Fall turkey hunters are a different breed

Fall turkey hunters must be eternal optimists.

More so than in the spring, when male turkeys gobble to their mates and come trotting in to a hunter's imitation of a hen's love song.

In autumn, the only hope is that a turkey is lonesome or dumber than the hunter.

It's a slight hope.

Corky Mueller and I know, because we've tromped in the woods on what I call Aggravation Ridge for 15 years to hunt turkeys both spring and fall.

We've killed a few, but most have left us stewing in the Henry County timber.

"There's not many turkeys in these woods right now," said Mueller, of Lee's Summit.

We hunt turkeys in these same woods each spring and fall, regardless. A friend owns a farm bordering public land at Truman Lake.

There's also a hunter support system - turkey camp - with fun-loving friends staying in tents and campers near a weathered mobile home that serves as kitchen and bunkhouse.

Some come to fish, while others come for the barbecue and music.

Mueller and I are the hardcore turkey hunters.

A spring turkey memory haunted my first morning in fall camp this late October. I walked toward that spot on a rocky road atop the narrow main ridge.

The road is bordered by thick, scrubby timber that's tough to hunt in. Blowdowns from a tornado block paths. Getting an open shot through the scrub is tricky.

Yet in April, a gobbler came to my call on a remote side ridge far from the road. If he had just stepped out from behind the scrub, instead of fading back across the hilltop, I would have shot him.

So I went back in October. He wasn't there. But a rain had freshened the leaf colors and cooled the air. Breezes rose and fell in the treetops.

I sat happily for a long time, my back against an oak, listening and looking. Leaves freshly green in April were now worn and withered. Grass peeking up in the spring now had brown seeds atop stems.

Back at camp, Mueller gave me the report.

He'd seen a small group of gobblers, but they moved away from his calling. One even gave a taunting gobble.

Some guys get ready for the next day's hunt by practicing calls and going to bed early. We gather with camp friends to eat barbecue washed down with cold beverages. Then we break out guitars, banjos and mandolins to play bluegrass music into the night, sometimes by firelight on a hillside.

A banging sound and a loud voice woke me up the next morning.

"Time to go if you're going," Mueller said.

Sane people sleep. But we're turkey hunters. We walked into the woods and made turkey cluck and whine talk. Only the wind answered, at every tree we leaned against and on every side ridge we climbed.

"No turkeys in these woods," I said in the midday heat.

We walked back down the road and talked of old hunts. Suddenly, an explosive "flap flap flap" of pounding wings and "putt putt" turkey voices jerked our eyes up.

Gobblers flushed like a covey of quail from brush within view of camp.

We were too surprised to shoot before they were gone.

Our choices were to hope that they would sneak back toward our turkey calls in a few hours, or go see what was cooking in camp.

"They'll be lonesome and ready to come in by tomorrow morning," Mueller said.

Sure, they always are, in a turkey hunter's mind.