The Hunt: Chasing Thunder

Monday, May 1st, 2017.  

This is happening. Did I prepare enough? Is my bow ready, am I ready? What are these girls like in the field? Will my calls measure up? On that afternoon, I had so many emotions, a touch of self-doubt, added to a mix of excitement.  

Here I was in the heart of Kansas, with three girls who I had known in person for less than 24 hours, a car packed full of gear, and 3 Muzzy Turkey Broadheads ready to go! Or so I thought.  

We arrived at the Ice House Lodge around noon and were quickly greeted by our guide Tony. He was ready to go! Full of energy, excitement & a touch of smartassery (is that even a word?). 

As we sat around the table, after we unpacked, Tony pulled out the land maps, and decided on two pieces of ground on opposite sides of the property. Rain storms had hit pretty hard in Hepler for the week prior to our hunt, and with more anticipated rain in the forecast, hunting the swamp bottoms was an unlikely option, but with the vast open fields edged with Osage Orange, we hoped the birds had taken higher ground. Since Cara and Courtney had more experience turkey hunting, we collectively decided that Amelia & I would pair up with Tony for the evening.  

As the truck door shut, and the sound of the engine revving met the calming breeze from wide open windows, we were off, flying down Kansas backroads. About 10 miles from the lodge, we arrived at a large cow pasture. Our first spot, the other side of the pasture on the higher side of the swamp bottom. Tony had been in there a few nights prior and knew what direction the Toms were coming in to roost, and was confident that we would get on top of them. We parked the truck, grabbed our gear and started walking. Mud, barbed wire, and a few hopped fences later, we arrived at our spot. A perfectly brushed wooded edge along a pocket of lush green field. Amelia took to the right, and me on the left. I had decided to start with my bow, Amelia her shotgun. 

I unfolded my Cabelas stool, secured my release, knocked an arrow and sat down. Like any athlete before a large game, hunters have routines when they get into position so to say. I am no different. Once I get settled, I always draw back once to make sure I am comfortable, have enough space, and more importantly that my shooting lane is clear. As I drew back, the tension felt "off" (no other way to describe it), I went to full draw, still not sure what was happening, as I let down to half way... my worst nightmare played out in front of me. One loud SNAP and off the Y string went.  Within seconds all the optimism I had for this hunt vanished. I knew I hadn't dry fired. I had checked my bow thoroughly before we left the lodge, and I was careful to not let the Muzzy Turkey Broadheads touch the strings. I was in shock, I couldn't figure out what happened. At this point, we were in prime time. There were no other options but for me to sit & wait & be there with Amelia. 

Around 4:30pm, the woods came alive! Squirrels, a raccoon, bull frogs, toads, the swamp was in full swing... or should I say full sing. Tony who was set up less than 5 yards away, put out a locator call, within minutes we heard a Tom gobble back. He was on the ridge to our right, moving right into position. Now, Tony being an old school turkey hunter, knew how to work these birds. He knew when to call, when to gobble, and when to just be still and let the birds come into us. After a few more calls, we could start to hear a bird moving through the field. Holy Bird! I immediately looked to the right and saw Tony motioning that he was a longbeard & a shooter. I froze, as the white head of our first Kansas Tom come into 40 yards, I whispered to Amelia, "Shoot him, he's huge!" What I didn't know at the time was Amelia had a branch right in her shooting lane & she could not get a clear shot on him. As I watched my first Kansas Longbeard slip down into the tall grass, my excitement was high. I wanted to race back to camp, re-group, and get ready for the morning! 

 

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017.  

3:00am. Any other day the sound of an alarm that early would have been enough for me smash it with a hammer, but not today. Today was our full day in the field. Lights on, EDM music blaring, pre-workout added to our waters... Amelia and I were awake. We quickly gathered our packs, any extra layers we needed and headed downstairs. First stop breakfast! Call me crazy or deprived (you can decide) but PopTarts are pretty darn good. With pockets full of snacks and Tony in tow, we headed out. Just before dawn, we pulled down the lane, parked the truck, applied more face paint, loaded our guns, and started toward the row of trees on the edge of the corn field. All in a line with our eyes peeled, we sat enjoying God's beautiful awakening. One of the prettiest sunrises I had experienced in years, being hand painted right in front of us. 

Now from sunrise on... our banter went a lot like this: 

Amelia: Laurel, "Shut Up" "Don't Move" "Seriously, Don't Move" "Don't F'n Move" 

Me: "I'm Not" "I Don't See Anything... or Hear Anything" 

Amelia: "Over There, 200 yards away!"  

