Posted by Brian Lovett, Contributing Editor
Quiz time: What’s worse, rain or wind?
Trick question. Neither. For me, at least, the answer is lightning.
And that’s just what Steve Stoltz and I were facing – well, more accurately, running from – during the early-morning hours April 25 in northern Missouri. Even after several days of steady rain, another ear-shattering thunderstorm was descending on the Heartland.
On a positive note, Stoltz and I made it to the truck without being electrocuted and only partially drenched. On the down side, we’d left several hard-gobbling turkeys at our fly-down setup.
“Well, hopefully it will clear up and we can get back in there,” said Stoltz, a world-champion caller and pro-staffer for Mossy Oak and Knight & Hale Game Calls.
Later that morning, it seemed like the storm had passed. Sun peeked through the clouds, and the ominous flashes of lightning disappeared to the southeast. And as promised, Stoltz and I returned to our original setup, only to hear a turkey gobbling on his own.
“He’s up in that pretty timber,” Stoltz said. “But that’s across the creek.”
Ordinarily, that wouldn’t have been a big deal. However, because of the recent heavy rains, the typically narrow, shallow creek had turned into a muddy torrent. We sure couldn’t get across it without a boat, and it was a good bet the turkey probably wouldn’t hop it, either.
Still, Stoltz went to work. We set up along a fence line bordered by two large fields near the creek. The gobbler responded immediately to Stoltz’s calling but didn’t move.
After about a half-hour the situation hadn’t changed much. If anything, it seemed like the turkey had walked up the hill a bit and might be losing interest. Stoltz and I looked at each other and started stirring. But just then, a small dot appeared across the field.
“Steve, it’s a hen,” I whispered.
We sat down again and watched the bird feed slowly along the field edge. Moments later, another hen joined the first.
Meanwhile, the gobbler seemed to fire up again and began circling the hill toward our setup. Stoltz hit him with some yelps and excited cutting, and the bird went crazy.
Within minutes, the bird had circled to within 80 yards of our setup — still across the raging creek, of course — and was camped straight away from us, gobbling his head off. He stayed there for several minutes, and then walked to our right, camping under a large oak obscured by creekside brush.
“Dang it,” I thought. If he didn’t jump the creek in front of us — an obvious crossing spot — there was no way he would come through the thick foliage to our right.
That seemed to be an accurate assessment. The bird gobbled and spit and drummed regularly but refused to budge. But that’s when Stoltz pulled out his ace. He went into an extended clucking and purring sequence, mimicking hens that were feeding in the field but wouldn’t approach the gobbler — much like the actual hens that were still behind us. Then, Stoltz went quiet.
He didn’t call for 10 minutes. Then 20. Then a half-hour.
Soon, the gobbler appeared to be getting desperate. He gobbled hard a few times from under the oak, and then seemed to drift left. Soon, I heard soft crunching in the streamside brush.
“He’s moving,” I thought.
A raucous gobble confirmed it. He was coming back toward the creek.
I never heard the bird fly over the water, but seconds later, a brilliant red head popped up over the rise. The gobbler briefly went into strut, took a step and then craned his neck to look at the two hens in the field. My shot punctuated the hunt, and the longbeard toppled down the creek bank.
On my way to the bird, I checked my watch. The hunt had lasted 90 minutes, and Stoltz hadn’t made a peep for 30 of those. We whooped in celebration, retrieved the turkey and relived the great hunt. It had been a treat to see Stoltz work that bird, and I told him so.
“Well, I just wanted to let him know the ‘hens’ were still here, but they weren’t coming to him,” he said. “And then I just played on his ego. It didn’t hurt that we had two live birds behind us, and I’m sure he could see them where he was at.”
To top things off, we returned to the truck just before another lightning storm zoomed in from the northwest. Temperatures plummeted 15-some degrees in the next hour.
I guess we endured the worst Missouri could throw at us that day. But thanks to Stoltz, the best was riding home with us in the truck.