LINN, Kan. – Randy Hill had heard plenty of stories over the years about how many and how big the spring gobblers were in Kansas.
Of course, when one operates a taxidermy shop, as Hill does outside of Lehighton, sometimes it can be difficult to separate where the facts end the fabrication begin. Still, even if just half of what he had been told was the truth, heading to the Land of Dorothy and Toto for his first out-of-state hunt for spring gobblers seemed to be a good choice.
Then, unexpectedly, opportunity knocked when a friend called and said there was an opening in mid-April on a hunt in northeast Kansas. Most of the hunting would be on private land leased by Ray Petro of Catawissa, who operates Monster Rack Adventures, a guide service for archery deer hunts in the fall.
Seven hunters had booked a four-day hunt with Petro at last January's Early Bird Sports Expo in Bloomsburg, leaving one opening. For Hill, it was an offer he could not refuse, and his thoughts turned to where he would be displaying a Kansas bird – be it an Eastern, Rio Grande or hybrid – in his shop.
At the time, Hill could never have imagined that filling the first of his two Kansas tags would occur less than 40 minutes into his first afternoon of hunting following the three-hour drive from the Kansas City airport. Retrieving that bird, however, presented its own unique challenge – which is getting ahead of the story.
Petro's spring gobbler hunts are self-guided, but he provides a Washington County map to every hunter that shows the location of each of the approximately two dozen private parcels available for hunting. For this, he charges a modest trespass fee, and most hunters rent a bed and breakfast – which he can arrange and a non-resident license and two turkey tags is less than $130.
In addition to the leased private land, there is little pressure on most of the public land from resident hunters. Actually, few resident hunters consider wild turkeys as little more than a nuisance, as the large flocks can devastate a grain field.
Multiple kills on morning and afternoon hunts are the rule, rather than the exception, when hunting with Petro. In fact, one hunter, Walt Klingerman of Ashland, killed two Rio Grande gobblers with the same shot on the third morning of his hunt.
"Pennsylvania hunters do so well in Kansas, and when you look at the year-by-year statistics compiled by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, it's not a surprise," Petro said. "Last year, 70 percent of the 11,000 non-resident hunters filled their first tag and 46 percent filled their second tag.
"Less than 31,000 residents hunted spring gobblers, and 56 percent filled their first tag and 40 percent filled their second tag. For whatever the reason, they just don't seem to be into turkey hunting out there like the hunters I get from Pennsylvania."
If Klingerman got the award for the most unusual hunt, Hill would have swept the honors for the fastest hunt and the biggest bird. Driving to an area that was less than 15 minutes from the bed and breakfast with another hunter, they saw three jakes feeding in a field and heard at least two mature gobblers in the woods.
"We decided to double-team the birds in the woods, with whoever was farther away doing the calling to bring them into shotgun range for whoever was closer," Hill said. "I had just sat down when a gobbler opened up almost in my lap, and, as we had planned, by friends started calling.
"What he didn't know was that the two big gobblers were on the opposite of a stream that had steep, muddy banks. It was less than 40 yards to the opposite bank, and in no time they came into the hen calls my friend was making.
"I dropped the bigger of the two gobblers in its tracks, which was the good news. Calling to my friend, I began to strip down, taking off my boots and hunting pants to wade that stream, which was the bad news."
That ordeal was a small inconvenience for the reward awaiting Hill on the opposite side of the stream. There he found a 25-pound Eastern – which was the largest of the 14 birds taken that week – with a 10.5-inch beard and 1.5-inch spurs.
And yes, Hill has made the space needed to display that bird in his taxidermy shop.
SET ITALICFor information about spring gobbler hunts and fall archery deer hunts in Kansas with Monster Rack Adventures, see Ray Petro at the Early Bird Sports Expo at the Bloomsburg Fairground, Bloomsburg, Thursday-Sunday, Jan. 28-31, or call him at 570-799-0192.