As I arrived at Lake of the Ozarks, Mo., my thoughts were filled with gobbling toms and strutting long-beards.
I had been waiting for several long months for this two-day turkey hunting adventure. Now I was finally here.
Not only was I to hunt in one of Missouri’s top gobbler-producing regions, around Lake of the Ozarks, but I was to hunt with a true outdoor legend, Missouri’s own Ralph Duren.
Ralph Duren was a public relations specialist in the Missouri Department of Conservation’s public affairs division for over three decades. Not everyone knows that fact.
What most people in the midwest recognize about Mr. Duren are his unusual vocal skills. Duren has won numerous turkey-calling and owl-hooting events, including third place in the 1994, 1996 and 1999 Grand National Gobbling Contest.
In 1995 he won this competition and repeated in 2000 as the Grand National Champion. Ralph Duren has demonstrated these sounds in places like “CBS Tom Snyder Late Night,” “CBS This Morning” and “The Tonight Show.”
It is easy to see why I was so excited to have the opportunity to share some time with this fellow, not to mention two mornings of turkey hunting. I knew I had a chance to learn a lot about wild turkey behavior, turkey sounds and turkey hunting.
What I did not know was that I would discover a really great human being in the process.
It was 4:30 a.m. on the second Monday of the season as Ralph and I pulled away for our hunt. As we stood in the pre-dawn dampness, a single gobble echoed through the mountains from a distance.
“He’s a long way off,” Duren whispered. “There’s got to be one closer.”
Then, without warning and without preparation, he made one of the most natural-sounding Barred owl hoots I have ever heard.
I am sure my jaw dropped and I have no idea if a bird gobbled in response or not. I only remember the sound of my own whisper as I said, “Do that again!”
Without even taking a deep breath, Duren bellowed forth the nine-note call again… flawlessly.
As we reached an apex, where two ridges met, Ralph hooted again to verify the gobbler’s location. There was no answer.
He hooted once more with a similar lack of response. I was prepared to set up right there and begin calling. Ralph, however, wanted to know exactly where that bird was located.
“He might already be down,” Duren said. “Maybe it’s too late for an owl.”
He then proceeded to imitate a piliated woodpecker. The shrill, high-pitched rhythm of this sound rang through the hollow between the ridges. Not only did our tom answer, about 250 yards away, but another bird gobbled… from exactly where we had just come.