“Mr. Peabody, we just lost second base!”
by Bob Zettler
April 30, 2007
When we last heard from Sherman and Mr. Peabody, they had been observing a hunter chasing a wild turkey (Tom) on the private and public grounds in Missouri…
No, wait a minute! That was me last week out there hunting my little Shangri-La in Missouri, a place I had been introduced to a number of years ago to by Tim Turpin, a good friend of mine who now works out of Jeff City. This spot had been very, very good to me over the last five years; at least once I got my bearings and had met several of the adjacent landowners. It was an area that was easy to access and had not received that much hunting pressure – especially after the first week which I usually missed due to chasing birds here in Illinois.
It is a spot I can be at in just over three hours of driving around the speed limit from my home outside Springfield, Illinois. Sure, that seems like a long drive but for those of us who hunt, it is but a hope, skip and a jump. And since I am a single parent, I would leave at 1 AM the morning of the hunt and many times do a turnaround EVERY day! Now, that my children are older, I can stay in a hotel or with friends that Saturday night and save what little sanity I have left. Sure, I still have to provide for my children and canine family members - as the old boy is now dieing of cancer and requires daily shots but I have taught my son to give him his injection and I am very proud of all that he has done to make JJ’s last days more comfortable.
But I digress as usual – even though this is a part of this tale.
Anyway, the weekend before I had worked a nice bird for almost 45 minutes but could not lure him that few remaining yards so I could put the Mossberg 835’s 3 ½” load of lead into a target. And when I realized afterwards, this was roughly the same spot I took one last year and the year before just a little ways away, I kicked myself for not moving myself into a better position and field of fire when I had the chance. But the landscape had changed dramatically due to landowners cutting trees and leaving a lot of debris.
Now this was just over the border of the state property and in the woods and edge of a clearing/pasture I had been most successful at several times over recent years. It seemed to be a historic strut zone that the birds just gravitated to. And after I arrived Saturday morning at 5:10 AM, I knew the sole closest bird I heard was near there, so I went after him. What is nice is that there are trails that wind their way through this area and deer paths I know that will take me where I have to go in the pre-dawn darkness without too big a mishap.
And since I like to get close as I can to any bird, I spotted him still in the tree when I got less than 100 yards from him. But as I was in the trees, I believed he wasn’t spooked, so I backed off, went around and then set up on the edge of the open field where I took the last and best one I have ever taken there during the last weekend of Spring 2006. Will it be deja vu?
This bird gobbled a lot and I was primed. I had a great field of fire and he was responding to my calls. This went on for another 15 minutes or so and I heard what I thought was another bird dropping off the roost a few trees to his left. As I could still see him somewhat, I was able to watch as he came off but went – you guessed it – the other way and towards the open field where I had worked him the previous weekend. Once I certified he was over that way, I made my way down and across the fence line and through the woods to get above and to his left somewhat, so I could intercept him as he went deeper into the woods like he had been.
Remember all that gobbling in the tree? Well, he must have decided to run silent, run deep, because he only gobbled five or six times over the next 45 minutes, and seemed to have stuck to some woods that had been timbered recently just beyond where I thought he had gone. Well, I made my way back down to the edge where there in a pasture that spreads out to across the bottoms and runs along the other border of the public area. And just as I was about to the edge, I am stopped in my tracks by the sight of a Tom in strut with his back to me not more than 45 yards away!!!!
Wait a minute, he has a Hen and a Jake with him to boot!! Hold on. None of them are moving. All of a sudden I feel very naked and vulnerable. These are decoys, and as they are just across from the border, I assumed the idiot I had run into the last weekend was back and was packing. So, I started to backtrack as quietly as I could and keep a lookout for any muzzle-flash my way. Doggone public hunters, or, maybe the landowner had given someone else permission as it was a very large area and held a fair number of turkeys. I didn’t know but had always been grateful to her for the access so I went on farther south to see if I could get on that bird again – if he would just gobble!
Well, I worked the area for awhile to no avail and then heard three shots from back towards the decoys. Son-of-a-…..! Is this the same guy who set-up not more than a 150 yards from where I heard someone last weekend that shot seven times? As I was curious and had heard three other birds across the bottom pasture at sunrise to the west on public ground, but across the creek, I decided to walk over that way to see what had happened. As I approached the set-up I noticed a large orange bag and assumed it was the decoy bag so the hunter must still be there. As I backed off again, I saw another hunter coming down from the ridge and openings I had just left and whispered to him that there was another hunter down towards where he was headed and to be careful.
All of a sudden it was Grand Central Station and the area I hadn’t seen more than two people on in the last five-plus years had hunters all over it! He motioned me up to confab and then asked if or who I had permission from to hunt there. As I did not know him, I did not want to provide too much information but also had a lapse of memory over the woman I talked to – just recalled where she lived. Then he laid the bombshell – she had died and the property had been sold!!! And he had exclusive rights to hunt there…
As I had not refreshed my permission, I took him at his word and apologized profusely. He and I continued to talk, and me being one who also talks too much, as well as write too much, I provided names of other people who had introduced me to the is area, where I parked and stayed, and the like. We walked to where he was quitting for the day and I said I was going across the field to go after the other birds we had heard earlier; as it was still just 9:39 AM and I like to go to the spots I had heard birds earlier to see if I could get into them when they came back around 10 AM or so.
That was a long walk back as I was devastated. I had taken a number of Tom’s off of this area, with the majority being on the private land the former landowner had provided me access to. I was so down over this, the lack of gobbling, the number of other hunters I had run into this season, and the yahoos I had heard calling, shooting and running around, that I was actually contemplating quitting for the season and going home to Illinois.
