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Kansas turkey hunt

Kansas turkey hunt

Headed to Kuhrt Ranch near Goodland. Northwest Kansas.

The trip out took about 5 hours. Got out of town late, about 4:30 pm. I followed a building storm that was heading east during most of the trip. From about an hour before sunset (7:30 ish) I followed a brilliant double rainbow that I never quite caught up to. Once the sun set the storms really began to build. The radio started to report several severe weather warnings including a few tornado reports close by.

As I was heading down the highway to Goodland I could see some really weird cloud formations with swirling clouds right on the ground, lit up by lightening flashes. I drove through some hail and torrential downpours and gusty winds. Some of the nearby lightening bolts and thunder booms seemed to shake the truck once in a while. I put my head down, crossed my fingers and made it to Goodland about 9:30.

Checked in to the motel, set up the auto switch for the coffee maker to 3:30, set the alarm for 3:45 a.m. and hit the sack.

I heard the coffee maker go off, figured I could close my eyes for another 15 minutes, then I heard my phone go off. Who could be calling me at 3:30 in the morning? Checked my watch and it was 5:30! OH DAMN!!! I overslept. The alarm had not gone off. The phone call was from my guide, Patrick Henry Flanagan of Border to Border outfitters. He was concerned maybe I’d gotten stuck in a ditch on the way out to the ranch. “No” I sheepishly replied “just overslept. I’ll be there as soon as possible.”

An hour later I’m shaking Patrick’s hand and apologizing as best as I could. I know he was a bit peeved/pissed but he did a good job of smoothing over the rough start. His plan was for us to be in a spot before sunrise where he’d seen birds over the last few days after they came down from the roost. He figured it would be a short hunt, done by 7:30. Now I’d screwed up that plan so we needed to find a plan B.

I should have warned him before hand that my whole turkey season this year has been really screwy. I’d been out for 6 hunts and had yet to connect on a tom. Seems like everything this year is just a little bit off compared to past seasons. I’m usually really lucky when it comes to turkeys and by now usually have a couple of birds in the freezer, maybe several. I’ve had encounters with birds every time I’d been out but I could never really make things work for a decent shot at a tom. They’d be just out of range, or not respond to my calls, or head to the right when I went to the left, go down the hill when I went up and they just did unexpected things that I’d not seen them do in the past. And what really convinced me this is a weird year is the fact that the place that over the past 18 years has always given me a bird (I had never been skunked there, always filled a tag or two) this year skunked me. No tag filled. And the final odd fact of the season - the owl incident.

For the past 25 years or so, every time I see an owl during a hunting trip I collect whatever game I’ve been hunting during that trip. Every time. Two weeks ago I was hunting here with my buddy Mike DuRant and as we were walking down a creek bottom about mid day an owl flew out of a short tree right next to me. A beautiful owl with reddish back I’ve since ID’d as a barn owl. As it flew away it turned and looked back at me and I caught a full glimpse of it’s pure white face with big dark eyes. At that moment I was pretty confident that we’d be putting a tag on a turkey at some point during that hunt. Didn’t happen… something has changed this year. Still haven’t figured out how or why.

But I have enjoyed myself and feel blessed to be able to still get out after these ornery critters and try to outwit them. I think maybe they realized I was getting a bit of a swelled head about all this and this was their year to put a pin in me, deflate my ego a bit and feed me a dose of humility. A bitter pill to swallow but good medicine in the long run.

It’s cloudy and overcast, breezy from the NW and the sun has been up for over an hour. Patrick decides it would be best to head over to the west side and take a look around. We load up vests and packs and start our hike in. When we crest a rise overlooking an old plowed under corn field we spot several turkeys in the middle of the field. This field is about 250 yards wide east to west and about 400 yards long north to south, sort of oval shaped. There is a bit of a ravine that runs east to west on the north side with a few scattered trees and on the east and west sides there are rows of big, 5’ diameter hay bales in a line. The west line stretches about 175 yards north to south, the east side bales run about 25 yards long. If we can get to the east bales we’ll be in a good spot, well hidden, if the birds decide to drift to the east side of the field.

