A Kansas Rio to Remember

A glance at my watch told me it was just before five as we pulled into the farmer's driveway and parked. Simultaneously we shut our Jeep doors in the early morning stillness. All three of our heads snapped to attention as we were greeted with "Garobble, Garobble, Garobble...Garobble, obble, obble....." from across the dirt road. I glanced over my shoulder to see Angie grinning ear to ear.

"Let's go! Let's go!" she urgently whispered, excitement pouring out of her eyes.

We quickly loaded our shotguns and walked west along the road edge. It was my first morning in Kansas, actually the first time I'd ever set foot on Kansas soil and I couldn't have received a better greeting. I was hunting with my husband Brian and Angie Kjellberg, Executive Assistant of Womenhunters.com who, along with her husband Troy, were hosting the first Womenhunters Staff Turkey Hunt at their home in Kansas.

Without permission to hunt across the road, we spent an hour trying unsuccessfully to lure the Toms over to us, ultimately deciding to move south along a creek that meandered through several cut Milo fields. As we began our long walk south along the fencerow, we witnessed a beautiful sunrise; the bright green dew-laden grasses sparkling and glimmering in the early morning rays. Reaching our destination we sat down and called. No response. We worked the calls for quite awhile, varying their intensity and tone. Finally, lacking any encouragement to stay put, we agreed to move further north up the creek to a natural point between two fields. Relaxed and enjoying our morning together, we began to cross the field when suddenly Angie folded over and shrunk backwards emphatically whispering "Turkey! Turkey!" Never had I witnessed three adults react so instantaneously by dropping and duck-walking for cover. I struggled to regain my composure as several strong chuckles escaped through my head net. I marveled at what control and power these wild turkeys wielded...and their uncanny ability to reveal themselves at the exact moment a hunter decides to move! Unfortunately, the turkey quickly dissolved back into the landscape.

We quickly wove our way along the field edge reaching the point and locating three nicely spaced trees in the tall grass. Brian settled in to the south, I took the tree in the middle, and Angie positioned herself to the north. Our setup on this finger of land amidst the Milo fields proved to be the perfect ambush spot with the ability to pull birds from either direction. It was now 9:30 AM. Angie proceeded to call on her Mountain Screamer box call. Sponsors of this WomenHunters staff hunt, Mountain Screamer Game Calls had generously given us each our choice of calls to use. After a few minutes I picked up my slate call and brushed it several times. In response, I spotted a nice turkey emerge from the southern edge of a field about two hundred yards away. As I reached for the binoculars, he erupted into a full strut. I grabbed my shotgun instead and readied it on my knee. My heart fluttered and picked up the pace as the adrenaline surged through my veins.

Brian and Angie continued calling, alternating between slate and box calls. Their tactics worked wonders; we observed him steadily crossing the field in the direction of the two hen decoys we'd placed twenty yards in front of us. Mid-field he grew leery and veered off west towards the wooded creek bed. Though we'd lost sight of him, his repeated answers enabled us to continually pinpoint his movements. Angie's skill with the box call was working magic, though he moved excruciatingly slow. My backside was aching, my legs screaming to move. We'd all been motionless for over an hour waiting on this gobbler. I noticed Angie's arm moving erratically, signaling to us that he was climbing out of the creek bed and toward the edge of the field north of her. He came into view moments later, rounding the point and approaching left of me. With my heart pounding and arms shaking, I instinctively clicked off the safety on my Winchester 12-gauge and lifted it slowly as he neared my decoys. With tail feathers fully fanned out, he inched alongside the first hen and offered a perfect shot at twenty yards. Taking careful aim at my first turkey, I held my breath and squeezed the trigger.

UP he went...straight up into the air he jumped...landed, then confused and disoriented, proceeded to run directly at me! In awe and disbelief at my missed shot and myself confused at his decision to run AT me, I pumped another shell into the chamber, quickly aimed at his head (which was now just a mere ten yards in front of me) and fired a second time. In a high-speed sprint, he rounded the point past Angie, quickly disappearing into the thick green grass.

