The good news is that Friday morning Gov. Sam Brownback got his first turkey after three years of trying.
The bad news is that he also got a ticket from a game warden for shooting two birds when he only had a permit for one.
“I’ll just have to pay the price of a (game violation) ticket,” Brownback said when he and guide Danny Armstrong discovered a second shot bird. “I did it.”
Brownback called a game warden to self-report the violation and insisted that he be given a ticket. Brownback explained he’d wounded one turkey that ran from sight. When Armstrong mistook another turkey for the injured bird, he told Brownback to shoot it. A few minutes later, Armstrong found the original bird a few yards in the brush.
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Brownback was one of about 80 hunters afield for the 27th annual Governor’s Turkey Hunt in El Dorado. Most of the invitees hunt both days of the event.
Brownback hunted just one day in 2011 because of another commitment. In 2012 he opted out of hunting the second morning because the forecast for the day, April 14, accurately predicted a plethora of tornados.
He’d originally hoped to hunt two days this year, but a last-minute Friday afternoon date for minor surgery in Topeka meant he’d have to end the day’s hunt before noon.
Thursday evening at a social event in El Dorado, Armstrong told Brownback he’d been scouting a nice flock, knew their travels and figured a half-day of hunting would be enough. He asked Brownback if he had purchased two permits, the maximum allowed for spring turkey hunting.
“No, they sold me those the first year and I didn’t even get one turkey,” Brownback said. “This year I just bought one.”
He’d later regret that decision to save about $10.
Friday dawned about as pretty as any turkey hunter could dream – clear skies, cool temperatures and a modest breeze. With a pair of decoys to the front, Brownback and Armstrong waited in a tent-like blind and listened to the sounds of gobbling toms across a wide field to their left.
Brownback made occasional yelps and clucks on a turkey call as they hoped a flock of about 30 turkeys would cross at a bad spot in an old fence like Armstrong’s scouting indicated they had for years.
At about 8 a.m. five hens walked in front of the blind, followed by a small yearling tom known as a jake.
The next two birds where nice adult toms that were pecking their way along.
“Shoot that one. Shoot that one,” Armstrong hissed excitedly, indicating the closest gobbler.
At the shot, the bird rolled, flopped, regained its feet and headed into the brush.
Armstrong pulled open a window on the left side of the blind, and pointed to a tom walking across the open field. “There he is, shoot him,” Armstrong said. At Brownback’s shot, that bird fell.
Euphoria reigned for several minutes, as Armstrong congratulated Brownback on his first turkey. Both sat back and enjoyed the show as several young toms gobbled and strutted through the area.
The “uh-oh” moment came when they walked out and found the dead bird was a yearling jake. Both knew the original bird had been larger. Armstrong found it lying by a fence about 30 yards into some nearby woods.
“A lot of this is on me,” Armstrong later said. “I thought it was the same bird. I told him to shoot it.”
Brownback’s first response was to suggest they go buy his second permit to attach to the second bird. Armstrong told him that would be illegal, because turkey permits aren’t valid until the day after they’re purchased. It’s a state regulation to prevent people from not buying a permit until after they’ve shot a turkey or big game animal.
Within a few minutes Brownback called Seth Turner, El Dorado State Park manager and a game warden. Brownback explained the details of the situation. Turner told him to tag the bird he’d shot first. He then spoke with Armstrong and arranged a meeting point.
Eventually Armstrong and Brownback led Turner and Tyler Burt, a park ranger, to the hunting spot and re-created the morning’s hunt.
Turner picked up the illegally shot jake, and while carrying it to his truck told Brownback the bird would be confiscated, cleaned and donated to a needy family that would eat it. He explained it was common for the agency to not issue tickets if the shooter comes forth and explains the situation.
“It would have been different if there’d have been some kind of cover-up, or you’d have just left the bird,” Turner said. “If we’re confident it was an honest mistake, it’s our protocol to not issue citations in these cases.”
Kevin Jones, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism law enforcement chief, later confirmed that tickets usually aren’t issued under such circumstances.
“Each situation stands by itself, and you have to look at the circumstances,” Jones said. “It happens, and if you’ve been out in the field much, you know it can happen. Usually you can tell when it’s not intentional.”
After hearing Turner’s explanation and a few moments of silence, Brownback shook his head and said, “No, I did it,” and smiled at Turner.
Several times Brownback said that not receiving a ticket would reflect badly upon Wildlife and Parks, and upon himself.
“Technically you’re my boss,” Turner said as he went for a citation booklet in his truck. “This is something I never thought I’d be doing.”
Brownback signed a citation for being in excess of his legal bag limit. That’s a Class C misdemeanor, which can carry a penalty of up to $500 in fines, up to one month in jail and suspension of hunting privileges for up to one year. Brownback will have to call Butler County District Court to learn his exact fine next week.
Turner said such cases normally see a $75 fine for the violation, $25 per animal over the bag limit and the payment of $98 for court costs.
Brownback took his legal tom to the check-in area at the Governor’s Hunt, where it weighed in at 18.02 pounds, with spurs on each leg of about 1 inch. The bird’s beard, a hair-like primitive feather on its chest, was 91/2 inches. Brownback plans on displaying the tom’s fanned tail and beard at his office in the state Capitol.
“It was still a heck of a morning,” Brownback said, smiling, as he talked to Armstrong. “Watching those birds was really something.”