Fortunately, my passion for hunting took over and I stayed. I did hear one Gobbler around 11 AM and worked him across the creek for awhile until I decided I had to go across and after him. I forged the creek (about 18 inches deep) about 100 yards to my left. And when I made it up the bank and started towards the Gobbler, I had to freeze as there were five birds walking out directly across from where I had just been calling! Only if I had stayed another 10 minutes…
I had to wait until they were on the other side of some brush so I could drop down and into a runoff feeder creek to the main creek so I could try and get ahead of them. Unfortunately, they simply fed away to my right and there was still that Gobbler up the ridge where I had been heading. Well, as I had never been over here, I was unfamiliar with the area. I did have my Google Earth photos but had no idea how they compared to the current situation. I kept moving up and towards him calling and getting some response all the way up until 12:30 PM when he shut up. Finally at 12:50 I made it back down to the bottoms and saw a big boy racing away from the creek and back up to the hillside I had just left. Another bird or the same one, it didn’t matter, as now I had to decide what to do about the future.
First things first and I stopped and talked to the local people where I park. They didn’t know anything, so I called several of my friends for advice and counsel. As I have a poor memory for names, I could not recall anything but the first name of hunter I had run into. Through sheer detective work and talking to neighbors and friends over the cell, I found out who bought the land, where he lived and who was most likely the hunter with permission. I went ahead and met the landowners and offered my apologies and explained my situation. It turns out they had leased the hunting rights to this guy, so it wasn’t a case of simply obtaining permission. They were unperturbed with what had happened and we wished each other well. Next, I stopped by the hunter’s farm and apologized to him again and provided him my card so he could contact me if ever he had an issue with anything I might do or accused of doing. As a matter of fact, we spent a good 30+ minutes chatting and I felt better about it that I hadn’t harmed his hunting and even provided him some insight on how and where to harvest that bird we had both been after,
Yes, I should have refreshed my permission each year but I just have a difficult time finding the time to do it all. And, in the last year, this area has gone through some serious changes. It appears the former (major) historical land owners – or their descendants – have decided to subdivide their property into small tracts and sell to home/trailer owners or people just wanting to get away from the city. The former landowners (or their descendants) are now making a lot more cash up front but the lay of the land is being changed forever. And then you throw into the mix that this new landowner had forested his trees and changed the dynamics dramatically, well, it just isn’t the same anymore. And everyone I talked to noted how they have not heard the turkeys this year like they are use to…
I told the new lessee that I was going after those birds on the public across from where he and I had hunted and wished him well on that Tom we both wanted. It was 8 PM before I got to the hotel and then had dinner. I ordered two beers before the food and downed one in short order as I hadn’t eaten anything since 4 AM and was needing to calm myself for what awaited me on Sunday morning.
Now, one good thing had come out of this. I had met another neighbor who lived on the other side of the creek and right up against the state land. He and his wife were very gracious and offered me a place to park and some guidance on where to go and how to get there. These are good people and it was difficult to say good-night but I took them up on their offer and arrived in the darkness around 5:15 the next morning. I was prepared and heard the first gobble fairly close and it seemed to be down in the creek bottoms right below but I also could hear my former adversary across the pasture where he awaited certain doom from the new hunter armed with all his experiences and my counsel.
As I was already in the woods below their home, and as it was the first time over there, I wasn’t quite sure where this new close bird was as it seemed to be near the bridge over the creek, so I worked my way towards him all the while I could hear that Big Boy erupt across the field…
As I made it down there, my bird shut up and I realized he hadn’t been on my side of the creek but had been back where I use to park on public land on the other side. Can I hear a Son-of-a-….!
Well, I did have another bird on my side and it sounded like he was where I had been yesterday afternoon, so I set out after him. As this was ALL public ground, I had to be mindful that people could be dropping in from above. This bird was farther south than I thought and was up the ridge more. And it seemed the closer I got, the more he kept heading south. As this was new terrain and pretty overgrown, I just wasn’t sure of how to get in front of him. However, I finally got close, maybe 80 yards, but the evergreens were so thick I could not see more than 20 or so yards and even then that was limited. I sat down started calling and you know what, he shut up. I was there quite awhile and never heard another word and finally gave up around 7:30 or 8:00. I worked my way back towards the pastures and fields in the bottoms on my side and decided to setup with a decoy and hope for the best. I had been there maybe 30 minutes and had another hunter come out stalking my decoy until I waved him off. Makes you want wear Kevlar!
I stuck it out till 12:30 and finally gave it up as it was getting warm and I hadn’t heard another bird for hours and seen nothing all day except hunters. And that Big Boy across the way, well, either they didn’t hunt him or had given up on him too. It just killed me though as he gobbled on and off the roost all the way up until 7:30 or 8:00. No bang. No turkey for any of us.
I made it back up to my new friends and visited with them for another hour. Very nice people who had a hundred or more stories to tell. They even offered me another place to hunt but it was just 80 acres and most of that was field with just some fence-line timber. They even offered me a place to stay in the future instead of driving back and forth. We will have to see about that as I re-evaluate my situation – plus, they have a lot of cats and I am allergic to them.
Where do I go from here? I do not have the answer – now at least. Will I give up for this season, I hope not but it is expensive to drive back and forth and then not have access to what I am use to and then have to put up with all the yahoos to boot! It is an end to an era, and something all too many of us are experiencing nowadays.
More to come...