We spend about a half hour sneaking through a wheat field, then putting a small tree between us and the birds then proceeding on to the hay bales on the east side. Once at the bales Patrick sneaks out a bit to set up 3 decoys, returns to the bales and the waiting game begins.

Kansas turkey hunt

The birds are content to stay out in the middle, about 150 yards from us. No calling can convince them to come any closer. 4 hens and 4 toms. We call, we wait, they wander, no response, they just aren’t at all interested in our decoys.

At about 9 o’clock the birds drift out of sight behind the hay bales to the west. We decide to push the issue a bit and try to get closer to the birds. Keeping the hay bales between us and the birds, staying out of sight as best as possible we begin to cross the open field between us and the quarry. 15 minutes later we are set up behind the west line of hay bales and the turkeys are now picking around in another old corn field about 150 yards further to the west.

Beyond these birds there is another grassy pasture about 700 yards away that contains another 8 or 10 turkeys. Four of those birds are toms. But there is really no cover between us and those toms so sneaking over to try for them would be nearly impossible. We’ll just have to wait to see how things develop.

Patrick sets out the decoys, we call a bit and we get the same results as before. No response, no interest from the turkeys. We watch with disappointment as the whole troop of turkeys slowly moves away, crosses the property boundary fence and drifts off into the prairie and heads off over the horizon.

We decide to wait a while to see if something else might move into the corn field and soon we spot a single turkey heading back in from the prairie, heading our direction. We put the binoculars on it and see it’s a nice mature tom and seems to be heading right for us. The bird comes off the hillside, ducks under the property fence line and steps in to the corn field, seems like he’s locked onto something right around where we’re set up. Then we hear some light yelping from off to our right. Patrick peeks around the hay bales and spots a single hen off to our right, walking along the edge of the hay bales, heading our direction. The tom is about 150 yards out off to our left, walking slowly in our direction.

I’d been hopeful that the tom was coming in to investigate our decoys but I’m now pretty sure he’d seen this hen from off in the distance and was making his way to her. So hard to compete with a live hen. But things still may work out. If the hen continues along a path right in front of the hay bales she might lure that tom in to gun range right in front of us.

Now, speaking of gun range - I had decided that this turkey season I would use my Dad’s old gun to harvest a bird with. It’s a nice gun and carrying it really means a lot to me. Adds something special to the hunt. It’s an older Remington Model 11 that he’d used to bag many a bird with. Full choke but with a somewhat limited range. At least compared to more modern/newer guns. For turkeys it’s maximum range is 35 to 38 yards. I know this for a fact because earlier this season I’d taken a shot at a tom that stood 43 yards from me and all I did was tickle him a bit. He jumped straight up in the air about 3 feet at the shot, turned around and looked at me with a sort of “What the hell was that?!” expression in his eyes, then turned and walked away. I then tested the pattern and found the 35 to 38 yard maximum range. With my bigger 12 gauge and magnum turkey loads I’ve been comfortable shooting 50 yards or better but that gun is out of action for a while so I decided to add a bit of a challenge to things this year and am using the 20 gauge.

So the hen and the tom meet in the field right in front of us. And for the next 2 hours they torment us by drifting in and out, never really getting too far away and never really getting in quite close enough for a shot. The tom stood at 43 yards from me at one point, a couple of other times he’s 45 yards away…. Ten more steps in and I’ll take a shot, just a few more steps… and then he drifts away. At one point the hen laid down in the field and snoozed for a bit while the tom did his puffed up wing dragging dance around her to try to impress the girl. She must have had a long night last night. All she wanted to do was feed on a few bugs and take a nap…

I’m pretty sure I saw Patrick give me a couple of WTF?! sidelong glances when that tom was standing just 43 yards away… but I do appreciate him not pushing me to try for the shot.