Stunned, I replayed the events in my mind as I sat staring and shaking my head at my missed opportunity. After some silent soul-searching, I peered up at Angie and Brian, each standing on either side, staring at me; each perceiving and fully comprehending my disappointment. It was Brian who spoke first.

"What the.......what happened?" was all he could muster!

At that, both Angie and I burst into laughter, as Angie confessed she was thinking much the same.

"I thought I had him", I responded shaking my head back and forth. "I had my bead right on him, an easy 20 yard shot. I thought he was mine for sure. The next thing I know, he's running right AT me! I figured he didn't like me shootin' at him and he was coming after me!" We all laughed heartily.

In direct response to our laughter, another loud gobble rang out not more than a hundred yards behind us along the creek. Once again, I witnessed three adults' legs dissolve under them as we each dropped and crawled back to our respective trees. The concentration on our faces revealed three turkey hunters intent on taking a bird home. I was sure my gun sling had interfered with my aim, so I quickly removed the sling from the barrel and prepared for round two.

It was now approximately 11 AM and despite experiencing a long morning we were all thoroughly enjoying this hunt! Fun, definitely, but more intriguing, it occurred to me, was the challenge it presented and which we each embraced. Angie immediately returned to her calling, concentrating on bringing this old Tom into the decoys. Like the previous gobbler, this one took his time, methodically strutting and gobbling and picking his way across the field from the northwest. Similarly, this turkey sought safe cover along the wooded creek bottom disappearing from sight. Before we could re-position ourselves, he went silent. We all instinctively froze. Angie softly yelped, yielding a response not more then thirty yards away. We remained motionless as minutes passed again without a sound. We all sat with our backs to the trees and to the gobbler. No one had a visual on him. Patience wavering, I looked south to Brian and carefully upturned my hands in a "Where'd he go?" gesture. Brian slowly shook his head back and forth, which I interpreted as "No idea". Adjusting my head slightly with sloth-like motions to peer over my shoulder, I spotted him. No more than five yards directly behind Brian he displayed, in all his natural glory: blazing red head, fully stretched fan, wings dragging on each side. It was then I listened to my first ever "spittin' and drummin' escaping from this magnificent bird! My eyes widened like saucers as I struggled to control my excitement. My eyes conveyed the message well to Brian, who was intently watching me and nodding calmly in reassurance. Carefully I inched my head back into position, praying Angie would not move. Her view of the gobbler was still obscured by brush and tall grass. Nearly fifteen minutes passed without incident before I dared move my head again. I peered north around my tree to survey the creek bed. Just twenty yards away buried in the brush I eyed him carefully climbing out of the bottom and toward the field. I now pointed out his position to Angie who'd been watching me and waiting for a sign. Finally, within fifty yards he approached the decoys from my left, mimicking the previous bird. He hesitated and Angie rustled the grass next to her coaxing him in further with a few soft yelps. He cautiously stepped closer and closer until he was within forty yards walking parallel to my decoys, which were set at twenty yards. He continued strutting and Brian whispered urgently at me to "Take him now!"

I confidently waited several more moments until his head popped up for a clear shot. I was focused on not letting myself or my hard-working companions down a second time! Shaking less, better positioned, and more determined than ever, I aimed and pulled the trigger. BAM! Down he went as both Angie and Brian jumped to their feet and sprinted to my bird. Smiling ear to ear I ran over on wobbly legs and high-fived them both. I was still in disbelief over missing the two closer shots and connecting on my longest one, at thirty-six yards, to take my turkey. I hugged and thanked them both for their hard work, patience and perseverance. I couldn't have done it without them, or without the help of Mountain Screamer Game Calls who sponsored the hunt and gave us the opportunity to see how effective their box calls are first hand. I'd experienced an amazing hunt that I was fortunate enough to share with two very special people and I'd taken my first turkey: a nice 2 year old Rio Grande with a 7 ½" beard, and ½" spurs. Most certainly, a Rio I'll always remember.

Note: All photos taken by Brian Haukom


© May 2003