Turkey Story: Listening to Good Advice Produces a Show-Me-State Bruiser

Written by: Steve Hemkens, Orvis Rod & Tackle

Steve Hemkens with the biggest turkey he’s ever seen, shot in Missouri.
All photos courtesy Steve Hemkens

I took a pit stop on my cross-country drive to hunt in my home state of Missouri with my Uncle and godfather, Andy Hemkens, on a farm he owns North of Macon. Before I moved to Vermont in 2005, I had hunted two seasons in Missouri, and although I had called in a couple of birds for other people, I had never quite gotten a wily, old Show Me State turkey.

We set up on this bird before dawn on the first morning, and he flew down off the roost, strutting to within 70 yards before a hen flew down and he wandered off with her. There were other birds gobbling, and against the advice of Uncle Andy—who predicted, “He will be right back here at noon looking for us”—we went running and gunning across the farm. We called in three jakes that I could have shot, but had a slow hunt after about 9 a.m. and didn’t hear another bird gobble. When we got back to the truck at 1 p.m., we heard a bird gobble right where we’d left him earlier. “I told you! That running and gunning can be fun, but waiting them out kills more turkeys,” Andy said.

The next morning, we split up, Andy going to hunt on one half of the farm and I on the other, back after the big boy from the morning before. He was roosted well off my Uncle’s property line, too far to work, and after a quick loop around trying to get a better angle, I decided to follow my Uncle’s advice and just be patient. After two hours of silence, a bird gobbled a few hundred yards away. I called and he answered, but without much enthusiasm. He would only answer if I called very loudly and aggressively, but after a half hour of back and forth, he gobbled much closer, within about 100 yards. I got excited, but to no avail. Soon after that exchange, he shut up.

Staying put and waiting for the big bird to return paid off.

I got impatient and decided to sneak my way down the field edge and set up in the wooded corner where we’d called in the gang of jakes the previous morning and had heard another mature bird gobbling in the hollow. After an hour of calling without any action, I thought, “You better go back up in that corner where that bird knows you are and just wait him out,” so I gathered up my decoy and worked my way quietly up the hill. I set my decoy just inside the field edge and hunkered down against a big shag-bark Hickory. It was 10:15 and had gotten brutally windy, so I started calling loudly every 15 minutes or so, alternating among my box, slate, and diaphragm calls. After an hour and a half of silence and boredom, the thoughts started to creep in: “Should I have shot one of those jakes yesterday? Should we leave this afternoon, so I can head to Wyoming in the morning? Has Molly heard from the movers? How far is it from St. Louis to Jackson? Should I try to drive straight through or stop halfway and sleep? Is another year going by without getting a turkey in Missouri?”

As I rolled the same questions and thoughts over and over in my head, as I often do when I’m sitting in one spot for a long time, second-guessing everything I know about hunting, I continued to call loudly and aggressively with my box call. No response from the turkeys. I decided to switch to my mouth call and made a few yelps. I didn’t even finish my cycle when a Tom cut me off with an authoritative gobble. He was close, less than 100 yards, and the suddenness of the eruption rattled me to attention. I purred quietly with my mouth call, and he gobbled immediately at half the distance. I knew he was coming in.

I heard the distinctive bloooum of a big tom drumming, then saw a huge black ball floating toward me through the woods. It was the biggest turkey I had ever seen. By then, he was less than 20 yards away, going straight for my decoy. He broke strut and craned his next, and I squeezed the trigger. He didn’t even flop his wings. It was 11:55 a.m. Listening to the advice of an old pro turkey hunter paid off big. My first Missouri gobbler weighed 25-1/4 pounds on a certified scale, and had a 10-1/2-inch beard and 15/16-inch and 1-1/16-inch spurs.

When I got back to the truck, Andy was cleaning a jake he had shot earlier in the morning. I asked him what that was all about, since he’d already shot a jake earlier in the week and was saving his second tag for a big Tom. He bent over in the brush, spread out the fan, and said, “I was sitting there with a bird gobbling close. I looked over at my decoy and saw a full fanned bird that I assumed was a tom standing on top of my decoy. The decoy fell over and he hopped back up and balanced himself on top of the toppled decoy. There was brush between me and him, but I said to myself that he has a full fan so it has to be a tom, and if he sticks his head up, he’s dead. Boy was I surprised when I got over there and realized it was a jake.”

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