If you have ever seen any of my previous reports you will know that I am a Missouri transplant after 33 years in Alaska. If you know anything about Alaska, you can guess, there are very few turkey in the state. In fact there are basically no wild turkey populations in Alaska. As a result I, as an outdoor loving hunter/fisherman, have been more or less “teaching” (and I use that word with some degree of levity) myself how to hunt turkey on the 50 acres of rocky hills and hollows that I have been slowly improving for timber, deer and turkey.
In steps Don Schnable of Spring Creek Enterprises “SCE” http://www.abouttheozarksandbeyond.com/ . I occasionally do a little writing for Don. This time, instead of the normal fishing trip, Don arranged for me to hunt turkey with Joe Hollingshad of Devils Backbone Wilderness Outfitters, http://www.dbwo.net/ .
Joe and his crew have approximately 3000 acres of some of the Ozarks best producing hills and hollows on which they guide their guests in the pursuit of trophy deer and turkey. For those of you not familiar with the area, “the Ozarks” lies in SW Missouri and NW Arkansas. When you come for a hunt, you will be in and dealing with some very unique and sometimes challenging topography. I have been here now for 3 years and still love it when I get a chance for that first drive down a new, to me, gravel road. There is almost always something interesting to see and explore. The drive into Joe’s little slice of the Ozarks did not disappoint.
I met Joe at about 5 am on a Wednesday morning at a small old fashion General Store in Dora, MO. “Roy’s Store” (http://roysstoredora.Com/) alone is worth the trip to Dora, I’ve have many a great breakfast there and they have almost anything else there that you could need when in the area. However, in this case, Roy’s was not yet open and I had a lot of new turkey information to try and absorb over the next day or two. I followed Joe for several miles before we turned off onto a gravel road that led into a narrow valley. As we got back into the valley and bottoms the promising sight of old family homesteads with lots of wooded ridges interspaced with small fields starting appearing, these are the types of properties that make up the Devils Backbone Wilderness Outfitters hunting area.
After a quick stop at the supply barn we drove off into the fields and woods. A mile or so back we hopped out of the truck, got our gear together and headed off toward our first setup location. Joe has been hunting this area for most of his life and pretty much has the birds patterned so no locator calls were needed. As if on cue, a bird sounded off and he was located right where Joe had expected him to be.
We turned off the trail into a good size field and headed toward a small point where we located a tree to tuck ourselves under. Tucking ourselves this far under a tree, not just up against a tree set a little ways back in the woods, was an important lesson learned. While it was a little frustrating not to have full coverage of the field, I can definitely see the advantage for staying undetected when you have numerous very sharp eyes looking for you. Anyway the setup seemed to be just about perfect as the bird sounded off several more times while still on the roost behind us. In a few minutes the tom, along with several other birds, dropped to the ground. He immediately started strutting (while I could not hear him, Joe’s ears seemed to be tuned to turkey sounds) and moving through the woods down the edge of the field. It was not too long before he and 2 hens entered the field in a far corner and started working their way back up the far side of the field. While the tom was working hard displaying his beautiful fan and doing his best strutting dance, the two hens were feeding, did a little dusting and chasing each other around and basically just ignored the tom. With the hens kinda doing their own thing and with a little very quiet calling from Joe, I really thought we were going to get the tom to come in to our location. Unfortunately the hens turned and headed into the woods and that was too much for the tom to ignore so he headed after them. We gave them a little bit of time to see if they would re-enter the field and then we headed after them. Once again it was Joe’s knowledge that put us over by a little pond out in front of where he guessed they were headed. We did hear the birds headed toward us, however they never made it all the way and eventually we were forced to go hunting for some new birds we heard up on a nearby ridge.
We did a fair amount of trudging about the beautiful hills, fields and food plots, but could never get another bird pinpointed before they turned off in the heat of the day. We were in a little heat spell and were heating up into the 80 by 10 am each day. Unfortunately, we did not collect a bird, although in my mind we were very successful in working and seeing several of these wonderful animals. On the other hand Joe was not satisfied and asked me to come back the next morning. Of course I agreed.
