The short flight on the tiny 8 person Cesna from St. Louis to Kirksville touched down hard and bumped along the run way towards a small building. The co-pilot turned around in his seat with a big smile and said “welcome to Kirksville.” The countryside that I had seen from the air was a maze of rolling crop and grazing fields, separated by vast swaths of timber – turkey country. My good buddy Hunter was waiting in his truck as I collected my bag and made my way out of the airport terminal. After a quick handshake and back slap, we were on our way down the road to roost some turkeys for the next morning.
For the next four days, I received a crash course in Hillbilly 101 as we called to turkeys, hunted for mushrooms, drank around the campfire and pulled off ticks. Life in Missouri is simple. Work hard, go hunting, help each other, and then go hunting again. I was overwhelmed with the hospitality of Hunter and the folks that he introduced me to. My goal for the trip was to shoot a mature Eastern tom, and as any turkey hunter will tell you, the best laid plans often go awry. For the first two days we hunted our tails off and danced the dance of sitting, calling, and stalking pressured turkeys. We had a couple of close calls, but luck was not on our side.
Our patience was finally rewarded on day three when we found a strutting tom in the back corner of a large field with a small flock of hens. He was clearly a dominant bird who showed off for his harem. After watching him for a few moments through the binoculars, Hunter broke out his strutting gobbler decoy, and we belly crawled about 300 yards across the field behind the decoy. The male bird was pretty upset that our decoy would have the audacity to try and steal his ladies, and he half strutted half ran his way across 400 yards to let us know his displeasure. When he made it to 45 yards out, I peaked my shotgun out from behind the decoy, calmed my breathing while picking a spot on his wobbles, and squeezed off a shot. When the smoke cleared, I ran up to find a beautiful specimen of an Eastern turkey and my feet. I could hardly believe what had just happened. With a quick prayer of thanks, we tagged the bird and admired his spurs, beard, and iridescent plumage. For two days our patience and positive outlooks were tested, and to be honest, doubt had begun to creep into my mind that third morning. But with persistence, a good hunting buddy, and a little bit of luck, everything came together.
The next morning, Hunter and I were back in the same area, looking for a bird for him to put a tag on. A morning rain foiled our initial setup, but birds started to pop up in the fields once it cleared. We glassed up a mature tom strutting on the tree line and after a quick stalk, Hunter also filled his tag. It was a surreal way to end my time in Missouri. There is no substitute for being in the field with a like minded hunting partner. Thanks to Hunter and all the fine folks I met while in Missouri. Between the hospitality of the people and the beauty of the countryside, I feel blessed to have experienced the best that Missouri has to offer.
Post Script ~ Although we were hunting as friends, Hunter spends most of his spring guiding for turkeys and fall guiding for waterfowl. He’s got years of experience and I learned a ton from hunting with him this week. If you are in the Midwest and looking to book a hunt, give Hunter Bender a shout. Another plug I want to throw out there is to Rick and Drake Morris at The Turkey Roost taxidermy shop. Hunter and I would spend the afternoon lounging around their taxidermy shop, laughing, talking hunting, and watching them work. If you are looking to have a turkey mounted, these guys have one numerous state and national awards and are the real deal.