December 01, 2008
STOCKTON, Mo. (MCT) - Ken White was ready to pull the trigger.
The turkey he had been calling was close - within 20 yards, he estimated. Because the bird was concealed by heavy brush, he couldn't see it. But he could hear it.
That's why he had his shotgun up, ready to fire the moment the turkey walked into a clearing.
One more soft call. One more answer. And the turkey inched closer.
But then, as turkeys often do, the bird did the unexpected. It took a right turn while still hidden by the heavy brush, and raced into a field, out of shooting range.
"I don't think that bird saw us," White said as he stood in the woods not far from Stockton Lake. "I don't know why he took off like that."
Seconds later, White found out why. He sneaked into the field and spotted a flock of 12 birds in the distance.
"He was joining up with his buddies," White said. "When that happens, it's tough. It's hard to compete with the real thing.
"Oh well, that's turkey hunting."
Better than anyone else, White should know.
He has been turkey hunting in Missouri as long as anyone in the state. He hunted the first modern season - in 1960, when only 14 counties were open - and he's been back every year since.
When he says he has taken a ton of turkeys through the years, he isn't exaggerating. Paging through his log book - in which he has recorded the details of every turkey he has shot through the years - he calculated that he has taken 2,040 pounds of wild birds in the Missouri woods.
Those 120 turkeys came from nine counties and account for a lifetime of memories.
"I can still tell you the story behind every one of those turkeys," White said.
Now 79, White lives with his wife, Donna, in an A-frame house in the middle of the woods near Stockton, Mo.
His neighbors? A healthy flock of turkeys.
He can show you photos of a group of big birds that recently wandered through his yard "before the hunting season opened, of course," White said with a smile.
He also tells stories about the time he shot a turkey with a bow from his front deck. And he remembers the day when he and his wife counted 80 turkeys strolling through their backyard, oblivious to any signs of human activity.
"We have a lot of turkeys in this area," White said. "I don't have to go too far to find a good place to hunt."
White's love of the sport is obvious the minute you walk into the house that he and Donna call "Little Cedar." On a chalkboard on the front deck, Donna has etched a message: "Gone Hunting."
Inside, a beautiful painting of turkeys in the spring woods greets visitors. So does a full-body mount of a gobbler in flight that hangs from the ceiling.
Around the house, there are framed photos of White with some of the birds he has taken and a cuckoo clock in which a gobbler comes out of a box and sounds off on the hour. There also are glimpses of his past, when he was a world-champion fisherman and President Truman's official photographer.
Pictures of White with everyone from Truman to the Beatles to Lorne Greene of "Bonanza" to the Three Stooges hang on the walls.
Today, White writes outdoor columns for many newspapers. And when it's time to gather information for those articles, he knows he doesn't have to travel far.
Since he and Donna moved to Little Cedar in 1998, he has taken 22 turkeys. Some of those birds have ended up on the Thanksgiving table, when Donna prepares a wild-game feast for family. Others have been the featured fare in a fish and turkey fry that the Whites put on each year.
This month, White is working to add more meat to the dinner table. He knows the turkeys are out there. He sees them almost every day, if not on his land, then on neighbors' property where he often hunts.
The turkeys won this time. But White is confident he will get bird No. 121 - and maybe 122 - before the fall shotgun season ends Oct. 31.
"A lot of hunters don't like the fall season," White said. "They'd rather hunt in the spring when the gobblers are putting on a show.
"But I like the fall season almost as much as the spring. It's a great time to be out - the weather's cool and the leaves are turning colors.
"And the turkeys can be a challenge. If you can find a brood flock and break them up, you can call the young birds in pretty easily. They don't like being alone.
"But even with the young birds, there are no guarantees."
© 2008, The Kansas City Star.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.