Michael Pearce

All’s right in the Kansas turkey woods

Two empty 20 gauge hulls on the ground by a hackberry tree that always looked like a great place to call turkeys. Tuesday afternoon, it was.
Two empty 20 gauge hulls on the ground by a hackberry tree that always looked like a great place to call turkeys. Tuesday afternoon, it was. The Wichita Eagle

Not often, but sometimes things work well in the turkey woods. Such a rarity happened on land I manage near El Dorado Tuesday afternoon.

Hundreds of times I’ve driven past a mid-sized hackberry, at the intersection of three farm roads, and often thought, “...that would be a great place to sit and call up a turkey.”

Several times over the past several seasons I’ve looked at the tiny 20 gauge in the gun safe and thought, “Just for old time’s sake, I ought to take Ol’ Bessie out and…”

It had already been a great turkey season. Three times I’d called for others and all three times they gotten birds.

My calling had been as good on my six archery hunts, too. My shooting had and luck had not. On my first trip I rushed a shot on a nice tom close enough it seemed I could have poked him with a pitchfork.

The other five trips were like an I Love Lucy show, with a series of almost comical things that had gone wrong - a first-ever equipment failure, birds running over the decoy and moving on before I could get a shot, a nice tom that stayed to the side of the blind where I couldn’t shoot. Tuesday morning a two-year-old tom came a long ways, gobbling hard, and stopped behind enough of an obstruction to shield it from a shot.

As most who hunt with stick and string know, “…that’s bowhunting.”

On opening weekend of youth season I’d taken along the little 20 gauge so a girl could use it for her first bird. As I’d cased and uncased it, I realized the little gun had so many memories within.

Jerrod named it “Ol Bessie” about as soon as we got it. We spent a lot of time patterning loads, and practicing all aspects before his first turkey hunt in Texas when he was 10. He even created a system of how he safely handed the gun to me after the shot, so he could sprint towards his first bird. (Which was a heck of a bird, with 12 5/8” and 6 1/2” beards. Mossy Oak filmed that hunt for ESPN.)

I’d left the gun cased after the youth hunt and put in the truck Tuesday morning. The plan was to hunt out of a blind with the bow, but grab the shotgun from the truck if I heard birds gobbling in the distance. Such didn’t happen that morning.

But Tuesday afternoon I decided to take the cased gun to the blind, along with the bow, in case a move was needed. On the way, I walked towards the hackberry at the intersection and thought “what the heck,” then pulled a box call from its holster. The call filled the valley with a long string of yelps and cuts like a hen about ready to explode with desire.

Gobbles came from atop a hill 150 yards away. I pulled Ol’ Bessie from her case and slipped in three loads of magnum 7 1/2s from a box of shells I’d gotten for Lindsey’s turkey gun when she was 11.

When I hit the call again gobbles sounded from the same spot. I sat at the base of the hackberry then added a face mask and gloves and hit the call again. The gobbles were closer so I picked a few landmarks at about 30 yards, well within the killing’ range of the 20 gauge and pulled a few extra fallen limbs up for cover.

We traded excited hen calls and gobbles two or three more times, and I quit my part when it sounded like the birds were just out of sight, maybe 60 yards away and around the bend of one of the farm trails.

The first bird in sight was a nice tom, probably a three year old, that came at a fast walk. Behind it was a bigger bird, doing that comical waddling strut of a bird trying to keep up but still trying to show its stuff. Following it was another longbeard, probably a two-year-old, that was tagging along, but smart enough to stay clear of the bigger bird.

I stopped the front bird at about 15 yards with some soft mouth calls. The shot was easy.

For years I said I’d never take two birds from one set up because it might cheapen the experience, and end my season before I was ready.

Tuesday, though, setting there with the tiny 20 gauge, leaning against a tree I knew well, having already been afield many times, I called a little after the shot and stopped the bird that had been in strut. He fell right beside a sapling I’d marked at 30 yards.

He’s one of the best birds I’ve taken in about a decade - weighing a tad under 23#, with a 9 1/2” beard and matching 1 3/8” spurs…and they were long and hooked enough the bird could be hung from a tree limb by both spurs. Most longtime turkey hunters would rather have a “limb-hanger” than a bird with a bigger beard.

Now every time I drive or walk past the hackberry at the intersection I’ll have a great memory to relive. It will be the same whenever I see Ol’ Bessie in the gun safe.

Sometimes, things just seem to work.