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The east gate in the spring

Kansas is full of special places. For every outdoors-lover there’s probably that one location they rank above all others.

I guess I’m kind of selfish because I have several special places. In the winter it’s the north blind at Charley Kimbell’s legendary waterfowl pond in Reno County. In the fall it’s a good buddy’s 26,000 acre ranch in Gove County. In the heat of the summer it’s our family farm.

This time of year it’s the east gate of a longtime friend’s ranch. I left home at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday to be at the small knoll overlooking a Flint Hills stream before daylight. The first day I just leaned against the car to watch the sunrise, sip coffee and listen to the Flint Hills awaken.Blooming redbuds stand in contrast to dark cedars and light sycamores along tghe stream near the east gate, one of Michael Pearces favored places.Wednesday morning I left my Honda parked at the gate and eased down into the creek bottom as the darkness of night gave way to the grayness of pre-dawn.

Sitting against a huge oak I listened to howling coyotes, passing wood ducks and geese and barred owls. The “you ol’ foooool” calls of dancing male prairie chickens was non-stop from the nearby prairie.

Brilliant redbud trees pocked the landscape with welcome color.

From daylight on I swapped turkey talk with a pair of gobbling toms that had roosted across the stream. Insisting the unseen hen (me) be the one that crossed the creek, they surely gobbled 200 times.

I first saw them about 100 yards out, seconds after they’d flown the creek. It took ten wonderful minutes for them to walk, look and strut into shotgun range. The last two sets of gobbles were so close they could be felt as well as heard.

The tom I shot was 22 pounds, with one-inch spurs and a 9 1/2-inch beard. Not huge, but very nice. It was one of many toms I’ve tagged near the east gate on an opening morning of spring turkey season.

Back at my car I just stood and looked out over the east gate’s view of the valley. I gave serious thought to grabbing my fly rod and hitting the stream for largemouth and spotted bass for an hour or so before heading home.

But I didn’t. I’ll save that for another trip.  I’m always looking for excuses to make the hour-long drive to the east gate.