Lou’s father owns the ranch, he’s some big TV celebrity out of a major metropolitan city. Barney was a five-star restaurant chef for 25 years. It was a nice visit. All sins were forgiven. I was asked to drive Barney back to his ranch house, since he had no vehicle now that the Kabota and HUMVEE were down, and Thelma Lou had to have her truck for business to attend to at her shop. On the way out of the front door of the dining establishment, with Thelma Lou walking in front of Barney and I perhaps at 20 feet and out of earshot, Barney comments quietly to me, as he stares at her bum, something to the effect that Thelma Lou was quite a catch, that he had done well. Stated in a tone of lustful delight and sexual objectification of course. In effect, his comments suggested he was hanging around for the trophy. We arrive at Barney’s house, and he invited me in for a shot of liquor. We shared a drink, talked about the old railroad through the area, and the postal station, which is integrated structurally into their beautiful home. I headed out to get some sleep.
Wednesday Morning – April 13th Kansas Spring Turkey Season 2016 Opening Day
I wake at 5:00 a.m. and check the weather. It’s about 50 degrees outside, cloudy, and no wind. I dressed. Knowing I would have to cross the creek on foot, and the water was about 18 inches deep, my boots and pants would get wet. I had the brilliant idea of using two large trash bags to use as “hip waders” over my boots and camo pants. Unbeknownst to me, the creek was a little deeper at the ford than 18 inches. Water collected in the trash bag waders, my pants, boots and socks were soaked. Oh well, it least is wasn’t freezing temperatures. Daylight is coming on fast and I headed to a place called Pasture Henge, like the druid place called Stonge Henge across the big pond. It literally is two circles of large rocks on top of a large hill top knob of burned off prairie grass which is a sacred place to the Osage Indians, as Barney explained the day before. I believe it was blessed by an Osage tribal member, but I wonder what the Indians would think about all the oil wells around Pasture Henge? I digress. I hear a few distant gobbles, northeast, east and southeast of the rock circles down in the woods close to the lake. Gobbling was just weak this morning. I confirmed this by watching several distant hens walking to one of the mysterious gobblers, the one who only gobbled once. I suspect they are henned up now. It could be that the cool cloudy morning didn’t make those gobblers feel very randy, you never know for sure. I yelped periodically, and cut some to. I also re-positioned my small ground blind screen towards one of the gobblers who gobbled four or five times, thinking he might be lonesome without hens. I quit at around 9:30 and head back on the long walk. I found a way to get around avoiding another wet walk across the creek, and knowing there are gobblers in the area, I chalk the morning up as a successful scout on this new hunting property. I will head out this afternoon around 3 p.m.
Barney called me around 11 this morning and asks if I got anything and if needed to look at another spot. I tell him that Pasture Henge was fine, and just needed to try again in the afternoon. I think Barney is of the mindset that I would automatically kill a turkey opening morning, but since he is not a turkey hunter himself and doesn’t understand the odds are always against you, I just chalk his offer up as hey thanks for looking out for me and making sure I’m taken care of. I appreciated that. Barney’s only hunting claim to fame I’ve witnessed is the wounding of a nine-banded Armadillo. He claimed during the first phone contact in February to have rifle shot a turkey during deer season last fall, a shameful action, which was no surprise me. Barney is redeeming himself, and now that I understand the human dimension factor of the ranch operator, I will know how to handle weird situations without anxiety the next few days, nor expect to be whacked like a mobster hit!
During the day back at the cabin I looked at a game camera photos Barney gave me on my laptop. The game camera collects photos of wildlife at a feeding station west of Pasture Henge. I determine that the camera wasn’t quite set low enough to definitely confirm sex and age of every turkey photo, but from what I could tell, two jakes and maybe one or two hens had been visiting the feeding station, which had run out of corn. I decide to go ahead and hunt the feeding station Wednesday afternoon, only to observed two hens south of the station. Feeling discouraged about the lack of seeing any gobblers, I head back to the cabin for the evening.
Thursday Morning April 14th
I again wake at 5 a.m., eat a quick bite along with coffee. Then head out on foot for the long 35 minute walk to Pasture Henge. I conjured in my brain during the walk many new straight and shorter foot paths to reach the turkey grounds. This morning I again hunt the east edge of Pasture Henge that borders open hardwoods on an east facing slope towards a watershed lake. The gobbling this morning is just as weak as yesterday morning. Gobbling distances and direction were difficult to course due to the extremely low numbers of gobbles. I moved several times in the morning and never saw any longbeards. I am convinced that yes Barney probably had see a lot of turkeys in this area recently, based on outstanding habitat opportunities, some of the best I’ve seen in years. But the birds have broken into very small groups and breeding was probably hot and heavy. I debate on what to do, as I only have a day left before heading home. I could stay and hunt other areas on the ranch, as Barney had offered. Or I could head to one of my spots in Leavenworth County Kansas. It was my opinion that the birds were henned up right now. So I left. Needing to pay for lodging, I stopped by Barney and Thelma’s Lou’s home on the ranch. Barney yet again informed to go see Thelma Lou at the Purple Cow Store to pay. Barney tried to convince me to stay, but in assessing the overall situation, I felt it best to get turkey season back on track with a challenging piece of turkey gobbling ground in Leavenworth County, KS; ground I have been dupped on the last two seasons. I stopped by the store on the way out and Thelma Lou was actually there. Being the kindly woman she is, we visited for a few minutes. She talked about small town life, how small town people are not all necessarily the nicest in the world and they are too religious and close minded. We also talked briefly about the merits and drawbacks of the legalization of medical marijuana in Kansas. She also commented about the fact that she and Barney don’t have the best lines of communication, as if that wasn’t already painfully obvious to me. In fact, at some point, she stated that Barney doesn’t have a lot of people or communication skills. I had already ascertained most of what she was saying, so this was icing on the cake. I passed up the opportunity to offer debate on some of her thought processes, as there were more important things at hand, to pursue turkeys. With $190 spent, I left town.
It was a good trip and learning experience, and if turkey’s were the only judge, I know I was in good habitat and there were birds in the area. I saw and heard them. In fact Barney text messaged pictures of a group of hens and gobblers near his house after I left. In hind site, I should have trusted my gut about choosing this operation. There are trades off when booking a hunting trip and I believe that your hosts professionalism is just as important as having birds.