Opening morning of Missouri's spring turkey season was off to a great start.
I found myself facing a fortunate predicament of deciding which gobbler to pursue. A half-dozen birds were shattering the dawn with their raucous mating calls, but there was only one group. I decided three birds were better than one and took off north in pursuit of a trio of gobblers sounding off from a distant ridge.
Once I had pinpointed their location, and realized they were on the far side of steep ravine, I worked my way down to their level on the opposite side. As light began to creep into the forest, I made one last call to determine how close I was. All three gobbled hard. There was still room to close the distance, so I slipped down the hill another 50 yards, found a tree and settled in.
I expected the birds to either pitch up the hillside they were on, in which case I'd head back to the ridge and circle them before they got to the top, or they would pitch to the bottom and work up to me. What I didn't expect was for a big old bird to sail off the roost and come flying right over the top of my head landing 50 yards above me, right where I last called from.
All I could do was freeze. I sat like a statue as I heard him walking around behind me. Then he started down the hill to my right. Of course, the barrel of my shotgun was pointed left.
I hoped he'd keep his eyes forward as he descended the hill down to the flat in front of me. No such luck. When he was even with me, he began to alarm put. All I could do was swing my gun as fast as I could from left to right and try a left-handed shot at him. It was a clean miss. I never worked another bird that day.
The next morning was windy and the birds were quiet. After walking more than five miles up and down hills many refer to as mountains, I reserved myself to walk and call my way back to camp along a high ridge. The wind was howling, so I expected an old gobbler might have a similar idea and perhaps our paths would cross.
Every hundred yards or so I stopped, struck my slate call and sent out a long, loud sequence of yelps and clucks, basically begging a longbeard to come my direction. As I rounded the last bend on the logging road before it begins to descend onto my property, I stopped and called with no real expectation of hearing anything but the echo of my own lonely calls echo in the valley.
Every hair on my neck stood up when a thunderous gobble exploded from just over the hill. This bird wasn't 100 yards away. I eyed a small cluster of trees on the top of the hill but decided not to push my luck. I wanted to be on top of the hill so I could watch the bird work up to me but was afraid he could see me if he was already on his way, so I just plopped down right where I was.
With my back to a medium sized oak tree, I pulled my knees to my chest and rested my shotgun across the top of my left knee. Then I softly yelped three quick notes and he fired off at 50 yards. I fully expected the gobbler to show up about 30 yards in front of me where he would turn and walk straight to me. It would be a gimme.
I should have known better.
All I could see was his head and neck right between two trees in the cluster I had wanted to sit next to on top of the hill. He was less than 15 yards to my immediate left, but I was solid as a rock. I don't think I took a breath for more than a minute. His head was just there, like a periscope, searching in a half circle for the hen inviting his advance. I tried not to blink. I don't think I did.
When the turkey finally took one step forward and placed the trunk of the largest tree between us, I raised my shotgun four inches, and settled my eye on the crosshairs in the scope right where his head was going to be. I started to tighten the muscles in my trigger finger, anticipating the shot in the next half second or so.
Ten seconds later I started to panic. At 30 seconds I knew it was over. And at a minute I stood up. He had vanished. A 20-something-pound turkey had stepped behind a tree trunk not much bigger around than a telephone pole and had completely vanished without so much as a glimpse or any sound. I have no idea how he disappeared. It's like there was a magical portal on the back side of the tree the gobbler used to transport himself to another time and place.
He was a ghost turkey, and so goes the luck of a dedicated turkey hunter.
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler, the director of communications for Roeslein Alternative Energy, is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.