SWISS, Mo. Doug and Dickie Shaiper went on the offensive.
Surrounded by turkeys on all three sides and the birds not giving a second thought to their setup, the brothers went out in hot pursuit. Two gobblers had teased them on their mid-Missouri farm, crossing back and forth between a corn field and a huge pasture that at times was full of hens.
"I'm going to go back down these trees and down through the creek, and work my way up that treeline to see if I can get close enough to them in the cornfield," Doug said.
His brother Dickie planned to work his way up the hill behind the treeline to the other side of the cornfield. The brothers Shaiper were on the move, gunning to turn the tables and surround the longbeards.
After a small issue with setting up a blind big enough for three men and their gear, Dickie climbed in and promptly asked, "Why'd you set up here? I would have gone up the hill more."
Doug was unapologetic to his older brother, reminding him that a week before he and his son Blake had set up in the exact locale for the youth opener and killed one. The spot remained a minor point of contention throughout the morning that started more than two hours before first light.
I left west St. Louis County at 4 a.m. to meet Doug, a childhood friend. Pellet guns in hand, we used to take off for the woods on the Missouri River bluff, exploring, shooting stuff and looking to add to our arrowhead and beer can collections.
After high school, he became a fishing guide on Lake of the Ozarks and later competed in some circuits, including BASS events. Mentioning some of the sport's big names from the Show-Me State, Doug said, "I lost a lot of my money to those guys."
While he enjoyed competing, that grind gave way to family, but fishing continues to bring him relaxation, as well as meals. When the crappie started biting this spring, he snuck off from work and towed his boat two and half hours to the lake and brought home enough slabs for several fish fries.
From a park and ride in St. Charles, we had another hour to drive. We rolled past dozens of 18-wheelers parked everywhere on I-70 then headed south through the old German river town of Hermann, the heart of Missouri wine country.
South on twisting Highway 19 we traveled toward the small town of Swiss in Gasconade County, an area Missouri Department of Conservation turkey biologist Tom Dailey says produces some of the largest turkey harvests in the state each year. Neighboring Franklin County, further east and also bordering the Missouri River, led the state this year in kills.
"It's just super turkey habitat because of that mixture of pasture and open grounds and woods," Dailey said.
The 160 acres of fields and woods with a creek was purchased by their father, golf pro Dick Shaiper, in the mid-1970s as a getaway due to its proximity to Hermann and its numerous weekend festivals. The land was where Doug, Dickie and younger brother Dave hunted deer and turkey over the years before buying the 160 acres and 100-year-old cabin.
"I've done a lot of bow hunting out here," said Doug, currently in the process of building a new deer stand. "I thought about going for a turkey with a bow."
Down but still out
Doug echoed Dailey's turkey report that the state had suffered through some poor seasons of late because of late freezes and floods, but he said there were a number of turkeys making noise on his property.
"Last weekend on our youth hunt, we saw about 20 birds, six gobblers and six jakes and a mess of hens," he said. "This is not supposed to be a real good season. We just happen to have a place where there are 10 to 12 mature gobblers running around. There's a giant farm next to us that doesn't get hunted at all."
The blind sat in a small open spot of a treeline on the edge of that farm's huge field, a cow pasture that stretched farther than the eye could see. After more than a mile on the drive out, Doug said the open stretch we were passing was the same field.
On the Shaiper property behind us were cornfields with a line of cedars splitting them where a hill begins. The 20- to 30-foot wide streambed to our left wrapped around in front of us in a huge L. Doug said the birds usually roost in the trees beyond the big pasture, and the hope was they would see his decoys and work their way our way.
"The good thing about this popup blind is you can move around a little," Doug said. "You can open either side to shoot out of, because we can have turkeys coming from both sides."
They didn't get it open quite far enough the week before as Blake shot a hole in it when he killed his bird.
Stuck in the middle
After first light, there were a number of gobbles coming from the woods behind the creek and there was at least one bird behind us, but the first turkeys to appear came out from the dark of the creek.
"There's about 12 hens out there," Dickie said, poking his head out of the skylight and scanning with binoculars. "That's the most I've seen out there since winter. We have about 100 around here."
Calling did little to entice them. Doug's slate enticed a few to make a slight move in our direction, but the group stayed off in the distance.
"That's the thing about this huge field," Dickie said, "You always see something, but you can't always get them close enough."
Up the hill to our right, two gobblers appeared. They saw the hens in the field and began strutting. They started to make a move down then turned back around, possibly because of Doug's calling.
When they finally did go approach the gals, the hens disappeared into the woods, leaving the toms displaying in the field trying to entice them back out. No luck for them, or us.
Back up the hills the toms headed, never inching off their line around our treeline and to the cornfield, where there were still ears on the stalks.
"They got plenty to eat up there," Dickie said. "We should have been up there in my corner."
Three jakes came out of the woods, pecked around the field then followed the gobblers' path to the corn.
"We would have been right up there where they're going if we had set up in my spot," Dickie said.
About then Dickie made a questionable assessment as to why the male turkeys seem to hang together so much.
"It's really hard to break them up. A little too much Tom love," he said.
With at least five birds nibbling their corn, the Shaiper Brothers decided to go mobile.
OK, you were right
The stalking wasn't unsuccessful. Doug didn't spook off the birds as he quietly made his way down to the creek and back up the treeline toward the upper cornfield. He belly-crawled when he didn't have the full cover of cedars.
The turkeys milled about the corn and slipped away, possibly sensing their impending presence. More than a half hour later, the Shaipers were seen in the far corner of their land, past the corn and near the road.
The hunt of these birds was done, and they brought their trucks from the road into the field. Just closing the truck door alerted the jakes, who had slipped into the woods and made their way down to the creek where the hens were first spotted.
"The gobblers went across the road and up into that field," Doug pointed out. "We never really spooked them but I think they knew something wasn't quite right."
With all the movement, Doug decided to take Dickie's advice and moved the blind up to his spot, where the following weekend Dickie and his son Bret killed two at the same time.
"Our big mistake was not setting up near the cornfield," Doug said. "But Blake shot one right here last week. My son has taken his first deer and first turkey within 10 yards of each other."