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.