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.