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Pecking order

5/17/2010

INDEPENDENCE, Ks. -- The emotions were about what you would expect from two young brothers, everywhere except a turkey hunt.

One was laughing. One was crying.

Both boys were too young to understand the rules of turkey hunting. Rule number one: There's no crying in turkey hunting, unless of course you miss.

Turkey hunting in Kansas can bring out all sorts of emotions.


In the past few years, the state of Kansas has quickly become a destination turkey hunters from all over have started putting on their bucket lists.

The state has been a direct beneficiary of the re-stocking efforts of game agencies and the National Wild Turkey Federation. Wild turkeys, both Rio Grandes and Easterns, were reintroduced to the state in the 1960s.

The broken landscape of agricultural fields and cattle pastures dotted throughout the state was the perfect mixture for turkey populations to explode.

Most of the state is populated with Rios, but on the eastern end, they mix with Easterns, where according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, numbers have grown tremendously in recent years.

Tremendous numbers of turkeys: That's where Jake and Tyler Peck come in. These two are just little poots. The words spider monkey came to mind the minute I saw them.

Each of them stood about 3-feet, 7-inches tall and weighed in around 47-pounds. They weren't much bigger than a full-grown turkey.

It was easy to understand the apprehension Lance Peck felt when the suggestion that his twin 6-year old sons would make a great story for the Turkey Trek.

Peck is no stranger to a turkey trek. As a constant fixture on the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Elite Series, you can often find him chasing birds in the spring wherever the fishing schedule aligns with a turkey season.

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Peck was one of the first to say "come my way" when the turkey trek was announced. His "way" is his home in Tulsa, Okla., just over an hour from the Kansas border, where he spends a lot of his turkey hunting mornings chasing Rios, Easterns and mixed breeds.

Once or twice a year, he takes Jake and Tyler on a hunt there, sits them on his lap and hopes for the best. You can do that in Kansas. The boys have sat with Peck on at least four occasions when a turkey has been brought to the gun.

"I have no doubt, that they can sit there and stay still,'' Peck said. "But shooting, I don't know about that."

He had assurances that Remington's Youth Model 870 would cure all his apprehensions and it worked.

Then the spider monkeys showed up. They were small, wiry and in constant motion. If we could pull this off this may well be the perfect hunt of all time.

Our intention was to sit with the boys, Tyler on Peck's lap, Jake on mine. Get a turkey in range and let them double team it.

Sounded logical enough, maybe easy in some regards.

First though, we had to practice. Peck was smart enough to bring adjustable shooting sticks.

"The 870s are short enough for a kid, but they can still be heavy to hold for a long period of time,'' he said.

It's been a long time since I was 6 years old, and I honestly believe I've never been that small. I've had meals that were that were as big as two spider monkeys. So score one for Daddy Peck.

By the time their school was out and everyone could make it to Kansas, we were perched against scrub oaks, scratching slates and waiting with a spider monkey each on our lap. Guns were propped on shooting sticks and after the initial excitement wore off, iPhones were placed in the hands of the monkeys to keep them occupied. But the turkeys were doing other things, evidently not wanting to play in the afternoon, which left us with the next morning.

In the dark of a Kansas morning, after traipsing across pastures and bottomland, we set up on a green field and waited. Peck was adamant that we didn't use a blind to hide our presence.

"I've never liked to sit in blinds and get covered where you don't feel like you are a part of what is going on in the woods,'' he said. "If we're going to do this, we're going to do it right."

Score another one for Daddy Peck.

By the time day started breaking, there were no less than eight turkeys gobbling all around us. "That's what I'm talking about,'' Jake whispered, while fidgeting in my lap and wondering if every little movement was a turkey coming.

As it was, none would come. In one of those unexplainable turkey things, every turkey around us pitched down and headed the other direction.

"We've got to move,'' Peck whispered, which was something none of us had prepared for.

