“This is crazy,” I thought to myself as we sped through the rainy darkness, mud flying everywhere. In front of me piloting the ATV was ponytailed Tony May, IMB guide and my turkey guru for the day.
This was Central Missouri, day three of a three day hunt. As the only one in camp still turkeyless, May had the pleasure — or possibly misfortune — of guiding me this final morning.
Regarding turkey hunting, skunks are usually rare for me, but not unheard of. Striped misfortune had picked an inopportune time to rear its ugly head and stink up what had been an otherwise pleasurable trip.
Rain threatened every day previous, but today those threats weren’t idle. While I usually don’t hunt in the rain, this was my last day to rid myself of that rotten skunk and his monkey friend hitching a ride on my very wet back.
Parking in the middle of a vast field, we made our way towards a distant levee. The only thing dry on me was my legs from the knee down, protected as they were by Gore-Tex LaCrosse snake boots, which were soon caked in the gumbo that passes for mud in Missouri. The new boots were not yet fully broken in, and every step brought a little pain as we slogged along.
Many streams in this area had levees built along them to prevent cropland from flooding. Yesterday, May had brought Alex Rutledge and Canadian outdoor writer Brad Fenson to this levee, and both had bagged birds, Fenson’s gobbler being the final subspecies — an Eastern — needed to complete his grand slam. May hoped some of their luck would rub off on me.
At the base of the levee, May set up a net blind and I plopped down behind it on my Hunter’s Specialties’ Strut Seat. It wasn’t long until we heard turkey talk. May had these birds patterned and knew they’d fly from their roost across the river to strut in the muddy field. It wasn’t long until a hen appeared and made her way towards our decoy.
This decoy was not the ordinary plastic or foam variety most of us own. Instead, May used a “stuffer” — a mounted turkey hen. While I’d heard of taxidermy mounted turkey decoys, I’d never actually seen one. The fact May was willing to use this expensive mount in the rain demonstrated his commitment to the cause.
The stuffer’s realism was unbeatable, and the real hen came walking right up to the fake. With no gobblers in sight, May and I hunkered down behind the netting and watched. As she neared the stuffer, the hen did something I hadn’t witnessed in 19 seasons of chasing turkeys — she started strutting!
The hen became so agitated by the realistic stuffer that she fanned out her wet tail and careened her neck, posturing with the fake to let it know who the boss was. We sat in awe, exchanging excited whispers. The strutting hen had just made all my misery in Missouri worthwhile. Eventually, she fed out of sight.
When she was gone, May stood and grabbed the blind. He’d glassed a gobbler further down the levee and across a ditch. It was time to go after him.
Up and over the levee we went. On the river side of the embankment we could move undetected. We snuck closer and closer, until finally May had me belly crawl to the top of the levee while he stayed below and continued calling.
The gobbler came closer, but the ditch made him hesitant. I eased my gun up and tried to get a clear view of the tom through the wet grass. When it looked like the turkey was going to head back towards the river and not come any closer, I took aim and fired.
At the shot, the bird flushed and sailed out of sight. In retrospect, he was probably too far, but laying there in the grass in the rain made gauging distance difficult. While it’s always a good idea to practice shooting your turkey gun from field positions, like sitting against a tree, there was no way I could have ever anticipated or replicated shooting from atop a Missouri levee in a driving rain.
It wasn’t the first turkey I’ve ever missed and certainly hasn’t been the last. May took it all in stride. Standing up and lighting a cigarette, he smiled and simply stated, “Let’s go get another.”
And so we did. May spotted a couple turkeys further down the levee in the opposite direction. As I walked behind him along the river, my stiff new snake boots grinding into my feet, I watched the smoke slowly rising into the damp air, amazed that not only had he been able to light that cigarette, but it remained lit despite the downpour.
When we reached the birds, it was again time to belly crawl up the levee. This time May joined me. Below us, a gobbler courted a hen. But, when May held the stuffer up above the grass and started moving it back and forth as if a real hen was walking along the top of the levy, the gobbler couldn’t help but notice. The birds came closer.
The lush grass again prevented a clear shot, so this time I rose to my knees and raised my gun. At first, I saw only the hen, but then spotted the tom to my left.
By then the gobbler had also spotted me and was walking away. Although still well within range, I hurried the shot, then emptied the Super X2 as he took flight and sailed past me. May lit another cigarette.
As we made our way back to the ATV across the mud, he smiled and noted, “You’re like me, if I’ve got an autoloader, I’m going to use all my shots,” finding humor in my repeated expenditure of expensive Winchester Xtended Range turkey loads. “Might as well,” I replied with a chuckle. On turkey hunts like this, you can either beat yourself up or laugh. We chose the latter.
“Oh, I’ve been down this road before,” I confessed, “and I’ll likely go down it again. I’m just glad I had you along to witness the whole thing,” and we both started laughing.
As we drove back to the lodge, I asked May, “You want to call it a day?” I was eager to get home to my wife, and that homesickness was likely the cause of the bad luck monkey residing on my back.
“Up to you,” May replied, a hint of relief in his voice. Back at the lodge, I changed into dry clothes, packed my car, and said my goodbyes. I left Missouri without a turkey, but the rain, the mud, the strutting hen, and, yes, even the misses, all made for a memorable hunt. I had no regrets. It was time to go home. Rainy days and turkeys wouldn’t get me down.
To hunt with IMB Outfitters (imbmonsterbucks.com), call IMB Outfitters Toll Free at 866-855-7063 or travel to www.imbmonsterbucks.com