The sky lightened, the temperature a chilly 39 degrees, unheard of in Missouri the third week of April. But this was a cold, late spring indeed. The cattlemen of the state were panicked. They were running out of hay and the icy weather prevented their pastures from growing. The fields, grass normally over a foot high now and filled with the rich nutrients of spring, were just beginning to sprout upward, not able to support herds of hungry Black Angus eager to escape the monotony of hay.
In fact, so desperate were the farmers that small groups of 20 cattle were reluctantly moved to the sparse grass of larger pastures, usually a no-no. They hoped by so doing to stretch their existing hay supplies at the farm enough to last another week or so. Additionally, it hadn’t rained for almost a month. We all know how a good warm, spring rain and warm evenings causes vegetation to sprout up, seemingly overnight.
No one was happy and the turkey hunters were no exception. Gobblers here in Pennsylvania are much more tolerant of snow, frosts and cold weather than these southern birds and the majority of hens weren’t nesting. Additionally, the jakes and two-year olds had seemingly vanished, usually the more callable birds. Yes, the weather had all things in commotion.
Nevertheless, I was dutifully leaning on the cattle gate, shivering slightly, waiting impatiently for dawn. One can’t bag a turkey lying in bed. Hooting like a barred owl elicited a faint gobble. The bird was a long way off and another just as far off answered him. Then behind me a brazen gobble split the silence and I almost sprained my neck twisting rapidly around to pinpoint the location.
Not a good spot to get to. I took off headed for a hunting camp down the road. Hopefully, they’d have some sort of trail leading in the direction the birds were gobbling. It’s impossible to walk down the oak ridge’s here; thorns, brambles, locust, multiflora rose and deep ravines can make travel a nightmare.
After the 500 yard sprint I was overjoyed to find a grassy road pointing in the gobbler’s direction. My goosebumps were now replaced by beads of sweat. Remembering my fortune cookie from the Chinese restaurant the night before to be bold, throwing caution to the winds, I snuck closer than prudence dictated before setting up. Here the road ended abruptly, a 15-foot deep ditch with vertical sides stopping me cold. The light increased and I was thrilled to indistinctly see two gobblers roosted in large limbed oaks in front of me.
Turkeys in Missouri are large. Jakes commonly going 18-pounds, two-year olds weighing 22 or so and three-year olds 25 lbs. A four-year old pushes the scales around 28 lbs. and that’s a lot of turkey.
Focusing my binoculars I distinguished the square chests and long beards of two gobblers weighing in the 25 lb. range silhouetted against the sky. Camo on, calls in place, I waited.
A new gobbler cut lose about 150 yards from my car. Good grief. This bird walked over 400 yards to challenge the gobblers in front of me. The three engaged in a gobbling contest. What a sound. I was trembling with excitement despite the knowledge the birds would most likely simply walk away.
I clucked, the roosted birds went wild, double and triple gobbling, strutting on the limb and fanning. Finally after 15 minutes they flew down. Man, when a 25 lb. bird hits the ground he makes a thump. They came to 70 yards before their noisy and jealous hens appeared and lead them off.
Later in the day Jim Acker and I were having lunch at McDonalds. Jim had an exciting morning with multiple gobblers also, when we met Donny Pipes, a friendly man who shook his head at our lousy luck hunting. Then he brightened and told us he made pies, loved to make pies. For friends, neighbors, churches, social events and, under the table, for diners.
“You like pie?” He asked us. Jim’s eyes brightened and perking up he said with deep feeling and absolute sincerity; “Yes, we love pie!”
Donny struggled to his feet, grabbed his cane and hobbled to the door.
“Don’t leave,” He said.
Jim froze, he may even have stopped breathing for a spell. Obviously, he wasn’t going anywhere.
Five minutes later Donny reappeared and presented us with his incredible version of Reese’s Pieces pie. After the first bite it was my turn to roll my eyes with appreciation; the flavor was fantastic. Donny didn’t ask if we liked it: the speed with which it vanished was answer enough.
What wonderful people here in Brookfield, so friendly, kind and even willing to feed strangers pie. Despite the news broadcasts, people throughout our nation are friendly and caring.
The next day we met Mike Frazier while hunting, who hearing of our tough times, invited us to hunt his land the next morning where I had the above experience. When Jim and I stopped to thank him, we were invited in, introduced to his parents, given a soda and after a spell his Mom presented us with some fresh baked raspberry, blackberry and rhubarb pie.
Oh my; incredible crust, magnificent flavor, perfect mixture of tartness ending in a sweet flavor. Oh, don’t forget the home made cream. Acker’s face assumed a blissful expression as he chewed; obviously he and his stomach were in heaven.
I’m going to forget the lousy hunting, but I’ll never forget those friendly people, their generous hospitality and, most especially, the delicious pie of Missouri.