Up hillsides, across fences, over creeks and quietly through oak bottoms is something every turkey hunter is used to. But with two 3-foot tall spider monkeys in tow all those things become obstacles. Peck lifted and carried each of them at every point he needed to. And through it all the spider monkeys stayed quiet.

Amazing. But it was just getting better.

At the top of a hill, overlooking a creek bottom, I squealed out a series of crow calls that were immediately answered by four separate gobbles.

If you ever have any doubts about how quick a spider monkey and two grown men can snap into action, let me dispel them.

In short order, we were all plopped down against an oak tree with two cedar bushes in front of us on the edge of the creek bottom and large pasture. Shooting sticks were in place and the monkeys were all business.

So were the turkeys. A few minutes later and a scratch on a slate call and they busted loose again. And a few minutes later they were gobbling on their own.

It stayed that way for 30 minutes the turkeys gobbling and getting closer, Peck and I worrying about what could happen next and me thinking we were on the wrong side of the creek. A few calls mixed in every once in a while, gave us assurance that these birds were interested, but they weren't being fanatical about it.

And then every thing went quiet, real quiet. Two men with two spider monkeys without a clue in the world as to what would happen next. We were actually thinking of getting up and moving when not 20 yards in front of us and through the cedar bushes, the shape of a three turkey bodies materialized.

My heart has pounded out of my chest on turkey hunts before, but nothing like what I was feeling at that moment and I didn't even have a gun.

As the birds moved toward us, already in range, I heard Peck whisper to Tyler, "You've got to wait for them to get out behind the tree. Then put it on their neck."

Both of the monkeys had their guns trained right where they needed to be. The front two birds were side by side and the third was trailing.

The lead bird got a half a body length from behind the tree. Tyler put the bead on him and pulled the trigger. Even I jumped in surprise -- I was expecting Daddy Peck to whisper a "shoot" or something like that.

Tyler, though, was obviously all about the business of getting the job done. Immediately, things jumped in fast motion, the rear turkey jumped in the air and landed perfectly in the opening between the two cedars and Jake wheeled left to right and pulled the trigger on the bird in front of us.

It didn't immediately hit the ground and flopped over the crest of the hill into the bottom. I forgot I was dealing with young spider monkeys. I jumped up and rolled down the hill to catch the bird. By the time I got to the bottom, I had a full-fanned jake in my hands.

Euphoria is an understatement at that point. I could hear the yells and screams above me, but I didn't expect to be greeted with the scene when I hit the top of the hill.

"I shot two,'' Tyler screamed, jumping up and down as high a 3-foot, 7-inch spider monkey could jump.

And then there was Jake. He was hugged up against Daddy Peck's leg, crying.

A little stunned, I plopped his bird at his feet. The rules of crying and turkey hunting may have been broken, but we gave him a pass. As soon as he saw the bird, the teary eyes transitioned to a big grinning face.

"They drilled them,'' Peck said, obviously overtaken by all of what had just transpired.

Later I would learn that when Jake repositioned to shoot his bird, he didn't get the gun shouldered well and it had rocked his 47-pounds pretty good. Having a turkey in hand, though, always seems to cure all pains.

After the pre-requisite photos, we gathered everything up and headed out of the woods. Each spider monkey with a jake bigger than they were laid across their back.

Later, Daddy Peck still couldn't get over how perfect things worked out.

"Whenever you have twins it brings in a different element when you hunt with them," he said. "Their personalities are different, but they aren't real competitive with each other.

"Still, you don't want to feel apprehensive that one will get to shoot a bird and the other didn't. Everything worked out so perfectly. It's still shocking.

"In the industry we talk about how important is to get kids out there early. They may not want to be out there all day long, but they always want to go. I think both will want to hunt all their lives just because of what they've been able to do early on."

Tyler proved that in the next week, when he utilized that hunt as his "show and tell" story at school. And Peck says he often hears the boys while they are kicking a soccer ball or walking through the house yelping at some unseen turkey, an obvious reminder that they won't forget.

Jake summed it up for all of us in only a way a 6-year old spider monkey could: "This is the greatest day of my life, at least for now."