The afternoon before turkey season opened, we got the truck stuck in a snowdrift that covered the road on the way to our camp spot. It took us several hours of digging and hauling logs and rocks in order to finally free the truck. By the time we finally pitched our tents and built a fire, the sun was going down and the temps were dipping towards freezing, so we opted to fill our bellies with red meat, potatoes, and a nip of bourbon.
The next day unfolded about as perfectly as any day of turkey hunting can. I screwed up our first setup on a tom gobbling his head off, but our second setup worked out pretty well. Austin shot a real nice mature bird that came into our mid morning setup. After cleaning his gobbler up and getting ready for the packout, we decided to make another set up on our way out. After a hen came clucking in, a young jake wandered in from the opposite direction. I couldn’t resist and knocked him down for a nice double bird day.
It’s not often that things work out like this on this hunt. I felt blessed to have a successful hunt and still have the weekend to spend with my family. After cleaning and stowing gear, it seems like a long time until the fall hunting seasons kick back on.
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, andas 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 wattles, 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 Roosttaxidermy 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.
Hunting with Pat Flanagan on his guide’s day off is no picnic. After walking through Mearns country all day, I began to imagine that if he took off his boots, you’d see goat hooves instead of feet. I guess that’s what happens when you guide for quail in southern Arizona and chase your pack of shorthairs up and down those hills.
Watching his dogs work out the birds was a thing of beauty. Their dark bodies weaved and crossed in front of us through the yellow grass, occasionally circling back for a gulp of water before plunging back into the golden landscape. Pat’s dogs lived up to the hype and found us multiple coveys. The ice cold Modelas and tailgate full of birds at the end of the day was worth the work.
As quail season winds to a close, I can’t help but ponder over the days in the field spent by myself and with friends. I know that it’ll be a couple long months before I’m watching a covey flush and bringing the shotgun to my shoulder. Until then, I’ll be living off of days like this, replaying the day’s events over and over again in my mind.
Pat runs Border to Border Outfitters and you can hunt birds with him from Minnesota all the way to Arizona and everywhere in between. Check him out at Border to Border Outfitters.
I spent a few days in southern Arizona with my good buddy Austin and a few of his friends from Idaho chasing coues deer and javelina. The guys had been down there for the week, and I caught up with them for the tail end of their stay. It didn’t take but a few minutes over a cup of coffee to become fast friends with Blake and Chad.
It’s cliche to say, but the next few days were less about the hunt and more about time in the field with good friends. We spent the next couple of days doing more laughing and telling stories than actual hunting. In the times that we did spend glassing hillsides we found a few herds of pigs and were able to connect on a couple of javelina.
The few days I spent in the field flew by and before I knew it, I was packing up my gear and pointing the truck north to home. When it’s all said and done, I came home with a few physical objects: a cooler full of meat for my family, a skull for the bookshelf, and a handful of pictures. But ultimately, I left with something greater: A couple new hunting buddies and the memories of a successful hunt.
It’s usually around Thanksgiving that I found out whether I drew a January archery javelina tag. It’s pretty convenient that javelina and Gambel’s quail habitat overlap, so during the month of December, I usually quail hunt the unit I drew and tuck a small tripod and pair of binoculars in my bird vest. When the morning slows down or I’m waiting for the birds to start talking, I’ll have a seat and scan a hillside or two to try and get the lay of the land and maybe even find a herd of pigs.
This particular morning was a bit on the cloudy side and the sun never did warm the hillsides. I sounded out a few calls on my Jim Matthews custom call and recieved an answer from a quail a couple hundred yards up the wash. After walking to that location, I was rewarded with a double as the covey flush in front of me. I marked where the covey flew and retrieved the two downed birds.
I zig-zagged my way through the calf-high grass and prickely pear and flushed a single quail straight away in front of me. Three shots and three birds. I never shoot that well, so decided to stop while I was ahead. I spent the rest of the morning glassing for pigs.
Hunting, hiking and fishing in Arizona often puts me in close proximity to rattlesnakes. I’ve run across several while fishing, and I always bump into one or two in the early portion of the Arizona quail season. The statistics tell me that as long as I’m not drinking and trying to poke it with a stick, I should be alright. But when hunting in some remote areas by myself, I believe in a more proactive defense strategy. I had the opportunity to check out the Turtleskin Snake Gaiters this quail season, and although I couldn’t find a rattlesnake to bite me in the leg, I was pretty impressed with how these gaiters performed.
Patented Material – Turtleskin Snake Armor is a super-tight weave of high-strength ballistic fibers and polyester. This patented fabric has been tested and have proven to successfully repeal a diamondback rattler bite.
Lightweight – At 6 ounces each, the Turtleskin Snake Gaiters are some of the most lightweight snake gaiters on the market.
Made in the USA – The Turtleskin Snake Gaiters are made in the USA.
After running the Turtleskin Snake Gaiters in the field this season, I was really impressed with their quality and durability. Although no snakes tried to bite through them, there were plenty of stickers, thorns and cholla that grabbed, scratched, and poked at the gaiters. After multiple trips in the field, these things still look like new and really help to protect the bottom portion of my pants.
The early portion of the Gambel’s quail season is miserably hot, and the only thing that helps is to get out early and drink lots of water. It was surprising how well the Turtleskin Snake Gaiters breathed. There was a very noticeable difference between the Turtleskin gaiters and other non breathable gaiters such as oil finished cloth and heavier briar proof material.
The one thing about these gaiters that I noticed after the first day was the noise. The “swish-swish” with each step is not really an issue during quail season. I’m constantly crashing through the brush, chasing and flushing birds and being quiet is not super important. It would be a tough decision to bring these on an early season spot and stalk hunt with the amount of noise they make.
Made in the USA
A bit noisy
Prognosis: If you spend anytime hunting or hiking in snake country, it’s worth your time to check out the Turtleskin Snake Gaiters.
The reviews at Arizona Wanderings are my honest opinion. Turtleskin provided the Snake Gaiters for the purpose of this review. Arizona Wanderings is not sponsored by or associated with any of the stated companies and is accepting no compensation, monetary or otherwise, in exchange for this review. My independent status may change in the future but, as of the date of publication, no relationship other than described above has been pursued or established.
It took about 20 minutes before I realized that I had turned off on the wrong two track. Instead of improving, the trail dumped into a wash and became impassable for the truck. Not wanting to waste an opportunity, I put the truck in park, grabbed my coffee, and opened the door for a quick listen. I was greeted by the sound of a Gambel’s quail covey getting out of their roost tree about a hundred yards away. It was an easy decision to shoulder my vest and grab my shotgun and look at some new country
I scratched out two birds out of the covey and found myself a new hillside to hunt in the future. Sometimes taking the wrong turn takes you to the right place.