Thursday morning I drove directly to Joe’s house and we headed back into the woods from there. This morning was similar to the previous in that as we approached the area Joe figured on setting up, a tom let loose from his roost. This gave Joe a better idea of where we needed to set up. Unfortunately as we approached the corner of the field furthest away from where we heard the gobbling, we heard some new gobbling from the tree above us. We were busted by a couple of Jakes and hens that were not roosting with the older Tom. We backed off a little and set up anyway on the hopes that the Tom had not been alerted by the Jakes. After a half an hour or so we gave up and moved off toward a far ridge where we were hearing birds.
I think we did a lot more hiking that day. I told Joe that while I had previously informed him I was going to have a new knee installed next winter, the one I had was not hurting and I figured I could not damage it any more than it already was. Anyway we covered a lot of ground and saw several birds (hens and Jakes) along the way. We did try to work one other Tom that day, he was just not having any part of it. Once again the birds, for the most part, quit talking as the day heated up so we headed back to the truck. I got out of my full camo outfit and was much more comfortable (remember I lived in Alaska for 33 years) in the shorts and t-shirt I had on underneath.
All in all Joe worked hard to try to get me a bird and it was very obvious he really knows how to do it. On both mornings with slightly better luck we would have had a bird within the first ½ hour. Each day Joe put me in a setup that had a Tom on a roost nearby and an obvious food source/strutting area in front of me. Unfortunately neither setup worked out due to conditions beyond human control. When those conditions involve other birds, I really “almost” enjoy that experience just as much as actually harvesting the bird we are after.
Since it was still early Joe took me on a trip around the property. It is very impressive what he is doing there. Joe is an ex-equipment contractor and the trail system, food plots and pond he has previously or is in the process of constructing are really impressive. Especially to a guy like me that has a chainsaw, hand brush cutter and 4-wheeler to construct and maintain habitat with. Joe also has the property on a 3 year rotation for burning (each area gets burned every 3 years). There is an extensive no kill area (for deer – not turkey) and an area set up for providing a camp for traditional hunts (Joe is into Rendezvousing and enjoys hunting with traditional weapons).
Most of Joe’s clients stay back in Dora at a great little B&B, the Stone Ridge Inn, (http://www.stoneridgeinn.net/). I have not stayed at the Stone Ridge Inn, however Bessie Lee, the proprietor also serves meals to folks not staying there, if you make an appointment. I have taken visiting guests there on several occasions and have given gift certificates for dinner there to several good friends. The food is unbelievable and the rooms and property look wonderful. Joe’s multiday hunts include this great little place as a part of the package and he picks you up and drops you off each day.
According to The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Turkey hunting in Missouri (MO), including in the Ozarks has been steadily improving over the last several years. MDC estimates the 2011 hatch was up approximately 42% over the average of the previous 5 years ( http://mdc.mo.gov/hunting-trapping/turkey/spring-turkey-hunting/2012-turkey-outlook ). In general, while not nearing the high populations of the past, the MO turkey population is very healthy and consistently provides for some of the best turkey hunting in the country. If you are a hunter that enjoys turkey hunting and if the environment in which you are hunting contributes to that enjoyment, Missouri’s Ozark region is a place you really want to consider looking into for a future hunt. The Ozarks region is made up of hills and hollows that are dotted with old family homesteads. If you look you can find a few areas in the Ozarks that open up into small flatland areas, but they are the exception.
Without the large areas of cropland found in many of the traditional turkey hunting hotspots, the Ozarks can be a challenge for some hunters. I definitely recommend using a guide service for at least the first time you come for a hunt.
If you are looking for a great place to hunt in MO with a really personal professional guiding operation, Joe Hollingshad and the crew at Devils Backbone Wilderness Outfitters, http://www.dbwo.net/ can probably meet your needs. If the website peaks your interest or if you have questions you can contact Joe at: Joe Hollingshad, Devil's Backbone Wilderness Outfitters, HC 73, Box 101-A, Drury, MO 65638.
Phone: 417-261-2474e-mail: joe@dbwo