Friday morning dawn came fast. I’d put the birds to bed the night before at the Grand Osage Wildlife Area in Parsons, Kan., so I knew right where I’d find the turkeys. The lady at the security booth checked my pass and was amused when she realized I was alone. She wished me luck, saying she’d cross her fingers for me.
I hurried to the designated area, parked and grabbed the essentials: Phone, gun, two shells, turkey call and my Slumper Seat to sit on in the wet grass. I hurried across the field as the sky lightened at an alarming rate. Halfway there, I heard the first gobble. Cursing under my breath, I picked up the pace, and using a large swath of tall grass as cover, I hunkered down to crab-walk into position.
Then I waited patiently for the birds to hit the Turkey Super Highway they’d traveled the previous two days. When I heard the telltale thuds of turkeys flying down from their roost tree, my heart leapt into my throat. I flipped off the safety as the boss hen began chirping like mad to keep her flock together. But then they went silent.
The previous two mornings, the turkeys traveled between the tree line and the tall grass right where I was waiting for them. I hunkered down lower and waited patiently. But one possum, two raccoons and a coyote later, I realized they’d taken a different route. And I knew if they busted me, it would be over. I wouldn’t have enough time to regroup and set up on a different flock.
Taking that chance, I left everything but my gun in the grass. Crouching low, I gingerly stepped out near the roost tree. The turkeys were nowhere to be found. Straining my ears, I heard only silence. I stood up straight and let out a deep sigh. But, then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something flicker, and I froze.
I slowly turned toward the abandoned train cars scattered across the old Army Ammunition Plant. I strained my eyes and ears in the early morning light and … YES! There it was again: An unmistakable gobble from the other side of the train cars! I could barely see them through the gap between the cars – and if I could see them, they could definitely see me. So I eased over and slowly stepped beyond their line of sight.
Heart thudding, I ran toward the train cars and peeked through the gap. There they were: a flock of five or six toms strutting together. Their fans were glowing in the warm morning sun, each trying to convince one of the 12 to 15 hens that he was the most beautiful.
The flock was at least four hundred yards away and moving steadily toward the far corner of the field. There was no way I could belly-crawl that far with two dozen eyes on me without getting busted. Thick trees hid the road from view, and I realized if I used them as cover, maybe I could get ahead of the turkeys.
My mind made up, I raced toward the end of the train, crossed over the tracks and into the trees. I crouched low and moved as stealthily as I could, then paused and peeked around a tree. That’s all it took. All fans folded down and that flock of turkeys turned into a flock of roadrunners racing back the way they came, toward the head of the train.
“No, no, no, no!” I muttered, turning and racing back to the end of the train, hoping to cut them off.
But I didn’t see them cross the railroad tracks into my field, and about two-thirds of the way along the train cars I paused, heart thundering in my ears. I couldn’t get a read on where they were. Praying I wasn’t making yet another tactical error, I sidled up to the nearest car and peeked through the train car gap … AND THEY WERE RIGHT THERE!
They’d stopped beneath a large tree. The hens were milling about, pecking and scratching at the ground. The toms were fanned out in all their glory.
I jerked my head back before they could see me. If I’d kept running, they would’ve seen me moving between the train cars, and I would’ve blown them out of yet another area. Taking a minute to figure it out, I realized I had two options: climb onto the top of the train and shoot from above or belly-crawl under it to sneak up on them, using the ditch as cover.
I chose to belly-crawl. It took well over an hour to inch my way up and over the train tracks, down through the creek flowing through the ditch and then slowly up the other side of the ditch.
At every six inches or so of my progress, a head (or three) would pop up over the rise to inspect this odd camouflaged creature making its way toward them at a snail’s pace. They obviously knew I was there. But they didn’t know what I was, and they weren’t convinced I was a threat.
Finally, I was close enough, soaked to the bone, covered in bugs and dirt. I was flat against the side of the ditch, and they were just over the rise. Head down, I eased forward, snaking my gun through the grass and dirt until I could shoulder it.
I lifted my body just enough so the barrel could clear the dirt, aimed at the boss tom and pulled the trigger. And, just like that, my 2015 Kansas turkey hunt ended in a burst of feathers. A fully mature tom with a 10-inch beard fell to a sneaky girl from Wisconsin, ending one of my most memorable hunts. I can’t wait to go back.
Carrie Zylka began her outdoor career in 2008 as a blogger for an archery resource website. Since then, she’s been featured and published in various newspapers, magazines, tv and radio shows. To hear an in-depth audio version of this story, find Carrie's podcast "HuntFishTravel" on iTunes and listen to episode 110: "A Hail Mary Kansas Turkey Hunt."