With half a tank of gas, my car was packed tightly with just enough essentials to start my new life halfway across the country. Tearfully, I waved goodbye to family and headed west. Part of starting anew in any part of the country is that you find what keeps you true to yourself and your core. Obtaining a turkey tag was in short order immediately after crossing the border into Missouri.
After 12 hours of driving and tossing my belongings into a new apartment, I scoured the ridges and hollows of the southern part of the state a mere day after arriving. The big timber of the Ozarks felt eerily similar to the big timber I am so familiar with in the northeast. Missouri, thankfully, is home to more public hunting grounds than all of the seven states which touch its borders. Yes, I’ve heard the stories of the difficulty in hunting Missouri gobblers. And, yes, I found them to be all true, in a painful way.
Turning Blindness into Vision
Hunting blind is not the most efficient method of hunting turkeys. Moving to a new state was entirely unknown, and exploring the mystery of a new place is part of the journey. I usually won’t drive to an area in the dark and set out to explore, however, that was my only option if I wanted to hunt before turkey season ended. Utilizing maps and reading topographical lines is the key to opening up any new piece of geography. Understanding the topographical lines on a map is like reading notes on a sheet of music. They are poetic, and yet, they open up a world of unrivaled interpretation. I’d purchased the OnX Maps app last fall. Until now, I had never felt the need to use this. Being able to find all available public land within two hours of my new place in south-central Missouri made home feel just a little closer.
Finding opportunities in any state is easy and sometimes confusing. What you target and what your desired outcomes are should dictate how you search for public lands. My preferred style of hunting is to avoid roads and choose areas with difficult access. The more hiking required to reach areas of particular interest, the higher the land becomes on my list of priorities. The three ways to find new areas are; ask people, research the state’s website or use mapping apps to give you the power of information in your hand.
After speaking with several co-workers, they pointed me to an area surrounding a reservoir with limited trail systems. Researching it from a topographical standpoint revealed several elements that I checked off my list of must-haves. Considering the psychology of my competition, there was more area to hunt than one could utilize in one day. But it was also just narrow enough in the surrounding area that it might deter additional people; particularly when hunting in a public area on the weekend. Knowing what you want from a tract of land or need regarding access will narrow down your choices and help you make better use of the time that you have to hunt.
Where There Are Hens
A hen perched in a large oak tree just past the closed road area confirmed my decision but spooking her at first light wasn’t part of the plan. Where there are hens, there will be gobblers. Two quick owl hoots confirmed my suspicions. The topography of the land dropped off towards the lake in rather rapid fashion and two adult toms gobbled simultaneously about half a dozen times.
My mistake was not having created an offline map on my phone app. Why was this an issue? Losing elevation on a turkey rarely works out in one’s favor, and at the expense of sounding like I need technology, it would have been nice to take a quick topographical reading when making my approach. I only had one bar of service and the map was taking too long to load. So, I veered right rather left and I ended up below the birds rather than staying at a slightly elevated position relative to their position. In the end, they walked to the left, I walked to the right, and I ran into them about 40 minutes later trying to find where they went after they fell silent.
As the Missouri season moved along, the methodology of researching asking and researching areas proved to work, and the resident turkey population did not disappoint. I found plenty of gobbling action but few birds wanted to work into the calls and decoys. At one point, my approach on a late morning trio was thwarted by a pair of dogs who casually decided to follow me. Just past the broken hedgerows, they took off through the field where the birds strutted only to spook them. After walking half a dozen miles (and much to my surprise and dismay), a lone tom gobbled about sixty yards from the parking area at around 11a.m.— such is turkey hunting.
A Goal Achieved?
Maps, research, and good people made home feel not so far away. I thought my beloved turkey season was not possible this year because picking up and moving is not easy. But for the committed sportsman, it has never been easier to find opportunities wherever you go to hunt in this country. Although I was sitting in the parking area, feeling beaten down by stubborn gobblers, and drinking coffee while lying in the back of my car, it still worked out to partially fulfill a goal on my bucket-list.
Know what you want from your hunting experience when it comes to public land. It gives you more opportunity than if you are only keeping yourself limited to private land options where you take what you can get. I’m grateful for the chance to live in the time that we are in and for the ability that we still have. The ability to create our own luck and adventure should we have the gumption to put boot tread to the dirt and follow the topographical lines to wherever they may lead.