Of all the outdoor endeavors in these parts, turkey hunting may engender the greatest passion. Perhaps this extreme zeal stems from the fact it is a rather recent phenomenon in northeast Kansas.
Most turkey hunters have been at it only since the late 1980s whereas a veteran duck or quail hunter hereabouts can date his roots back to the 1950s or even the 1940s, when a wild turkey couldn't be spied within 200 miles of Lawrence.
Thus much of the turkey hunter's fervor is similar to converts to a new religion or belief.
Normally, not even the most brutal and ungodly blows from Mother Nature can dampen the ardor of these latter-day sportsmen. But during the first four days of this spring's turkey-hunting season, the weather was terrible.
On one of those days, thermometers around eastern Kansas plunged to 24 degrees below normal. What's more, it rained nearly incessantly for two days, causing creeks, rivers and lakes to flood. The wind gusted to nearly 50 mph. There was some frost, as well as a smattering of sleet and snow.
Still, this siege of miserable weather failed to stymie Andy Flack of Kansas City and John Thompson of Ottawa.
On opening day, Flack and his brother took their 10- and 14 year-old nephews hunting in Franklin County, south of Ottawa. Throughout most of the day, it rained.
When it rained, the birds didn't stir or respond to Flack's seductive yelps, clucks and purrs on his diaphragm and slate turkey calls. However, when the rain subsided from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., the Flacks lured two jakes into shotgun range, and the nephews took aim and killed their quarry.
From April 17-19, Flack and a friend ventured to Coffey County to pursue the turkeys that were displaced by the flooding Neosho River. There they found scores of discombobulated birds to hunt.
During this three-day expedition, Flack called seven flocks of turkeys and each hunter shot a 24-pound gobbler. One tom sported a 9 3/4-inch beard and the other had an 11-incher.
In addition, Flack used a video camera to record the behavior and unusual antics of several of these majestic and lust-ridden creatures.
On April 18, the turkeys were extremely active, gobbling incessantly. But on April 17 and 19, they became exceedingly taciturn, gobbling only for an hour in the morning. When the birds are reticent, Flack says a hunter must be exercise a lot of patience, using the call judicially and calmly waiting for a turkey to make a phantom-like arrival.
After Flack killed the 24-pounder with the 11-inch beard, he lured another behemoth into shotgun range. This one, however, appeared behind Flack, and it trundled out of gun range before Flack could turn and take a bead.
In one sense, Flack was pleased this titan escaped. If Flack had killed that bird, he would have fulfilled his two-turkey limit and put an end to his hunting season. With that missed chance, Flack can pursue that bird or even a bigger one until the season closes on May 23.
Like Flack, Thompson started his season south of Ottawa, but Thompson elected to wait until the afternoon of the second day until he ventured afield.
Before the rains, Thompson found a lot of turkeys moseying and feeding across cultivated fields. The rains, however, turned those fields into a quagmire of mud and furrows filled with water -- an environment turkeys shun.
Consequently, the birds moved to the pastures adjacent to patches of woodlands. And that's where Thompson encountered eight hens and a big tom, which Thompson dispatched.
Then on the morning of the third day, Thompson called 13 hens into his decoy and one mammoth tom, which sashayed behind Thompson's hideaway. As Thompson turned around and brought the gun to his shoulder, the bird flushed. Thompson took aim and fired, but missed the brute by a whisker.
That errant shot, of course, will allow Thompson to tend to his turkey hunting passion for several more outings.