Is it possible to be in heaven while still here on earth? I think so.
Standing along in the middle of the woods, I wonder about this. The shivers and goosebumps that have just ravaged my body causes me to question this.
Turning to see what just touched me but nothing was there. Was it the touch of an angel? Did the wings of an angel just brush up against me?
The peace and joy and freedom I feel while standing here on this ridge with my shotgun strapped to my back is powerful.
Without a doubt this place was designed for my enjoyment. I believe when God made the Ozarks, He made it for guys like me.
I believe He slowed down and paid special attention to the details of what He was doing here in the Ozarks.
When He finished the Current River I do not think He said “this is good” but rather I think He said, “Now this place is really good.”
I think He said, “Now, Rich is going to really like what I have done here.” How could He have done any better?
This place truly is heaven on earth. It doesn’t take much to begin to appreciate the sheer beauty of the Ozarks.
Timber as far as you can see. An endless amount of hills and hollers. Streams so clean and clear it makes you wanna just drink right out of them.
Beautiful springs by the hundreds just gushing out millions of gallons of life-giving water a day.
Giant whitetail bucks and thundering toms. Walleye as big as your leg and smallmouth bass that will tear a new plug up in a morning’s fishing trip.
Yes, it’s Heaven all right. With one stroke of a paddle a person can be in turkey heaven for days. Oh, it’s not like turkey hunting in Alabama or Mississippi.
You’re not promised a bird and more times than not you come home without the bird. And you might even have some competition here in the Ozarks because after all, most of the good hunting is on public land.
But what a place to learn how to hunt turkey. We have the prettiest, biggest, the loudest and most vocal gobblers a turkey hunter could ever wish for.
And who could ask for a more beautiful place to hunt gobblers? Over 1.5 million acres of the Mark Twain National Forest. But don’t be fooled. These birds are the hardest gobblers you will ever hunt.
But then the pain in my right knee reminded me of another place that has about broken me down. The hills of Tennessee.
For years I have been killing turkey two to three weeks before the Missouri season would open in the steep hills of the Volunteer state. Their season would open that much earlier than ours.
While all the Missouri hunters were getting ready for Missouri turkey season, I was already hunting in Tennessee so by the time ours opened I was already limping from the hills of my uncle’s farm.
So, when my uncle bought his farm in Montgomery County, Tennessee, I had my first opportunity to hunt out of state.
At first it was deer hunting only on his farm. There were no wild turkey in that part of Tennessee and hadn’t been for nearly a hundred years, but that changed when Tennessee Game and Fish worked out a deal with the Missouri Game and Fish Commission.
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Because of the trade, now Tennessee has some of the finest turkey hunting in the world.
So, a few years passed by and the restocking program was a big success for Tennessee. My uncle’s farm now had turkey on it so all I had to do was wait for Tennessee to open a turkey season and this long-legged Missoura boy was gonna kill me a Missoura bird in the Tennessee mountains..
Little did I know just how much fun was ahead.
My uncle’s farm was big and beautiful. Looked a lot like the Ozarks. It was all there. Big hay fields on top of round top knobs. Deep hollow, caves and springs.
The ridges in Tennessee on my uncle’s farm had no rhyme or reason to them. They aren’t like the ridges here in Current country. Here the ridges are long with big saddles and swags and hog-backed on top sometimes.
Here the big ridges are easy to navigate but in Tennessee the ridges just dumbfounded me. I didn’t care, there was just too many turkey to worry about getting turned around.
The first year Tennessee allowed four toms to be harvested. That first year my gun was the only gun I heard go off.
For several years I pretty much had the run of the mill. But that was about to change.
There was an old man that went to church with my aunt and uncle that had asked to hunt his property the next spring. I just knew the world was about to end because of having to share with the other guy.
Really, there was plenty of land for the both of us but the thought of having to share with someone just killed me at the time.
I wanted it all to myself, I was being selfish. So it was, the old-timer took the north side of the farm and I the south part of the farm. Both places were perfect.
Each year the old-timer would kill the biggest and oldest bird on the farm. It would just bug the heck out of me how he did it. I mean, I was a young, long-legged whippersnapper from the Ozarks and this old man was killing the oldest and smartest bird on the farm each year.
I now know how he did it. He had something that I didn’t have, and that was patience.
One day coming down the hill I saw him standing next to his four-wheeler with the most beautiful bird I had ever seen. Head as big as a baseball bat. Big spurs and a paint brush beard.
With tears in his eyes he lifted his head and said, “Hillbilly, I’m all tagged out and Lord willing I’ll see you this deer season.”
I did not know it then but that would be the last time I would see the old-timer. He passed away that summer sitting in his rocking chair.
Often I’ve wondered if he was thinking about the old bird when he passed.
Many years have gone by since then. I have killed many birds where the old-timer used to sit. I have killed several with my two sons beside me, but they never knew the sentimental significance of the area.
I used to get up there early enough on a clear morning with the stars still high in the sky and I would lay down in the middle of the big hay field and listen to the whippoorwills and think of the old-timer and the lessons I learned.
I realized time stops for nothing.
So next time you’re in the deep timber and run across an old-timer, yield to him, give him that first shot at it because one day it just might be you in your last season of life.
(Richard Whiteside lives in Doniphan, Mo., and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His blog can be followed at https://www.ozarkriverman.wordpress.com.)