Well.. let me tell you, those birds played us all morning! With hens far off in the field, we had two toms sticking close to them. Tony had placed several decoys and "Dr. Love" roughly 30 yards in front of the tree line, the intent to draw the Tom away from his hens. After some aggressive calling & a lot of waiting. We had a curious Tom start strutting like CRAZY! It was agreed upon early on in the morning that Amelia would take the first shot that came in, and I would be backup if needed. So with this big ole Tom going crazy, we both thought this was it! Birds are going to hit the dirt. We worked and worked this Tom, but no matter what we tried he wouldn't come in closer than 70 yards. For two hours, we watched him waiver back and forth on whether to leave his hens and come check out the decoys, strutting up a storm, gobbling, but not moving. 

At this point, we wanted this bird! We packed up our stuff and headed to the bird. If he wasn't going to come to us, we would go to him! Or so we thought. After a few of Tony's childhood hunting stories and no signs of the Tom, we headed back for lunch. 

Fast Forward. Our Last Evening Hunt.  

It is a good thing Amelia & I can entertain ourselves, because we went into this last evening just ready to enjoy a night in the outdoors. No real hope to get a bird on the ground, just to enjoy our last night. Tony made the call that we would sit near a roost site, with hopes of getting the birds right before they flew up to roost. As we sat along a muddy corn field, the hours past with no sight of birds. So what did we do? Changed up the game, quickly we were glassing at deer across the field. NOW, let me tell you (and Amelia will agree) the oldest doe we had ever seen was grazing on the opposite side of the corn field. 

Within seconds, the binoculars were down, the laugher stopped, and Amelia and I froze in our seats. From our left, the sound of crunching grass & rustling branches. A hen appeared from the tall grass, slowly making her way behind us. 40 steps, 30 steps, 20 steps, before we knew it, the hen had stopped at 4 steps behind me. She held behind me for what felt like hours (probably more like 30 minutes) but, remaining still for that long on edge is tough! Around 7:00pm, just as Tony had predicted the birds started coming in to roost. One by one hens flew up to roost in the tree behind us, with one lone gobble heard earlier in the evening, our anticipation grew as dusk set it. With only minutes left of shooting light, a white head appeared on the left! Amelia whispered, "I am going to shoot him, I am just going to turn around and shoot him!" As we both agreed, she prepared to make a quick movement to turn and take a final shot on this bird. One quick movement, a turn to the left, and a loud scream later, Amelia was in my lap. Simultaneously as she turned to take a shot on the Tom an opossum had crawled up into her lap just enough to startle her, sending the tom to roost and her flying backwards with shock. The laughter that erupted following was enough to clear out the hold tree line! Empty handed we left again, but this time we had stories to tell! 

 

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017.   

They say you cannot predict the weather... well at 3:00am when the claps of thunder and wind against the lodge rang loud before our alarms, we knew what was going on. No hunting today. Southern Kansas had sustained on again off again rainfall for most of the week and at this point the majority of the fields were too saturated or flooded to squeeze in a morning hunt. While disappointment ran through camp, Tony remained positive! As a veteran guide, he had a bag of tricks and was about to pull out all of them to make sure out last morning was just as eventful as the last. With full coffee mugs, all the rain gear we could find, and a dose of optimism we piled into the red truck and hit the road. As we drove around, the realization that Tony was right {no hunting} sunk in. Everywhere we looked, fields were under water, wind was whipping rain sideways, and definitely no birds moving on the ground. 

We pulled into a cutout on the highway, hopped out of the truck and slipped into an open field to start the search for sheds. The day prior Courtney found one side of a nice Kansas bruiser, and we all wanted to one-up it! The further into the field, the deeper the water. As we dredged back to the fence line, the trails of water widened, where there once was a field, now stood a raging flow of water. Water so powerful, Osage Orange roots littered the ground 5 to 10 feet down. 45 minutes later, we were all sopping wet, cold, and ready to warm up. Once last group picture to document the end of a great hunt camp, and back to the truck we went.  

today i wish you well....hunting is so very much as life is. sometimes the very reward you most desire not always comes in the form you had worked for. so if your hunt is not bountiful with birds it has certainly been bountiful with time shared with friends. what experience you have shared and many more. i pray you continue to know laughter is contagious, joyful, and memorable. may you continue with life long friendships.
— ms. marti

There are no truer words than those of Ms. Marti. Social media may have brought us all together, but it was and continues to be our genuine love for hunting that keeps us together. While we were unsuccessful in punching any tags in Kansas, we did not leave empty handed. Sore stomachs from laughing until we cried, inside jokes, hunting stories, and forever friends made the departure bearable. As we loaded the trucks and parted ways, I was reminded once again that, you get out of this adventure what you put into it. Never be so scared to take the trip, that you miss it. You should be scared by new opportunity, after all if it doesn't scare you, it's not worth doing! In the meantime, the countdown is on for next season when we all return for a full week, locked & loaded ready to put birds on the ground.