My hopes started to die when Will Johnson’s voice livened early on Friday, the first day of the Governor’s Turkey Hunt in El Dorado.
“We should be back with his bird by 8 (a.m.) so we’ll just go somewhere for lunch,” he said when I asked if we’d take lunches afield when he guided Gov. Sam Brownback.
Six hours later, Brownback was without a gobbler and Johnson was could only say, “I don’t know what happened?”
I wasn’t surprised. Most who have chased and cursed the big birds know such confident comments are the kiss of no-deaths on turkey hunts. So it went again for Brownback when he was guided by Johnson.
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Last year, too, Brownback’s guide had said, “We should be done by 8.” We then found turkeys rare on the ranch and the conditions made it like turkey hunting in a car wash. We saw one soggy, shivering tom, got absolutely soaked.
Most figured Brownback would score his first turkey this time. He’d proved his dedication on last year’s aqua-hunt and shot an impressive four roosters with five shots at his Governor’s Pheasant Hunt in western Kansas last fall.
And Johnson seemed well prepared.
He and landowner Brad Young had weather-proof blinds scattered on great habitat. Johnson’s success rate has been about 100 percent guiding for the Governor’s Turkey Hunt and his calling sounds like there’s a real hen hidden in his camo.
He and Young’s scouting had the turkey’s patterns down to Swiss-watch precision. Thursday, they’d watched seven nice toms strut and fight within easy range of two blinds.
Johnson’s Plan A, the only one he and Young thought was needed, was to sit in those two blinds, put out decoys, make a few calls and let Brownback take his pick from gobblers shortly after sunrise.
Sunrise came but the longbeards didn’t.
Instead, we had three jakes come and put on a show like only adolescent toms can do.
They strutted and gobbled, and gobbled at all kinds of turkey calls, man-made owl hoots, crow calls and one shouted “Hey!”
Johnson and Brownback really wanted a bigger bird, so no shots were fired.
“That was certainly worth the price of admission,” Brownback said as he watched the jakes leave, having enjoyed their repeated gobbles at his yelps on a new slate call.
Except for a good lunch in Benton, only disappointments followed.
A few minutes after the jakes, a nice tom strutted up behind two hens until the lead she-bird spotted the decoys, spun and left, taking the longbeard with her.
Next, a lone 2-year-old tom, generally the turkey’s world’s most gullible gobbler, appeared 150 yards away …and paid no attention to calls or decoys.
Heading into Benton, Johnson spotted a tom and took Brownback into the brush to call the bird. Instead of going to the gun, it passed within easy shotgun range of where Young and I waited in the SUV.
Later, Johnson spotted jakes and a tom, and bet Young dinner he and Brownback would come back with one of the birds.
Young is anticipating his big ribeye dinner from the best steak place in Wichita.
The hunt had no shortage of effort, with turkeys seen or heard at every setup. Twice more, Brownback passed up easy shots at young jakes.
The day’s hunted ended with Plan J at Johnson’s ace-in-the hole hunting spot. All they ended up with was about six kajillion bites from mosquitoes as thick as fall blackbirds and nearly as big.
Brownback couldn’t hunt on Saturday, but had repeatedly said this year’s hunt was far more enjoyable than last year’s and noted he was making progress.
All indications are he should be able to kill his first turkey at next spring’s hunt – as long as nobody makes any predictions.