Spring Magic in the Ozarks

The full moon lit the way as I slowly and quietly made my way along the edge of the tree line. The moonlight made it easy for me to locate a landmark that designated the spot where I needed to be before the rise of the sun. I found a nice tree to sit against and settled in to soak up the beauty of the Ozarks the morning was about to unveil.

The hoot of an owl echoed through the valley and was answered by the thunder of a gobbler. The boss of the Eastern wild turkeys have claimed his kingdom, however, several challengers sounded with impressive gobbles of their own throughout this white oak forest. Whippoorwills gave their evening farewells as hints of the Missouri sunrise began to glow. Owls responded to each other in the treetops as the knock of a woodpecker signaled that morning had arrived.

I felt truly blessed to be a part of the “Southern Missouri Media Hunt.” My media host Ray Eye called me with the invite to hunt Eastern turkeys in the southern part of the state. And Tony Caggiano of World Slams Adventures coordinated all my travel arrangements. Going on a hunt with my turkey-hunting mentor Eye is always fun and there’s tons of laughs. Oh, and also a hunt experience of a lifetime. Ray told me we were filming a turkey hunt hosted by John Plummer of True Pursuit Adventures. Ray also told me I would be hunting with his brother Marty on the first morning. Marty and I have been friends for a long time. He is a master guide and turkey hunter who knows how to tag these wary Easterns.

The morning was cold with the predawn temperatures at a crisp 42 degrees when Marty picked me up. On the drive to Fox Paw Ranch, he shared his scouting reports with me. The plan was for me to hunt one side of a valley while he would be hunting in the next valley over. He told me exactly where the gobblers would be roosted and the best places to set up to call.

He parked his jeep and we gathered our gear, Marty did another equipment check and we reviewed the hunt plans again to be sure I was comfortable. We wished each other good luck and parted ways.

After I got settled in my hide I studied the lay of the land. The bottom of the valley has a flat narrow pasture where cattle graze. The side of the valley wall has a narrow base of thick vegetation and right above it a narrow line of short cypress trees that grow midway up the side. The top half of the valley is a healthy forest of white oak trees. I was hoping I could call the turkeys in to the pasture to give me an opportunity for a shot.

The owls hooted and triggered more gobbles throughout the treetops. I counted seven different locations in this valley where the gobbles thundered. Across from me was the main roost tree that grew halfway up the mountainside. This is where the boss bird pounded out a warning as a hen in his flock softly gave out yelps. I was in a sweet spot, and Marty’s scouting reports were right on the money. Then, caws of flying crows above me signaled that a fly-down was to begin shortly.

I waited for the turkeys to hit the ground, as the sound of wing beats told me it was time to start calling. Since the hens were silent, I began calling softly. Then I was hammered by gobbles all around me. The boss gobbler sounded and the valley went silent—the “king” had spoken. I yelped on my Quakerboy Rimshot glass and the boss gobbled hard. I casted several soft yelps with my QB SR Razor mouth call and the extra raspy tone made the boss do a double-gobble. I worked the two calls to sound as two hens, and each time the boss hit me back with a gobble.

The gobbles from the boss helped me lay the binos on him. I could see a band of hens leading him down the valley through the oaks toward me.

Then a shot echoed from the valley behind me; Marty had punched his tag. The echoes of that shot caused the flock of turkeys to turn and head back up the valley. The boss gobbler went silent.

I waited 20 minutes to let things settle down and then gathered my gear. I slowly crossed the narrow pasture to the other side of the valley and casted a few yelps. A gobble sounded off to my right along the slope of the valley. I cut the distance by 50 yards and yelped once again. The gobbler sounded again in the same spot. I moved to cut the distance another 75 yards, which brought me to a low saddle where the pasture ended.

I was now at a very shallow, narrow creek. The band of thick vegetation prevented me from moving up the slope so I stepped across the creek and stood next to a tree. In front of me was a clearing about the size of half a basketball court. I was hoping the gobbler would cross this tiny creek and step into the clearing.  It was a good spot. Not the best spot, but due to the lay of the land, I knew I had to make it work. And at least I had the sun at my back. I then casted a few yelps from my glass toward the clearing to fool the gobblers into thinking the hen was there. The turkey then thundered about 75 yards up the slope, 45 degrees from me. I quickly sat against the tree and finished my setup. I casted my lucky 7 (three clucks and four yelps) and I was cut off by a double gobble. My eyes strained as I try to spot the bird among the shadows of the oaks. I knew he was strutting because I could hear his wings dragging in the leaves.

Then—movement. I spotted a glowing white dot in the shade. I slowly raised my binos to get a better look. He stood full strut in all his glory. Damn, he was huge! Then, more movement as another longbeard stepped up. I cast the lucky 7 and they both gobbled. The boys broke strut and headed my way. I went silent and got the Mossberg ready.

I was facing where I thought they would cross the creek and step into the clearing, which would give me a 30-yard shot. Ray had lent me the Mossberg 535 12-gauge pump topped with a ghost ring sight by Marble Arms, which is similar to a peep sight on a bowstring. The Mossberg was loaded with Spectra White Lighting 3-inch magnum 6s.

I sat frozen as the gobblers reached the water. Then they disappeared into the brush that hid the creek crossing. Any second now and it will be show time. I waited locked and loaded, but no gobblers.

Then, I caught movement on my left.

The gobblers crossed the tiny creek and walked along it directly toward me. From the sound of my calls, they knew exactly where I was. They were now just 5 feet away from me, but I could not move; they were too close. Then they didn’t like what they were seeing and started to walk away, putting. I still had no shot because of all the brush.

I raised my head and the gobblers caught sight of my shadow’s movements and started to turn, and then left. I had forgotten to put in my mouth call so I began to whistle a kee kee run. The gobblers ran out into the clearing and stopped.

Then, the ghost sight quickly found its mark and the Mossberg sounded. The White Lighting face planted him without a flop.

After thanking my blessings and after a few pics, I loaded the big gobbler into my vest. As I walked out to meet Marty, the scenario replayed over in my mind. I just couldn’t stop thinking about this awesome Ozarks hunt on Fox Paw Ranch.