It's 6 a.m. and I am prying myself into an airplane seat somewhere in Illinois. I think there is no way the airline could have downsized these seats since I was here about a week ago, but it is a tight fit.
Do the airline people think a lot of hobbits fly with them regularly? Or do they just not care about aging, overweight (fat) former game warden-types who occasionally fly around the country chasing turkeys, shooting shotguns and trying to live the dream? Oh well, that is a rant for another day.
This flight is the first leg of the journey that is supposed to take me from the land known as Illinois (Miami Indian word for "flat as a pancake") back to the topographically challenged area known as West Virginia. I am worn out from a week of turkey hunting in Missouri, shooting shotguns in Illinois and trying to keep up with the shotgun dynamo known as David Miller (aka "Clay Killer Miller" for his proficiency at turning clay targets into dust). Mr. Miller, you may recall from earlier accounts here, is the shotgun product manager and pro shooter at CZ-USA, a firearms company located in Kansas City, Kansas, that produces some very sweet shotguns as well as rifles and pistols.
Once again, I have fallen for Miller's evil plan of enticing me into a week of turkey hunting, shotgun shooting, eating way too much wonderful food and following in his wake. Forgetting past experiences when I had to convalesce for a week to rest up, I take the bait and am in his web. Well, I guess there are worse ways to go.
The first morning we are in a beautiful piece of turkey woods, and everything is going just like the book says it is supposed to go. There is some fog, but the sun is coming quickly to wipe that away. The birds are singing like Miller had them practicing all week, and there are at least three turkeys sounding off nearby. All is right with the world.
We set up in a picturesque spot seemingly made to call a gobbler up. I make a few plaintive calls, and thankfully, the gobbler answers excitedly. (I was really relieved; I didn't know if I would get the accent right for a Missouri turkey.)
This turkey and I had a long conversation, but he would not come over and join us. From the hen calling in the area, we could tell he had too many girlfriends with him to waste time on us. We leave after a wonderful morning in the turkey woods, but not before we scout a place to start the party the next morning. The weatherman is predicting a slight change for tomorrow: Snow.
After a long morning in the woods with no breakfast, we are ready to eat. Miller takes me to a place he says I will like, Johnny's Tavern in Blue Springs, Missouri. Time and space here will not allow me to go on about all the wonderfulness at Johnny's. I am really not a rabid fan of chicken wings, but the wings at Johnny's would make you one. I follow Dave's lead and get the wings with a side of Brussels sprouts (I know, you will just have to try them). If you are ever near one of Johnny's locations in Kansas or Missouri, you had better stop. We ate here twice, and the only thing I wanted afterward was a nap.
The next morning, as we make our way to a blind to get out of the weather, the snow starts in earnest. It is spring on the calendar, but maybe not quite yet here. We are grateful to be sitting in a dry location looking out as the world transforms before us. The new green foliage and blooms on the redbud trees are getting covered with snow. I start to be discouraged by this but soon realize how beautiful it makes the landscape. The gobbler sounds off on the roost in front of us, and I think "This is perfect."
We are treated to a long display of several turkeys that file into the field in front of us: one longbeard gobbler, several hens and some youngster jake gobblers. They go about their business all morning before I see the gobbler look over and notice our decoys. As if on a string, he makes his way over and into gun range. After waiting for so long, I decide to strike while the iron is hot. I direct the CZ-USA Drake shotgun in his direction, and at the shot he goes down as if hit by lightning. Dave quickly lines up on another turkey, and we have doubled up on Missouri gobblers on this beautiful snowy spring morning!
Were we ecstatic? Yes. Will it be a hunt I will remember for a long time? Yes. Facebook later reminds me it is five years to the day we took another big Missouri gobbler. It just keeps getting better.
We gather up turkeys, guns and gear for the walk out and have a lengthy photo and video session. We are shooting the CZ-USA Drake and Redhead over-and-under shotguns in the all-terrain models, and they are pretty special. Ever the innovator, Miller has come up with several features being applied to some of the CZ-USA shotguns. These include a virtually indestructible Cerakote finish in olive drab green, factory studs for sling swivels and an ingenious addition of magnets in the extractors and ejectors — if the open gun is tilted upward, the shells will not fall out.
This is a rugged, all-purpose shotgun you can use on doves to ducks to turkeys. I call it the four-wheel drive shotgun.
Just to celebrate, we stopped by Johnny's Tavern again!
Before I have to cram into that airline seat for the trip home, there will be much shooting, hot shotgun barrels and even a trip to Merry Old England with Dave Miller.
What is that all about? Sorry, folks, but that is a story for next time.
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.